The saying goes that "you never get a second chance to make a first impression."
That was true the first time Jim and Deb Morris crossed the city limits into Richmond Hill and liked what they saw. The Michigan natives have family in the city and the first time they came to visit, they knew there was something special about the Henry Ford City and knew that one day they would live here.
"I could tell this was a special place the first time we came here," Deb Morris said. "It was in December and the weather was very different from Michigan weather. I think it was in the 60s and the weather we left was in the teens. That was pretty amazing. But it was more than the weather. The people were friendly. I don’t know, it just had a small town vibe that Jim and I noticed right away. I think we were getting a little tired of the big city living and were ready to try something a little different.
"It just seemed like a place that we could be happy in. I come from a small town — Freeland, in central Michigan — and Jim was born and reared in Detroit," she continued. "I moved to the Detroit area but always missed the small town feel. Jim always talked about moving somewhere where the pace of life was a little slower and I was ready to make a move, but had to consider my job and other things.
"So the first time we came to visit, I noticed right away that I could like this place. It was everything I had heard about Southern living," she said.
Her husband agreed.
"We talked about it, but it seemed like a huge move, probably one that we would just dream about," Jim Morris said.
Little did the retired carpenter know that it would be closer than he thought.
He had spent most of his adult life building houses in the metro Detroit area. From rough carpentry to finish carpentry and everything in between. Working with his hands was something he knew about. He ran a successful construction company and everything that entailed.
Deb Morris spent her working life settling multi-million dollar insurance claims for large companies in the Detroit area. Both say the pace and high pressure of corporate life and running a business made them think about making a change.
Although Jim Morris had retired from day-to-day running of a company, Deb Morris was still employed and a few years away from retirement.
Then a house in Richmond Hill came on the market it was too good a deal to pass, and it was time for them, as they say, to "fish or cut bait."
They cast their line and now say it was the best move they ever made.
"We were living in a new condo. There weren’t many projects around the house that needed done, so I wanted a house that needed a little tender loving care, a fixer-upper," Jim Morris said. "So when this house came on the market, we knew it was right.
"We have gutted the kitchen and bought new appliances. We’re in the process of putting new hardwood floors throughout the house, and I’m going to redo both bathrooms in the near future. I’ve got plenty of projects now," he said with a smile.
Deb Morris, on the other hand, had to decide what to do. She was too young to retire, but old enough to think about it.
"I worked out a deal with my company to work from my new home in Richmond Hill. We’re hooked together by the computer and I can work my cases from here. It’s the best of both worlds, with my working until 3 p.m. every day in an office in my home," she said.
She’d like to continue the work-from-home setup for the next year or so, but she’s open to whatever comes her way.
"So once we found our house, everything began to fall in place," Deb Morris said. "Jim had plenty of carpentry projects and I was working from home. The best part? We were living in Richmond Hill, the place we wanted to be.
"The people have been amazing," she said. "Neighbors have come over to welcome us to the neighborhood and city – brought us food, even. I’m not sure that would have happened in Detroit. Living here is exactly what we thought it would be. A friendly city and friendly people."
But you can take the girl out of the country, but not the country out of the girl.
Both remain steadfast Michigan State University Spartan football fans, along with followers of the Detroit Lions and Detroit Tigers.
"Jim and I will always be Spartan fans, but maybe I could root for the Bulldogs," she said with just a hint of sarcasm.
"Seriously, after our Michigan teams, we’ll root for UGA. Why wouldn’t we? This is our home."
Although only here a month, they have begun to get involved with local life.
"We went to the Taste of Richmond Hill and were surprised to find so many good places to eat in our small town. The food was delicious," Deb Morris said. "Again, everyone was so nice and friendly. It made us know we made the right move."
They also went to the boat parade on River Street in Savannah and are looking forward to this weekend’s Richmond Hill Chili Cook-Off and Christmas parade.
"We’ll be there rooting for our city and cheering on Santa," she said.
Both come from large families. Jim Morris has family in Richmond Hill and his wife has family in Atlanta, and her sister is looking to buy a second home on Hilton Head.
"We have plenty of family in the area to help with our transition."
She smiles when she reads in the paper about ongoing local issues involving growth, traffic and the schools.
"Where we moved from, it was traffic gridlock like you wouldn’t believe. If you were going to or coming home from work at rush hour in Detroit, it was brutal. Really brutal," Deb Morris said. "I understand the concerns about traffic here, but I guess it is a matter of perspective. Coming from where we came from, traffic here is a breath of fresh air. I guess, however, if you’ve lived in the area for a while, it can seem pretty busy here."
"Growth and schools is something people face everywhere, although I understand growth here has been phenomenal," Jim Morris said. "This is a great place. People tell me the schools are top notch. So between the schools, the people, the weather and the proximity to the coast, it’s going to be hard to keep people away."
Some things will take longer for the Morris family to become accustomed to. She still draws funny looks when she goes into a convenience store and asks for "pop" instead of a soda. Other things like enjoying some of the Southern foods might take a little longer.
"Be patient with us. We’re coming around. We’ve only been here a month. Some things are going to take a little longer," she said.