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Dirt is Good
The American obsession with a germ-free environment may be one reason our rates of allergies, asthma and digestive issues have sky-rocketed. Seem counter-intuitive? Dig in and see what some top scientists have to say.
- story by Christina Richardson
Jack Gilbert is the faculty director of the Microbiome Center and a professor in the department of surgery at the University of Chicago, founder of the Earth Microbiome Project and co-founder of the American Gut Project.
According to research on the subject, “From birth to age three, your child’s microbiome, especially in the gut, is extremely dynamic.” By age three the adult levels will be in place and everything you need is there. “There they stay, fending off pathogens, breaking down fibers, tuning the immune system and even influencing mental health.”
Why is dirt good? Claire Fraser-Liggott, Ph.D., a professor at the University of Maryland, made a good case for dirt in a TEDxMidAtlantic talk. Fraser-Liggott says that we are not alone, and by that I mean in our own bodies. We are a little planet, a microbial ecosystem with hundreds of trillions of microbes living with us.
“If you go back to fundamental principles of ecology, we know that high diversity ecosystems are more stable and resilient.” (9:22 in the Claire Fraser’s TED Talk video). Lacking that in our bodies, we are more prone to allergies, food allergies, and asthma.
Dr. Fraser-Liggott helped launch the field of microbial genomics and is with the Institute for Genome Sciences. It is the purpose of this effort to lay the foundation for new approaches to personalized medicine.
One of the studies has an ick factor, so bear with me: Many people who have compromised microbe colonies due to antibiotic use or other factors are prone to problems with their digestive tracts and have diarrhea that is difficult to treat. Fecal transplants have been very successful in treating these disorders.
And yes, that means taking fecal material from a person with healthy microbes and planting them in the intestinal tract of the patient. Dr. Fraser-Liggott states that the cure rate is 95 percent for those patients that had a “re-poopulating of the gut.” Her words, not mine.
If you want to be a part of the study go to americangut.org. There is a kit to order so you can send in your own sample and get back information on how you are getting along with your microbes.
There are five recommendations that seem to be consistent with all the studies I have reviewed as to why it is good to expose your children to getting dirty.
Another aspect of connecting with the great outdoors is explored in a book by Richard Louv. Last Child in the Woods: Saving Our Children from Nature Deficit Disorder is a story about the disconnect humans have with natural areas.
The premise is that this lack of connection to nature contributes to obesity, distraction and depression. The book offers suggestions on how to develop an environment-based education program that enhances problem solving, critical thinking and decision-making skills.
And as for those questions in the first paragraph? According to these physicians and scientists, it may even be beneficial to lick off that pacifier; wash with warm soapy water instead of using anti-bacterial; if you are in a safe area like your home, pick up and eat the dropped food item; and let the dog lick away.
In the Eye of the Beholder
One of the South's beloved writers, Rheta Grimsley Johnson, takes a fresh look at her Iuka homestead through the eyes of good friends.
Find out more about Rheta's books at RhetasBooks.com. Rheta's new gallery/shop, Faraway Places, is located at 102 West Front Street, Iuka, Mississippi. You can also look for it on Facebook!
I’m not being falsely modest here. I love my place in this dark hollow the way a parent loves her child, but it has – and always will have – rough edges. I see this most clearly in the days leading up to special company.
I do my best to stage it for visitors. I cut and clean and hide and polish. I even wash windows. But minutes before the scheduled arrivals, I take a look around and see the truth.
The yard is a yard, not a lawn, and it looks good for approximately half a day after mowing.
Then the briars and the weeds and the gum balls begin to compete for attention, and visitors realize the endless river of green they first glimpsed is hopelessly polluted. It’s not a space for playing croquet, but more like a practice field for teaching youngsters how to drive a pickup with a straight shift.
The “house” really is a collection of two small cabins, one bedroom and one bath respectively, made less claustrophobic with a screened porch tacked on each. You better like your hosts and those with whom you travel when you land here.
And don’t think quaint. There is none of the “cottage charm” that Bay St. Louis residents take for granted, but instead a 1950s look with low ceilings, thin floors, inherited furniture and too much sentimental swag. Clutter is clutter is clutter.
But this is a story of redemption, so stick with me. My sister-in-law from another life used to say that we, the permanent residents, eventually are the last not to see the worst things about our own abodes. We’ve grown used to the problems and no longer notice the wavy Sheetrock and rotten eaves. That’s not true, not this summer. I see it all.
As I sit wondering what the latest guests must think, they tell me.
A visitor cries out, and I think she must have slipped on the mildew-covered walkway between the cabins, something I’ve done myself. “Look, look,” she says, pointing. One of last night’s crop of luna moths is sticking around. They routinely beat against the wickedly irregular windows in the back room, drawn to the light.
Together we study the moth’s green velvet wings.
That night the visitors see the stars in a sky uncluttered with ambient light. They remark on the lightning bugs and rhapsodize over the lack of traffic. They hear the whip-poor-wills and owls and frogs. They notice things I take for granted. But good things.
The next day I take them to the old pontoon boat that floats in a nearby Pickwick Lake marina. Earlier in the season I’d wrapped the cracked vinyl seats like big birthday gifts with a few yards of sale cloth in a color that matched nothing else on the boat.
