Is it the peaceful ebbs and flows of two rivers, merging together in our historic downtown, or is it the plentiful parks, the diverse businesses, schools and people that make us special?
New Londoners found themselves asking those kinds of questions recently, after hearing news of a study that ranked the city the happiest in Wisconsin.
New London Mayor Gary Henke learned of the study last week, and shared a printout with some peers prior to the city parks and recreation committee meeting.
“I’ve never heard of this before today, but it’s kind of interesting,” he said with a smile as he passed a copy along.
The study is available at www.creditdonkey.com/happy-wisconsin.html.
CreditDonkey.com is a credit card comparison website that publishes data-driven analysis to help consumers save money and make well-informed financial decisions.
They began their study by gathering available U.S. Census and FBI crime data for every locality with a population of 5,000 or higher. Findings for the overall study were based on several factors including the city’s restaurants, crime rate, commute, average departure time, income, divorce rate, and housing.
According to the website, New London scored the most cumulative points to top the list of 40 cities in Wisconsin.
New London earned high points for the number of people leaving for work before 5 a.m.
According to the website, “Choosing to get an early start plays a big part in how much you’re able to get done and how fulfilled you feel at the end of the day. We wanted to see how wake-up times influenced workers’ attitudes, so we looked at the percentage of residents who leave for work before 5 a.m.”
The study revealed that 15.4 percent of New Londoners leave for work before 5 a.m.
Life-long resident Lori Dean knows this first hand.
At 4:30 a.m. Tuesday morning, she was busy brewing fresh coffee, making sweet rolls and croissants at the local Kwik Trip Store on New London’s north side.
“The people are nice, and the atmosphere here is relaxed,” she said. “It’s an affordable place to live and we’re in a central location,” adds Dean.
The study found New London’s average commute time was just over 20 minutes.
“We can go anywhere from here in a short amount of time,” said Dean, who also serves as an alderwoman on New London’s City Council.
Scott Puffe commutes 27 miles a day, seven days a week, to work at the Neenah foundry as a maintenance employee who is also going to school one day a week, for his millwright apprentice.
“I look forward to my vacation time,” he said. Most of it is spent right here in his own back yard.
“I love New London. I love the Wolf River, boating, fishing, and going down to Waterfront to visit ‘the old timers,” said Puffe. “Working seven days a week isn’t that bad, when you can come home to a place like New London,” he said.
Retired Miller Electric employee Pat Wagner is one of those “old timers” that Puffe referenced. Wagner is an afternoon visitor at C&R Waterfront Bar and Grill in downtown New London, next to Taft Veteran’s Park.
Wegner visits fellow veterans’ there, where they often play a few rounds of dice, philosophize the daily news, and revel in each other’s good company.
“I love the river,” said Wegner. “But my friends are the most important part of life for me and my survival.”
As far as his favorite place in the city? Wegner said the flagpole in his front yard tops them all. “My flag pole is No. 1, in front of my house,” said Wegner, a 1968-69 U.S. Marine Corp veteran.
“New London has a lot of veterans,” he said.
Then he paused for a moment and looked out over the Wolf River from the back deck. “Those of us who returned had to learn that life goes on, and a lot of life is just the right place, at the right time,” said Wegner.
“When we’re young, we’re something different. We make mistakes like everybody else, but in the end, we’ve had just a wonderful life,” said Wegner. “New London’s been an amazing place to live.”
The “old timers” in New London have left a lasting impression on more than one person.
Chong Hanamann, owner of C&R Waterfront Bar and Grill (Formerly, Beaties Waterfront, and the Friendly Place) said she has no regrets about moving to New London and starting a business here ten years ago.
Originally from Korea, she’s lived and worked her entire life in big cities elsewhere in the United States and in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“In how many years I’ve worked day and night, I never experienced people like this before,” she said. “They are one of a kind, good people.”
“I can’t believe how many people respect me, when I came to New London,” she said. “They help each other out; they make me enjoy what I’m doing every day. It’s the people who come through the door that makes it all worthwhile and the days so much better.”
Gloria Rivera echoes Hanamann when it comes to the friendliness of New Londoner’s. She moved here with her family in 1990.
“It’s a small community and everybody is friendly around here,” said Rivera. “I loved raising my kids here. No matter where I go I feel safe.”
According to the study, the odds of being the victim of a violent crime in New London are 1 in 1,225.7.
The study also looked at the divorce rate, which is 8.9% of males and 13% of females in New London.
The median household income is $47,632 and the percentage of income spent on housing is 18.3%.
For many residents money is not the measure for quality of life where they live.
According to the study, “Enjoying an evening out with close friends or loved ones is a great way to unwind, and it can definitely improve your mood if you’ve had a bad day.”
The study looked at where residents have the most opportunities to socialize based on the number of restaurants and establishments per capita. New London ranked high in this category with one per 250 inhabitants.
Laurie Shaw, Executive Director of the New London Area Chamber of Commerce said business owners play a huge part in making our city a great place to live.
“We have awesome business owners and community members who work together to make New London the best it can be,” said Shaw. “We are proud of our community and what we have to offer residents and visitors.”
She said New London also has a strong backbone of community service organizations that support projects for youth and citizens of all ages in the city.
Throughout his life in New London, Tom “Moochie” Barrington has been a member of many such organizations. “We’re blessed with so many civic clubs and community organizations that are deeply involved in our town,” said Barrington. “To me, the people that live here and stay here are happy, they’re friendly—no matter who you are, you’re welcomed here.”
Kim Schroeder, a parent and President of the New London School Board said, “New London makes me happy because there have been endless opportunities for my family to enjoy the outdoors, and learn from so many great role-models in our community.”
She adds, “And you never have to drive too far to see a happy cow!”
Perhaps there is an idea for a future study?
For the meantime, New Londoners will continue on their merry way.