Trifling moves Mason beyond comfort zone
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Friday, May 29, 1998

The Cincinnati Enquirer

The people of Mason wanted equal time. And they got it.

"You took a ride with someone from Deerfield Township," said Jennifer Trepal of Mason. "Now, come out to see our growing small town."

A couple weeks ago, I wrote a column wishing that officials from Deerfield Township and the city of Mason would stop their petty bickering.

To gather ammunition for the column, I took a ride through the township with a longtime resident as my tour guide.

Passing farms and factories and meeting with residents, I heard over and over about the ill will generated by Mason's annexation of tax-dollar-rich township property, specifically Kings Island.

To hear Mason's side of the story, I took Jennifer Trepal's suggestion and talked to a bevy of readers from the city of 16,000-plus. They were happy to describe life in a boom town, a city that annexes lots of land sitting under factories, amusement parks and subdivisions to pay for new roads, utilities and city services.

My Mason readers were proud of their city. Some wanted to take me for a ride. A few suggested I take a hike. One pointedly noted: "There are two sides to every story. So, get your butt out here."

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Never one to turn down a warm invitation, I toured Mason this week.

My guide was Cay Steinhauer. She knows everybody in Mason. And everybody knows her.

They can be sipping coffee at the Big Top Restaurant on the town's outskirts, picking up a prescription at Yost Pharmacy in Mason's tiny downtown or answering the police department's door in the rear of the city's art-deco municipal building. No matter where they are, everyone knows her.

Cay was the first female member of the city's fire department, making life squad runs from 1968 to 1979. She was also the first woman elected to Mason's city council.

She still follows city government. Interchanging the words Mason and we, she can tell you the players and the reasons behind every annexation.

"People come to the city to have their property annexed," Cay says. "We don't go to property owners. Lordy, we don't need the headaches."

Cay and her husband, Norb, moved to Mason from East Walnut Hills in 1950: "When most of the houses out here cost $12,000."

She still considers herself a newcomer. "That's what the old farmers call everyone whose family came here after 1815."

After being buzzed into the police department, I met another "newcomer." Chief Ron Ferrell moved with his parents to Mason in 1954.

"The town has not so much grown up as it has grown out," the chief says of the sprawling city he returned to last year after decades of police work across the state. "Mason still has a small-town quality. Whether it's in old downtown Mason, or on the streets with new homes, people are not afraid to go out at night. They don't fear letting their kids play outside."

A few blocks away, fear and sadness filled the chief's office of the Mason-Deerfield Joint Fire District. The feud between the city and the township is dismantling the fire department.

"The department is my family," Fire Chief Billy Goldfeder told me. "It's being torn apart. It's sad. But we'll survive. We're quick healers."

Creature comforts

Splitting up the fire department creates a feeling of uncertainty in the town. Dick Yost, whose family's pharmacy has been in the heart of Mason for three generations, says it makes him "feel uncomfortable." And the pharmacist does not associate that feeling with life in Mason.

"This is a comfortable place," he says. The quiet streets and high emphasis on family activities "make people feel they are a part of old-time, small-town life in a modern world."

You don't have to be a lifelong resident to sense those feelings of comfort. Newcomers, whether they arrived years ago or yesterday, can feel them, too.

Mason's comfortable ways surface in the "hellos" passing strangers exchange on city sidewalks. They exist in the friendly nods suburban joggers give you. Even when your car blocks the path to their million-dollar mansions.

Columnist Cliff Radel can be reached at 768-8379; fax 768-8340.