“Oh, what magnificent spider webs,” one visitor says, just as I am about to knock the webs down with a broom I keep aboard for that purpose.
I drive most guests to the late Tom Hendrix’s wall in nearby Florence, Ala. He spent a quarter of a century building a mile-long wall from eight million pounds of river rock he harvested and hauled himself. The wall honors his Native American great-great grandmother’s five-year trek home from Oklahoma after her forced march on the Trail of Tears.
In a world where people like lively entertainment, a rock wall is a quiet anomaly. But my visitors get it.
We picnic on the Tennessee River along the Natchez Trace. The breeze is constant, the conversation lively. And suddenly I’m proud of where I spend half of each year, half of my life. Domestic imperfections seem inconsequential, dwelling on them silly.
If you invite the right people, if you have the right friends, gracious living is a given.
Celebrate the summer's end at the August Second Saturday, August 12th. You'll find cool deals, fresh meals and lots of art and live music. It's the way we throw a family-friendly party here in the Bay and you're invited!
Make sure to visit Hot Spot businesses Antique Maison Ulman (317 Ulman Ave.) and The Shoe Boutique (inside Maggie May’s Art and Gift Gallery, 126 Main Street).
- by Tracy Shields
Click here and scroll down to read archived Second Saturday columns
Antique Maison Ulman
317 Ulman Ave.
Bay St Louis
Sylvia and Ed Young opened this branch of Antique Maison on historic Ulman Avenue, only a minute away from their Second Street location, in 2014. Not to be outdone, this Ulman store focuses on home, garden, patio décor, and shabby chic furnishings for your whole house. Visit booths from various dealers, and enjoy an open floor plan with three large showrooms and a Quonset hut with lots of wandering room and treasures to be found. Right now you will even find a large furniture sale.
Discover a hidden treasure in the very back—Bay St Louis’s own English tearoom. Its vintage china and floral tablecloths set the scene for tea, made-from-scratch scones, and a decadent variety of desserts Tuesday through Saturday, 10 a.m.-3 p.m.
Choose from large dining room, deck/garden dining area, and a private dining area to host parties, bridal showers and all the special occasions that happen in your life. Antique Maison Ulman Tearoom offers 13 hot and cold teas, soft drinks, and iced or hot coffee. They also offer High Tea Windsor by appointments.
Stop by this second Saturday for the dedication of the historical tree in their garden. “Heavenly Tea Garden” will be dedicated by a St. Augustine Seminary priest at 5 p.m. on August 12.
The Shoe Boutique
inside Maggie May’s Art and Gift Gallery
126 Main Street
Bay St Louis
Someone said, “Give a girl the right shoes, and she can conquer the world.” The Shoe Boutique may not be the largest shop in Old Town, but it just may be the best place to find the perfect ladies’ shoes in Bay St. Louis. This shop is slipped away in the sunny front window at Maggie May’s Art and Gift Gallery at 126 Main.
Owners Bill and Joyce Whitfield have been retailers on the Gulf Coast since 1984, when they bought a store in Gulfport. They have been selling shoes here in Bay St. Louis for over 15 years. At its current Old Town Bay St. Louis location since February 2015, the store displays a large variety of styles and sizes of women’s shoes. Brands include Lucky Brand, Aerosoles, Volatile, Yellow Box, and Van Eli.
The Shoe Boutique offers the individual and attentive service that shoppers love. Joyce stocks each shoe with style, comfort and affordability in mind. One can never take too much care with what they put on their feet, and at the Shoe Boutique, the shoes are selected to be as comfortable as they are stunning. Cinderella is proof that a good pair of shoes can change your life.
Something For Everyone
Martha Whitney Butler's primer for antique shopping defines shops, malls and consignment places - and gives invaluable etiquette tips for bargain hunters.
Antique Mall vs. Consignment Shop
One of the biggest misconceptions I encounter at the French Potager is people thinking we are a consignment store. A consignment business takes individual items based on an agreed-upon percentage that the store takes upon selling that item.
The agreement is between the consignee (store owner) and the consignor. This is a common type of business for items such as designer clothing and formalwear. Some antique malls adopt this method for items like artwork or high-end furniture, based on availability and space.
An antique mall rents spaces or booths to individual dealers for a monthly fee and a percentage of sales: the dealer displays items, and the shopkeeper takes a very small percentage for selling them. This is the most prevalent type of business in our community, giving us a healthy variety of goods.
Booths and Dealers
Dealers are the people who rent the booths or spaces within an antique mall. Most are experienced, seasoned entrepreneurs who rent space and flip items as a hobby or business. They often have day jobs, are retired, or use booths in other towns as satellite locations for their brick-and-mortar stores.
Dealers often spend countless hours at auction; they are the early birds getting all the proverbial worms at the best estate sales, and they take exhaustive trips around the country (or world) to seek out objects of interest for their clientele.
It's back-breaking labor to lift furniture, rehab pieces, and haul items from place to place. Considering all the dilapidated structures I've climbed into, the snakes and bees I've encountered, the things I've toted for miles and miles on cobblestone streets in Europe, and the paint fumes I've inhaled, you might understand my urge to cringe a little when someone asks if I'd take less than the price marked for a particular treasure.
