Wichita — Barely two decades ago, Derby was the butt of jokes.
Residents referred to it as a one-stop-sign town. And Wichita Eagle columnist Bob Getz, now retired, called it "the pretty little city of the shrunken signs" and "the state's most overpopulated, lovable intersection."
Now, it seems, Derby has the last word.
This month, Derby - just south of Wichita - was designated as a "Best Place to Retire" in the Midwest by U.S. News & World Report magazine.
Derby was ranked 49th out of 1,000 cities in the nation based on magazine readers' preferences for region, weather, cost of housing, recreational and cultural activities, social environment, health care availability and crime levels.
And in July, Derby was recognized as one of America's "10 Best Towns for Families" by Family Circle magazine.
'Everybody is friendly'
Mayor Dion Avello said he's not surprised the city of 20,543 received such high rankings.
"Everybody is a neighbor; not that we know everybody anymore," Avello said. "But everybody is friendly."
Indeed, U.S. News & World Report said Derby "features small-town values combined with the resources of a growing community."
The magazine went on to say Derby has a prairie climate with hot summers and cold winters. It has an open-air market from May through October with locally grown products and craft items.
It praised the Derby Community Foundation, which has spearheaded local improvements such as public art, park projects and pedestrian and bike paths.
The magazine listed Great Bend - about 120 miles northwest of Wichita - as the 50th top city.
With a population of about 15,000 residents, Great Bend received recognition for its Shafer art gallery, its diverse economy, affordable housing and its proximity to Cheyenne Bottoms and Quivira National Wildlife Refuge.
Value, values lure retirees
Affordable housing and small-town values are what attracted some residents to Derby.
Darrell Downing is a retired U.S. Air Force colonel. He had a daughter living in Ponca City, Okla., and wanted to live near an air base for the benefits it offers. He and his wife also had friends who lived in Derby.
"Derby has a lot of benefits of a large city," said Downing, 71. "There are a multitude of things to do. It's also a clean city, in good repair and we have a relatively progressive government."
Now retired from Procter & Gamble, Larry Gould loves the small-town feeling Derby projects. Gould, 68, has served on numerous committees and boards. He is a past City Council member and is in his eighth year on the Metropolitan Area Planning Commission.
"I used to have to drive to Wichita for everything," Gould said. "Now, I really have to drive to Wichita for nothing. I think the reason so many people are retiring here and not going back to their roots is that Derby is still a small town. I can't go to the grocery store without seeing half a dozen people I know. You want to retire with the people who are your friends and family."
Adding on for seniors
A Derby developer is considering building a 50-acre complex for senior citizens. Two-thirds of it is designed for patio homes, adjacent to 15 fourplex units and then apartments.
The town also has a senior center where residents can take part in joint-friendly tai chi exercise and other programs.
Through the years, Derby has pushed for change, Gould said. Sure, it was ridiculed by a lot of people, Gould said.
"We laughed at the time because it was partly true," he said.
During the 1970s and 1980s, Derby was a one stoplight town. Gould said he remembers before that, when it was a one-stop-sign town.
"When we got that stoplight, we thought 'Oh my!"' he said.
When Gould moved to Derby in 1968, the town had only two doctors.
"I remember the time when one fella was trying to build a building and offered free rent to doctors, and they'd just laugh at him," he said.
Things steadily changed. Rock Road at Derby changed from farmland to a maze of buildings, including schools, offices, a golf course and Rock River Rapids aquatic park.
The city has added about 150 homes a year and has more than doubled in size over the past 30 years. It also has attracted national retailers such as Lowe's, Kohl's and Target.