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Leaving Kansas City: A Bittersweet Move Away From A Childhood Home

Courtesy of the Hands
Ashley and Gunnar Hand with their children in front of Gunnar's childhood home.

“Leaving Kansas City” is a series that shares the personal stories of why people decided to live somewhere else. It follows our series “Going to Kansas City.”

Gunnar Hand and his wife Ashley have lived in New York and Los Angeles. They moved to Kansas City five years ago to start a family in Gunnar’s childhood home in Kansas City's Brookside neighborhood.

Since then, they’ve had two kids, and both Ashley and Gunnar have been highly involved in city issues.


Ashley helped re-open a Kansas City school district school, Hale Cook Elementary, and she got a job as the city’s Chief Innovations Officer. And Gunnar, a city planner, served on the School Board, and on the board for the Kansas City Regional Transit Alliance.


But after five years, this civically engaged couple is packing it up and heading back to Los Angeles. Why? A job offer they couldn’t refuse. Gunnar Hand will be opening a city design studio for the architectural firm Skidmore, Owings and Merrill. As a compromise, he promised his wife Ashley that she can decide where they move to the next three times.


Names: Gunnar and Ashley Hand


Where are you from? Gunnar: Kansas City; Ashley: Connecticut


Did you guys come here thinking that you would get involved with public education issues?

Ashley: We moved here because we wanted to start a family. We loved the idea of having our children grow up that could walk to high school. I think we saw the value in having great public education available to the neighborhood. So when I was approached with the discussion about a community that was interested in looking at a mothballed school we decided this would be a great way to get involved in the community.
Gunnar: I always felt as an Eagle Scout that I had a call to serve in some sort of capacity. And I knew that someday that it would involve me potentially running for an elected official position. But I never thought it would be public education. I never thought it would be the school board. But it was one of those things where there was a need.

How have people responded to the news that you are leaving?
Ashley: I happen to work for Mayor James, and I know telling him that I was planning to leave was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done. I’ve never left a job where I’ve felt so sad to go. Because I’ve been so privileged to be in this position. I’m the first Chief Innovation Officer for the city. The first female in the nation to hold this position.
Gunnar: Ultimately this is an opportunity that only comes along once in a lifetime. And our children are young enough and we’re young enough, that we decided that we could take that leap and still figure things out down the line. This is not the end of our time in Kansas City.

What will you miss most about Kansas City?
Gunnar: My mom.
Ashley: Yes, we will miss Paula very much. We are so very fortunate. I have a mother-in-law that I love and adore. That has been such an instrumental part of my children and their development. We will miss that. I think we have just an incredible group of people that we know and work with and share our lives with. We will miss the daily connections with those folks so much. But I think that’s how we know our hearts will stay here. I’m going to miss the seasons.
Gunnar: Yeah, it’s hard to complain about 70 degrees every day, but after a couple years of it it’s kind of like Groundhog Day.

Is there anything you’re not going to miss about Kansas City?
Ashley: No. We are going to miss this place 100 percent. This is a bittersweet move for us, because we know that we are looking forward to something that we can’t even imagine what it’s going to look like. We have been so lucky to have been a part of this time in Kansas City.
Gunnar: At the end of the day my heart has never left and will never leave Kansas City, Missouri. It will always be my home. We’re processing. We’re in the process of selling my childhood home. And that’s been difficult for us both.

What’s next?
Ashley: We are wrapping up two jobs, we are packing up the entire house, we’re moving two girls.
Gunnar: I obviously have a position that begins in July, and Ashley is in the process of working through a bunch of different opportunities. I hope she can find one that makes her as happy as her position here.
Ashley: We did find a house in L.A. on the same street where we started. Gunnar and I moved to the same street in the same city following graduate school. And that eventually brought us together actually. Coming back to Los Angeles, with two girls on the same street, is going to be kind of like Alice In Wonderland a little bit. I’m hoping that we’re showing our daughters that you can find community wherever you are.

Every part of the present has been shaped by actions that took place in the past, but too often that context is left out. As a community storyteller taking a new look at local history, I aim to provide that context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. I want to entertain, inform, make you think, expose something new and cultivate a deeper shared human connection about how the passage of time affects us all. Reach me at hogansm@kcur.org.
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