Often I oblige, because I want nothing more than to do it all again. The thrill of the find is unsurpassed by everything except for the thrill of the sale. Knowing that you can relay the provenance of an item to someone else and they will appreciate it and cherish it is the highlight of this business.
Death and Taxes
I recently read an article about the dying world of antiques – how millennials aren't receptive to the concept or appreciative of the old.
I'm a millennial. I own an antique store. Enough said.
That brings me to the “taxes” portion of this segment. I often hear, “If I give you cash, could you not charge me taxes?”
If you do this, be prepared for a long-winded speech about streetlights, potholes, and education! The answer is no. Unless you are buying the item solely for resale purposes, and have what is called a resale certificate, you have to pay sales tax.
Evolution of the Antique Mall
Fun, funky, brimming with personality, and serving a broader range of clientele, the shops
in Bay St. Louis cater to both locals and visitors. Don't worry, we still sell vintage and antique items, but we would also like to stay alive.
Which brings me to my point: we've evolved our business to sustain the desires of our customers. We might not be all antiques anymore, but don't be put off by new items for sale in our stores. Variety is the key in our business, and Antique Maison’s motto says it best: “Something for everyone.”
There's a thrill in it! I understand, trust me.
But there's a right way to haggle and a wrong way. This could be another article in itself, but I'll graze over it here.
Malls have different dealers, and thus different prices and personalities. Some dealers will deal, and some won't. The shopkeeper knows which ones will and which ones won't, and they often know who will discount at a certain percentage. Please don't shoot the messenger when she tells you that dealer won't come down off the price!
The best time to haggle is when you buy several items from one particular dealer. Also, a little kindness and understanding goes a long way. If you come in for the second time to visit a $350 piece of furniture that you absolutely adore, I would love nothing more than for you to have it – discount approved!
Dealers are usually not willing to deal on items under $50-$100, so picking up a bottle opener that's $5 and offering $2 seems out of place. Be reasonable, be kind, and put yourself in our shoes when playing “let's make a deal.” Also, have an offer in mind and make it. We applaud decisiveness in these stores.
I hope this article helps you to understand some aspects of how antiques malls work. It's not traditional, and it may seem odd to walk into an antique shop like the French Potager and find a florist in the back!
The booths in these malls provide so much more than gifts, goods, and furniture. They're hobbies for retirees, attractions to tourist towns for antique-lovers, and one of them might even belong to a 16-year-old, hustling entrepreneur who dreams of opening her own shop one day - like I did!
Are you interested in opening your own booth? Some shops around town currently have waiting lists or openings, so be sure to inquire!
Hancock County's most popular business event of the year is also one of the most fun: the annual Salute to Business and Industry Awards Gala.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The business and industry award-winners are lauded in short, well-edited videos shown on large screens. The year’s ten Outstanding Citizens are introduced in another video, leading up to the hold-your-breath moment when one of the ten is named Citizen of the Year.
The gala’s been called the local version of the academy awards, because of this suspenseful finale. But a few behind the scenes changes makes the announcement even more meaningful.
Beginning in 2016, the individual business winners (Bay St. Louis, Diamondhead, Waveland and Hancock County/Kiln), as well as the Citizen of the Year, are chosen by polling members of the Hancock Chamber. Organizers say that since the winners are selected by votes instead of a committee, it reflects the will of the membership.
While the business winners and the Outstanding Citizens are announced in June with much fanfare, the Citizen of the Year selection is held close to the vest. Even chamber members have to wait until the announcement at the gala to find out the winner’s name.
Individual tickets to the event are $75 and tables are available with event sponsorships. They can be purchased online.
The 2017 business honorees:
The ten 2017 Outstanding Citizens were chosen from a field of 18 nominees.
To read more about the 2017 Business of the Year winners and the Outstanding Citizens,click here.
Here's a video of the 2017 Outstanding Citizens - congrats again!
Tour some of Hancock County's favorite campgrounds, offering everything from primitive tent camping in serene settings to a beachside getaway with a waterpark.
- story by LB Kovac, photos by Ellis Anderson
Buccaneer State Park
1150 S. Beach Blvd.
Buccaneer State Park is consistently ranked one of the best campgrounds in Mississippi. The park’s popularity is in no-doubt thanks to its many amenities: a fully-stocked camp store; two large, lifeguard-protected pools; a full waterpark complete with slides, a wave pool, and a splash pad; a coin-operated laundry room; and a long nature trail that takes you through some of Mississippi’s less-developed areas. Indeed, Buccaneer State Park has a little something for everyone.
The campground itself has over 200 campsites, both back-up and pull-thru spots. Campsites come with options for 30- and 50-amp connections, as well as Wi-Fi, cable, and a parking spot. There are dedicated primitive sites in the back of the campground for campers looking to pitch a tent. These sites don’t have fire circles or picnic tables, but they are spacious enough for multiple tents or extra equipment.
The best thing about the park, though, is its proximity to the gulf. Located on Beach Boulevard in Waveland, the Gulf of Mexico is quite literally across the street. If you know your travel plans ahead of time, you can reserve one of the park’s premium gulf-view spots, which give you amazing sunset views from the comfort of your camper. And white-sand beaches are just a short walk away!
