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Central Standard

Going to Kansas City: Not Everyone On Board

Donna Vestal

“Going to Kansas City” is a series that shares the personal stories of how people came to Kansas City — and why they stayed.

No doubt, many people in Kansas City first came here as children, the result of a parent's job transfer. A family move, but with unique circumstances for each individual. Such was the case for Donna Steele Vestal, KCUR’s content director.

In 1974, Vestal moved to Kansas City from Boston with her family of six. In many ways, the move was traumatic for the Steele family – leaving family, the ocean and the Red Sox.  But the family vote was 5-1 in favor of Kansas City, and so off they went.

The move itself became an adventure because Mom and Dad – Bob and Carole Steele – decided this would be a great way for the kids – Michael, 15, who voted against the move; Donna, 12; David, 9; and Karen, 6  – to see the country they would be crossing. So they boarded a train.

It was a long trip. The family took in the different scenery and played games like counting cows outside the windows. Yes, cows. Because you didn’t see many cows in Boston.

Credit Bob Steele
The Steele children on a Christmas morning in the early 1970s in their home in Waltham, Massachusetts (left to right): Karen, Michael, David and Donna.

When the Steeles arrived at Union Station in downtown Kansas City, it was dark and misty. They had never been to the city, and had no idea where they were going. They headed to the Skyline Inn in Riverside, which would be their home for the next month until they bought a house in Kansas City, North.

It took a long time for the family to adjust to life in Kansas City. They got over their homesickness in about the same time as they lost their accents. Eventually, they learned to love Kansas City.

And today, 40 years later, all the Steele kids except the one who voted against the move live here.

Name: Donna Vestal          

Age: 52

Neighborhood/city:  Kansas City, North

Came to Kansas City from: Boston

Arrived in: August 1974

Why I came: My dad was transferred to Kansas City when I was 12 years old.  In a family vote, I was on the side of making the move. Years later I confessed that I was motivated by a desire to escape phone calls from some boys in the neighborhood. Silly in retrospect, but I can still feel the panicked angst of my pre-teen self.

First impressions:  My family traveled to Kansas City from Boston via Amtrak. I remember pressing my nose to the window as we approached Kansas City and swayed over the narrow bridge crossing the Missouri River into downtown. But my true first sight of Kansas City was at the exit of Union Station, surfacing from the railroad tracks below. It was night time and raining. And I was entranced by the sight of a city that wasn’t overwhelmed by people. It was calm and, in my mind, welcoming.

View today: Kansas City is my home. Though I thought Boston was where I would end up, it turns out KC was a perfect fit for me. I raised my children here because I love the pace, the balance, and the family focus.  

The biggest surprise: Friendliness that seems to know no bounds.

What I miss: My extended family. And … the ocean.

Why I stayed: I met the love of my life - a Midwestern guy.

Favorite thing to do in Kansas City: Hiking or biking along the Missouri River.

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 podcast producer for KCUR Studios and host of the podcast A People’s History of Kansas City, I aim to provide context, clarity, empathy and deeper, nuanced perspectives on how the events and people in the past have shaped our community today. In that role, and as an occasional announcer and reporter, 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.