Her neighbors on Cambridge Street in Kansas City, Kan., sold their homes, took the cash and high-tailed it out of here years ago, far in advance of the sky cranes and the dusty rumble of heavy construction.
Not Linda Mawby.
“See, I’ve got my little oasis here,” said Mawby, who at 70 is lean and energetic, with a long, silver ponytail trailing from beneath her cap. “I’ve got my critters around me. I’ve got squirrels, chipmunks. A raccoon comes and goes. I had a possum, maybe I’ll get another. Groundhogs.”
Mawby sat happily this week with her poodle mix, Bo, inside the backyard gazebo of what, over the last two years, has emerged as perhaps the most conspicuous sight in the University of Kansas Health System’s $350 million expansion project north of 39th Street near Rainbow Boulevard.
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From high up, Mawby’s 110-year-old house at 3737 Cambridge St. — clad in cedar clapboard and surrounded by trees and untamed brush — indeed looks like an island on its tiny plot, surrounded on all sides by a 14-acre sea of construction.
On one side, KU Health System’s glass and steel Cambridge North Patient Tower continues to rise, looming over her home, 11 stories above the street and two more below. It is scheduled to admit patients in November or December.
To the west, directly out her front door, is a 2,200-car parking garage with glass stairwells, set to open this summer. To the east and north, she sees scores of workers’ cars and trucks.
She’s the one homeowner who decided not to sell, and who has no intention of ever doing so.
“This is my home. I’m not going anywhere,” said Mawby, but without a hint of pique or defiance.
In fact, while cynics might suspect she’s holding out to wangle a better price, Mawby said nothing could be more incorrect. Nor, she said, has anyone at KU ever pressured her to move, threatened to uproot her through the use of eminent domain, or done anything other than acknowledge her wishes.
“We respect her right not to sell,” said Dennis McCulloch, the health system’s director of public and government relations. “You know, it’s a situation where she has expressed her desires. We’ve tried to be as courteous as we can, while still making what we think is a generous offer.”
Indeed, Mawby said, “The hospital people have been wonderful.”
Early on, she said, she was offered 1.5 times the market price of her property, which is appraised by Wyandotte County at about $68,000. McCulloch said he was not at liberty to confirm the offer, but he said KU was still very interested in buying her property, having already purchased every other property in an area that extends north from the KU Hospital, at 39th Street, to 36th Street.
“She knows an offer is on the table,” McCulloch said.
But money isn’t everything to everybody. For Mawby, her home is home no matter what is being torn down or built up around it. Plus, in some ways, the construction is exciting.
“Change is inevitable,” she said, sitting inside her gazebo, happy to break out a photo album to show “the best view” of her home, with the 11-story tower stretching skyward above it.
Mawby bought the home in 1987, 30 years ago, after a divorce. Something about the age of the house just spoke to her. She and her ex-husband used to buy and repair old homes as rental properties.
“When I bought the house, I knew I was to be the caretaker,” she said. “I just knew. It’s instinctual or something, maybe because it was so old, built in 1907.”
She graduated from Raytown South High School in 1965 and Central Missouri State University, now University of Central Missouri, in 1969.
For much of her adult life, she worked as a truck driver, both locally and cross-country. Her house on Cambridge Street became her sanctuary. She gladly toured a reporter around the grounds, with a wood gazebo and triangular copper trellis built by her partner, Jerry Felkner.
The garden, with its red bud and walnut trees, is filled with art: glass orbs, chimes, bird feeders and birdbaths. Stained-glass ornaments hang from branches. A wooden butterfly, orange, yellow and black and with wings the size of car doors, is strapped to a tree.
Wild brush borders her yard as hideaways and homes for rabbits, the occasional raccoon and other creatures. Her garden is thick with irises, day lilies and daffodils. Plastic flowers mark the burial sites of pets, primarily cats, she has loved over the decades.
Moving would mean leaving behind the resting places of Twister, Timmy, Summer Girl and others. Some of the cats in her care, she said, came from a shelter in Utah, Best Friends Animal Sanctuary, that adopted out cats with neurological difficulties.
Bo, her poodle mix, is a rescue dog that had been owned by a friend who lived in Mexico. When the friend died in 2006, shortly after getting Bo, Mawby traveled to Mexico to help settle the estate and brought Bo back as her own. Blinded by cataracts, the dog makes his way around by scent.
The place is also a refuge for others.
Years ago, Mawby placed the address on a website, warmshowers.org, that offers free places to pitch a tent and shower for long-distance bicyclists. Mawby and Felkner sometimes let them stay in the conversion van they have parked in the back.
When she dies, the house will go to her younger sister. Mawby figures the KU Health System will eventually get it.
She hopes hospital officials will keep the house intact, and she has her own idea how it might be used.
“My hope,” Mawby said, “is that when I’m gone, KU will keep it and make it into a museum and visitors center, ‘cause it relates back to when KU was founded, that same time period.
“I want to put that out there. I want people to hear that and start visualizing that.”
Where Mawby sits now, she’s hard to ignore.