The tradeoff for staying at such a big park is a bit of noise. There are dedicated quiet hours at Buccaneer State Park, but there are lots of campers, including families with young children, and some noise can't be helped.
McLeod Water Park Campground
8100 Texas Flat Rd.
If you see your visit to Hancock County as less splashing in the pool and more communing with nature, pull your camper around to McLeod Water Park Campground. Located on the banks of the Jourdan River, McLeod offers a sportsman’s paradise, with two boat ramps; plenty of water for swimming, boating, kayaking, and fishing; and two scenic nature trails.
McLeod has about 50 campsites, with back-up and pull-thru sites available. Each site comes with a parking spot and picnic table, and slide-out campers can be accommodated. There’s also an on-site bathhouse with showers, a splash pad for the kids, and a playground.
Despite this campground’s seclusion, there’s still easy access to downtown Hancock County’s conveniences. Hollywood Casino, downtown Bay St. Louis, and Mississippi’s coastline are each just a 20-minute drive away.
Bay Hideaway RV Park and Campground
8360 Lakeshore Dr.
Bay St. Louis, MS
Bay Hideaway was recently voted #1 Favorite RV Park in America during a Woodall’s competition. And if you know anything about the campgrounds, it’s easy to see why it is so well liked. In addition to the amenities offered by many other Hancock Country campgrounds — 30- and 50-amp sites, a swimming pool, and a lounge area with games, books, and movies — Bay Hideaway offers a little bit extra.
The campground park has a disc golf course for enthusiasts, the laundry rooms are free, and the staff have lots of recommendations for local eateries, bars, and family activities. During special holidays, there are free cookouts for the whole campground.
This campground is just three miles from the beach, and it’s even closer to several casinos. There are also plenty of restaurants and bars in downtown Bay St. Louis.
8012 Highway 90
Bay Saint Louis, MS
For the seasonal camper, Shady Acres RV and Cottage Community presents a calm, relaxing atmosphere with all of the amenities you need, at affordable rates. Owners Bill and Julie Berry have created a perfect base for people who are enjoying the Hancock County area during a long-term stay. In addition to spacious spots with parking for two vehicles, Shady Acres features landscaped gardens, a private fishing pond, and a pet playground. There’s even a clubhouse with large television, a library, and plenty of board games: bad weather doesn’t have to sideline your relaxation.
This campground is centrally located for those who want to enjoy all of Hancock County’s features. Silver Slipper Casino, Hollywood Casino, the Stennis Space Center, and white sand beaches are all within a ten-minute drive.
Be aware that this campground only rents by the month. If you’re in Hancock County for a shorter stay, you might want to look at one of the other facilities.
These are just a few of the campgrounds in Hancock Country. Whether you’re just visiting the area or looking to call it home for a little while, there’s a campground just for you.
Free Willy Gone Wrong
An impulse to save a crafty crab ends well for the creature, but its rescuer has reason to wish she'd eaten it instead.
- story and photos by Ellis Anderson
Folks back home thought I was joking when I reported that shrimp were so plentiful in Louisiana they were used as filler for sandwiches, and you could buy these delectable creations called po-boys from corner markets. Which I did almost daily.
Friends took me to Smitty and Maggie’s at West End for my first meal of boiled crabs. We sat on picnic tables outside at dusk and and swatted mosquitoes as they taught me the proper techniques. While I’d never worked so hard for a small morsel of the meat, by the end of the evening I understood the lengthy ritual increased the meal’s pleasure, allowing more time for conversation and laughter.
In the ’90s, after I’d moved to Bay St. Louis full-time, I found myself contemplating a crab boil, so a friend and I drove out to Bob’s Crabs in Lakeshore on an exploratory mission. The business headquarters consisted of a small cinderblock and screened building on the banks of a canal, wire crab traps piled high outside, open boats tied to pilings.
Inside, a large rectangular holding tank was tucked into one corner. I peered in the shallow pool and found it held several inches of water, but no creatures. We pressed on to the adjoining room, which held more tanks.
Bob was helping a customer who was buying up all the available live crabs for a family reunion. They’d corralled all the ones in the front tank and were now depopulating the rear ones. Frantic crabs raced around the shallow pools, easy targets for the tongs Bob wielded with expert accuracy. He snagged them and dropped them into seething bushel baskets.
Returning to the front room to wait our turn, my friend and I noticed a single crab, motionless in the corner of the empty tank. The tank was a tan color and this sole survivor had cunningly camouflaged itself in the shadows. While the others had scrambled to escape, this one had frozen, like a fawn or baby bird, hoping the predator would miss it and move on. Even Bob’s expert eye had passed over it.
The idea occurred to me that this intelligent crab should be rewarded. Saved from the boiling pot. Why perhaps this crab represented the next evolutionary step up for its species! It obviously had developed a reasoning of sorts. A cunning that overcame panic.
When Bob returned and the customer left, I told him I wanted to purchase the single crab.
Are you planning to eat just one? he asked.
I answered that I intended to release it. Then I gave my reasoning: It’s smart, so it should be out there enhancing the gene pool, I said.
