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Don’t let anyone tell you that Oak Cliff is no place to raise a family. James and Sheri Mathis raised their three children there so successfully that they are now empty-nesters.

“We have a five-bedroom house with two people living in it,” Sheri said.

The Mathises are looking to downsize, so their extensively renovated house in Stevens Park Estates is for sale. But even though they’re selling the house in which their kids grew up, the couple has no plans to leave the neighborhood.

“This is Mayberry. We can’t leave,” Sheri said. “Or Bedford Falls, if you want to look at it that way.”

I knew Mayberry is the setting for The Andy Griffith Show, but Sheri had to explain to me that Bedford Falls is George Bailey’s home in It’s a Wonderful Life.

“He never really gets out of town,” Sheri said, “but that’s kind of the point. You know, home is where the heart is.”

The Mathises have a soft spot in their hearts for North Oak Cliff, which many residents consider a small town in the best sense of that phrase. Sheri works for Good Space, the company responsible for revitalizing so many properties in and around the Bishop Arts District. Their kids attended the Kessler School and Rosemont Elementary, long before those campuses expanded through sixth and eighth grades, respectively. And Sheri has held leadership positions with the Methodist Hospitals of Dallas Guild and theRosemont Early Childhood PTA.

In fact, Sheri was on the Stevens Park Estates Neighborhood Association’s fundraising committee when the Annie Stevens Children’s Park was established about 20 years ago. She said the project was jointly funded by City Hall and the homeowners.

“There was a little bit there when we first moved in, and then we rebuilt the playground,” she said.

That park, which is just three blocks south of the Mathises’ home, inspired a story Sheri likes to tell about what a tight-knit community Stevens Park Estates is. When the oldest kids were 4 and 3, they and Sheri were going to meet their next-door neighbors at the park. Her daughter got impatient as Sheri helped her son get his shoes on, so she decided to take off on her own.

“Before she got there, I got three phone calls from neighbors,” Sheri said. “One was ‘I just saw Erin go by on her bike. She doesn’t have her helmet on.’ The second one was ‘I just saw Erin go by on her bike. It looks like she’s headed for the park, but your neighbor is there.’ And the third one was ‘I see Erin’s at the park, but it looks like your neighbor’s there, and she’s having fun with her.’”

That sounds like one heck of a place to raise a family to me.

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