Bob was polite enough not to ridicule me outright, but that can’t have been easy, especially with my friend rolling his eyes and snickering in the background. Yet he fished out the dark crab with his tongs, declaring it a female. To me, that seemed an omen: She would go forth and propagate more intellectually superior crustaceans.
Single crabs didn’t merit a basket though, so Bob asked me to hold up a bag. But I had no idea the extent of a crab’s reach. During the awkward transfer, the beast unfolded a claw and fiercely clamped onto my thumb. I shrieked with pain and dropped the bag.
In a whirling dervish frenzy, I hopped up and down shaking my hand, hoping the creature would let go before dismembering me. Bob and my friend weren’t much in the way of help; howls of laughter bent them over. They were useful only as witnesses to this spectacle of woman versus crab.
Bob finally recovered enough to snag my tormentor with his tongs and pulled her away from my hand. My thumb bled freely onto the concrete floor. Bob led me over to a sink to wash the wound, and then dispensed a Band-Aid.
I’m thinking you’ll be eating it now? he said, wiping at his eyes.
I asserted that the incident had merely convinced me that the crab was as courageous as it was intelligent. Yes, I was still going to turn it loose.
Bob said something about biting the hand that releases you and said there’d be no charge.
I’m not going to guess how many times Bob told that story over the years.
But he never knew the real ending. Once we hit Beach Boulevard, I pulled over and parked, then clambered down the seawall steps with my hard-won prize to face the Mississippi Sound. While my thumb still throbbed mightily, this was a Free Willy moment. I could tell.
Cautious now about the long reach of those crane-like claws, I put my entire body weight behind the throw. I hurled the crab from the bag, aiming to get her several yards out.
It worked. She sailed through the air toward freedom and her future — without taking any of my flesh.
But I didn’t see her hit the water. My pitch threw me off balance. My sandals skated beneath me on the slime-covered seawall steps. I slid like a luge toward the water, feet first. My backside slammed the concrete and hammered against each step all the way down.
My friend helped pull me from the water, filthy and drenched and covered with algae that stank. He struggled to keep a straight face, without much success. For a good five minutes, laughter cut off his sentences before he could finish them.
I might have laughed too if I hadn’t hurt so much. For weeks after, I bore the blackened bruises of the afternoon, a generous double-dip in humiliation and hilarity. The only balm was the thought of generations of ungrateful crustaceans who would soon be carrying the genetics of Bob’s Chameleon Crab.
Several years later, I returned to Bob’s Crabs, this time as a magazine photographer. My mission was to catch shots of Bob at work on the water, plying his age-old trade. I introduced myself as if we’d never seen each other before. While certain he wouldn’t have forgotten the event, I was relieved when he didn’t seem to connect me with the goofy crab-bite victim.
We left before dawn, motoring his skiff through the mists toward Bayou Caddy, then out into the sound. The sweeping sky, the hiss of wind across the water and birds silently winging overhead wove a fabric of total tranquility. I began to envy a profession that started each workday with such beauty.
Bob cut back the motor and coasted up to his first trap. When he began emptying it into a crate, I crouched down in the bottom of the boat with my camera, seeking the best angle.
Hey, you better back off a little, the fisherman said. Those crabs have got a hell of a bite.
The rising sun behind Bob’s head made it hard to see his expression, but there was no way to miss the wide grin.
Waveland Alderman Jeremy Burke reports on the Mississippi Municipal League conference, a Touch-a-Truck Community Awareness event, the city's new website and Team Waveland participating in Relay for Life.
I was also able to complete the advanced level certification and move to the professional development level portion of the program.
Although the certification course is voluntary, receipt of the designation of Certified Municipal Official requires completion of core courses: Municipal Organization, Municipal Law, Municipal Finance, Municipal Land Use and Community Development. The CMO program provides the participants training to become more effective leaders for Waveland.
Established in 1931, MML represents 295 city, town, and village governments in Mississippi. The mission of the MML is helping cities and towns excel through training, lobbying at the state and federal level, and providing resources and networking opportunities with state, federal and private entities. For more information about the Mississippi Municipal League, visit www.mmlonline.com.
Waveland Community Awareness Day
The city of Waveland website has a new look. Waveland-based Lime Pi Digital is building and will maintain the site. The last update I received was that Lime Pi is putting the final touches on the site, and it should go online in early August. More content will be added over the next several months, including a feature that will make reporting an issue to Waveland quicker and easier.
City of Waveland will have a booth at the Relay for Life event on Saturday, August 5. If you would like to volunteer to help at the booth or purchase a purple ribbon that goes towards Waveland fundraising efforts, please contact April Depreo at 228.202.5308.
Get to know the very savvy businesswoman behind the glitter, the tutus, and the multiple tiaras - a design diva who never stops evolving.
- story by Trish McAlvain
Most know her as the hostess of her own series, the internet sensation “MS Congeniality.” Jaimee started “MS Congeniality” with a mission to defy the image of the typical Mississippian. Every Wednesday another webisode is released. It is a fresh, spunky spin of life in the state, always filmed live with Jaimee interviewing fascinating people living and doing cool things.
In 2017, Mississippi celebrates 200 years of statehood. Jaimee is the face of "Miss Issippi" as Mississippi Bicentennial Hostess. Miss Issippi was a character drawn up in 1917 to represent Mississippi during the state's 100th birthday celebration. Although the centennial festivities were ultimately canceled because of the First World War, Miss Issippi still paraded around the state in costume.
When state bicentennial historians gathered to speak of the mascot chosen 100 years ago, it was decided to have an updated version. Who better to fill those shoes than MS Congeniality? Everyone agreed that Jaimee was the perfect choice.
Jaimee hopes to always be completely approachable to the public in her role as Miss Issippi. "Ask me anything, I'll tell the truth. I hope I don't intimidate you.
She comes by her titles naturally. Jaimee was born in Bay St. Louis to Dottie and Daniel Goad, who are celebrating 43 years of marriage and who still reside on the coast. Her mother has always been a stay-at-home mom, while her father is a NASA rocket scientist. When she was young, Daniel instilled the importance of education when he would often stay up late teaching her chemistry and physics.
Dottie’s love of painting brought the artsy side to the mix. This mixture of science and art makes Jaimee a one-of-a-kind artist with an analytical style of thinking. She says she uses her brain to make decisions, not her heart.
Jaimee spent two years studying organic chemistry in college and made straight A's. However, she was never concerned with exact numbers enough to see this being her profession. She was the student who was a little too theatrical during class and had thoughts of something else in her future.
Her sister Michelle lives in Hawaii. She is Jaimee's best friend, and is a graphic designer and a wonderful belly dancer. Brother Gary Goad is a well-known local electrician here on the Gulf Coast.
As part of the graduating class of 1999 at Long Beach High School, Jaimee always enjoyed seeking the spotlight, first as a cheerleader and a singer. As a high school participant in the international exchange program in 1998, she traveled to Brazil. All she learned abroad helped to broaden her dynamics. Jaimee says, “In spirit, everyone knew me as Miss Brazil."
Jaimee has drawn strength from her husband Joel who has helped her appreciate the "typical Mississippian." Joel helped her to see that "we judge ourselves on how others judge us," she says.
This Hancock county couple lives by the simple belief that it is most important to pride ourselves on our strengths.
"He is a fishing bayou rat," says Jaimee when she speaks fondly of her husband. “It took me 30 years to appreciate the ‘good ol' boy’-style man. Learning that who cares what people think? It's about how you feel."
"Joel knows how to treat me; he is a Southern gentleman, a provider for his family; he hustles as a businessman, and is an overall hard worker with strengths of the manly Mississippi man.”
This is symbolic to Jaimee and instills state pride in her adventures and portrayal as Miss Issippi and MS Congeniality.
This busy couple are both in their thirties and are successful local business owners. Jaimee is celebrating a 10-year anniversary of Jaimee Designs Web Studio, located in Bay St. Louis. Joel has over 13 years invested in his local commercial and residential electrician business as contractor/owner of Dorris Electric Services of Bay St Louis.
Jaimee has been a member of the Rotary Club since 2013. She enjoyed helping fellow Rotarians to get the International Youth Exchange off the ground for Hancock County. Jaimee is fond of the program, knowing the attributes it created in her own experiences as an exchange student.
"I work for myself to give time for a clean, peaceful overall feeling for my family." Joel and Jaimee Dorris are celebrating their three-year wedding anniversary. They stay active with five children, ranging from ages 10 to 21 with Joel's kids from a previous marriage and Jaimee's biological son Micah (who can be spotted as boom mic operator and assistant in “MS Congeniality”).
"I want to be that 90-year-old lady who is comfortable with me—always subject to change, to be even more fabulous!" Constant change is a significant happening within Jaimee's life. "One day I'm eating meat; then one day I'm a vegetarian. That adds to my art element." This year she is excited to see a major transition bridging the family businesses together.
Jaimee is eager to share and lives by her own advice. "Each person's mission is different than everyone else. Inspired ideas are most important. The thing is to listen to your intuition. Oftentimes you must find your own way by listening to yourself.
"Everyone has their own path. Get to know yourself, what you do well. Sometimes, it is something special. Always trust who you are, naturally."
True to its roots while open to the interesting and new, Dempsey’s lures diners from near and far home to the Kiln.
– Story and photos by Lisa Monti, photos by Ellis Anderson
The multiple choices listed under appetizers, seafood, steaks, and chicken present a happy dilemma for diners, especially on a first visit. But for Dempsey’s regular customers — and there are many of them — it’s easy to fall back on their favorites: the abundant platter for two (gumbo, stuffed crab, shrimp, oysters, redfish, catfish and crawfish pies), the charbroiled oysters (Dempsey’s specialty), the famous shrimp and grits, or fresh grilled fish.
“It’s the same menu, but it’s grown at each place,” she said. “We even added Sunday brunch.”
Diane was following in her restaurateur father Andrew Marino’s footsteps in 2003 when she opened Dempsey’s on Coleman Avenue in Waveland “two years and two weeks before the storm hit.”
His restaurant, Jack Dempsey’s, operated on Poland Avenue in the Ninth Ward of New Orleans for 36 years.
After Katrina, Hennessy operated her restaurant for four years on Lower Bay Road in Lakeshore, and six years ago Dempsey’s moved to its current location on Kiln-Delisle Road.
Wherever the location, customers have followed. There are locals, out-of-towners, and out-of-state travelers who fill the dining room for lunch and pack the place for dinner.
“It’s very busy, especially on weekends,” Hennessy said. To keep things rolling along, Dempsey’s has an efficient, friendly staff of about 40. During a recent busy lunch service, several waitstaff joined around a table to sing “Happy Birthday” to a regular customer. At a nearby table, another server artfully handled a table of seven who wanted separate checks.
But back to the food. It’s New Orleans style — stuffed artichokes, frog legs, seafood platters — and plentiful and handsomely presented on each plate.
For our lunch, the seafood gumbo was rich, the fried shrimp poboy on chewy Leidenheimer French bread was wonderful, the tasty eggplant fries were crunchy and somehow oil-free, and the two large grilled redfish fillets were seasoned perfectly. The shrimp and grits topped with creamy Swamp sauce was something to behold and savor.
“It’s how my dad always did it,” Hennessy said. “He always said people eat with their eyes. I’m following in his footsteps.”
Hennessy’s kitchen prepares everything in house, including the rich seafood Swamp Sauce that tops the fried grit cake on the top-selling shrimp and grits entree.
“Nothing goes out of the kitchen that’s store bought. I take pride in the food and want it to taste delicious,” Hennessy said.
And while the menu is biased toward seafood, the Angus steaks don’t take a back seat at Dempsey’s. In fact, Hennessy said, the restaurant earned second place among Mississippi steakhouses in a magazine poll.
If the menu wasn’t packed enough, a chalkboard in the center of the dining room announces some delicious new treats: steamed seafood including Royal Reds, Dungeness and snow crabs, and — a rarity in Hancock County — escargot, a favorite of Diane’s. “I like to cook things you can’t get anywhere else,” she said.
Dempsey’s has 120 seats in the large dining room and bar area, but the place usually fills up with families and groups so reservations are a good way to get around wait time, which can stretch out to an hour at night.
And if the food weren’t enough to attract people to the Kiln, Dempsey’s hosts an annual Cruisin’ the Coast party. This year it’s on September 30 and will feature popular New Orleans performer Harvey Jesus.
Cuz’s Old Town Oyster Bar & Grill
Three generations of a coast family check out the new location of a popular restaurant that's a three-generation operation. The result? An exceptionally satisfying meal.
- story by Lisa Monti, photos by Lisa Monti and Ellis Anderson
Cuz’s is open daily at 108 South Beach Boulevard.
Hours are 11 a.m. to 9 p.m. Monday–Thursday, 11 a.m. to 10 p.m. Friday and Saturday, and 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Sunday.
A bit before the lunch time crush, we settled into a booth overlooking the courtyard seating, which was filling up as quickly as the dining room on this warm weekday with regulars, workers on lunch break, and visitors with shopping bags.
Cuz’s opened last year with a new name to reflect its new beach location – Cuz’s Old Town Oyster Bar & Grill – and polished up the popular seafood-packed menu with some new items like smoked redfish and tuna appetizers, chargrilled oysters, and pastas. The new grilled items are winning raves from customers while the old favorites, like fresh seafood served boiled or fried, are as popular as ever. The seafood is local and it’s cooked fresh.
We three generations – my niece Becky Monti Necaise, her daughter Emily, and me – bounced around the menu before settling on our favorites from the poboy section, where there’s no way you can go wrong. One half oyster poboy, one half shrimp and one half roast beef, with shared onion rings and fried sweet potatoes on the side.
We waited for our orders while visiting with other customers going in out of the dining room and talked briefly with Christy as she worked her way around the tables, checking to make sure things were flowing smoothly.
Cuz’s, she said, is a real family operation with the Barnes daughters and grandchildren playing a part in the day-to-day operation. “So it is definitely a family affair,” Christy said.
What’s better at the height of hunger than a properly made poboy on chewy french bread, fried seafood spilling out and dressed modestly with shredded lettuce, tomato slices and crispy pickles? Not much. The shrimp were fresh and tasty, seasoned and fried just right, as were the oysters.
The onion rings, something of a rare treat for me, were the crispiest I can remember ever having, and those sweet potato fries were as delicious as any side you could order. The roast beef, Emily reported, was juicy, full of flavor and piled high.
The new location in the French Settlement building also gave the owners some room to add offerings for their customers. Frozen daiquiris have been a big hit, and so have the gourmet popsicles handcrafted in small batches by Gulfport-based Pop Brothers. Don’t be surprised if the Cuz’s crew keeps coming up with new things to keep the restaurant fresh for its new and regular customers.
A Take on Two Coast Museums
Seasoned reporter and new coast resident John Branston weighs in on two popular visitor attractions - with a fresh perspective.
I had a miniscule part in this deal. In 2003, 2004, and 2005 I was working as a freelance writer for the state of Mississippi Department of Tourism, writing stories for their annual magazine, which printed an astonishing number of copies in the hundreds of thousands and therefore paid an astonishing – by journalism standards – amount of money for a two-week paid vacation from my regular job in Memphis.
The Ohr museum, as it was then called, was just coming to fruition before Katrina hit. My editor had a gentle hand, and advised me to put a little something into the mix along with casinos when I got to the coast. I was one of the wordsmiths who jumped on the “mad potter of Biloxi” with the wild eyes and elegant handlebar mustache as eye candy for my hackneyed travelogue, just as casinos aspire to be more than, well, casinos.
As everyone on the coast knows, internationally famous architect Frank Gehry was hired and came up with those stainless-steel pods. Take that, Ocean Springs and Shearwater Pottery!
The trouble is, as even an art dilettante like me could foresee, giant pods trump giant pots every time.
You can drive by or park in the parking lot and walk around the grounds and admire Mr. Gehry's creations without setting foot inside the main building to see Mr. Ohr's creations.
Never mind, said the editor in Tupelo, the story is swell the way it is. Let Biloxi worry about the turnstile count and the balance sheet.
And this is where the O'Keefe name comes in. My guests (and fellow art dilettantes and crossword puzzle buffs) all assumed, as I did the first time, that art works of painter Georgia O'Keefe would be on display along with ceramics. Later on we learned about benefactor Annette O'Keefe. Good citizenship and good marketing, but not enough to make the museum a moneymaker going up against slot machines, singers, and sand. No snarkiness intended, but a benefactor named Elvis Anything might have helped more in the naming department. Believe me, it has worked in Memphis and Tennessee for 40 years.
Which brings me to another museum less than a mile away, the Maritime and Seafood Industry Museum. What a glorious collection of schooners, trawlers, speedboats, and sloops. What a tribute to shrimpers, sailors, shuckers, immigrants, guts, unbelievably hard work, recovery, compassion, and the human spirit.
Worth an hour, an afternoon, a day of a visitor's time. Essential crash course in local history for any newcomer. And a triumph of substance over style and marketing.
Off the Road, Along the Beach
Another segment is being added to the popular beachfront walking/biking path, with plans in the works to make Hancock's coast road even more appealing to cyclists and pedestrians.
- story by Laurie Johnson
Allison Anderson of Unabridged Architecture is a longtime member of the Greenways and Scenic Byways Committee. She says that the new section of pathway helps move forward the committee’s long-range goals of offering a quality-of-life amenity for locals and creating a major visitor attraction.
Anderson says that when the new stretch is complete, only two gaps in the off-road trail will exist between the Bay Bridge and Bayou Caddy — a total distance of nearly nine miles.
One of those gaps is between the east side of Buccaneer State Park and Lakeshore Road, a distance of 2.25 miles. There’s only seawall there, with no beach to act as a bed for the concrete pathway. The Greenways committee is working toward eventually finding funding for an inland side segment of the path. Currently, pedestrians and bicyclists share the road with motor vehicles.
The other gap, about 1.15 miles, is between the east end of the paved pathway at the Washington Street Pier and the foot of the Bay Bridge, at Beach Boulevard and Highway 90. Although a sidewalk extends through that segment that passes through the heart of Old Town Bay St. Louis, building a dedicated bike path isn’t possible because of the seawall and high-density traffic and parking. But Anderson says that the committee has come up with an innovative way to improve cyclist safety in that section.
Anderson says the committee is applying for a grant with Transportation of America to fund a cultural signage project along that gap. The signage will actually be in the form of permanent pavement markings designed to raise awareness with motorists about sharing the road. These “road medallions” will be eye-catching and attractive, too, since they’ll be designed by local artists.
“This is the road we’ve got, so we’re going to have to make it work,” says Anderson. “And this pavement marking system will allow us to do raise awareness with motorists in a very artistic manner.”
In 2014, local cycling enthusiast Myron Labat formed a group called the Bay Roller Cycling Club. Members of the 11-member group of amateur cyclists are sharing their love of cycling and giving back to the community at the same time.
Labat reports the group secured sponsorships from Hancock Bank, Keesler Federal Credit Union and Coast Electric Power Association to help their fund projects like the Christmas Bicycle Drive. Last year, the Bay Rollers donated 110 bicycles and helmets to local elementary school students.
In addition, members educate the recipients on how to operate bicycles around town safely. Kids learn the basic rules of the road and are taught not to get on the roads without an adult rider. Labat says they also encourage parents to continue bicycle safety education as they ride together.
Both Anderson and Labat want people to know that Mississippi law requires that motorists leave three feet of space between bicycles and their vehicle. Bike paths create a dedicated space for cyclists, but riders can use the roadways as long as they do so responsibly and safely. Signs are needed in many areas to remind everyone to share the road.
For those new to using bike paths, it’s important to know how to coexist safely with cars. Bicycles are allowed to take up the whole bike path lane and should always follow the roadway rules, just like a car.
Riders should never be on sidewalks dedicated for pedestrians. Cyclists should follow the same path of travel as cars; biking directly into oncoming traffic is a huge safety risk for the cyclist and motorists.
Labat says recreational athletes who enjoy cycling come to Bay St. Louis, Waveland and Lakeshore from across the U.S. because there are low speed roads with relatively low traffic. And the views are fantastic.
He notes, “If you have a beach cruiser and your intention is not to go very fast, the bike path is perfect for that.”
But road bikes are designed for speed, and Labat says cyclists on those bikes will want to share the road outside of the bike path and can do so safely and responsibly according to state law.
Labat says anyone can join their group by finding them on Facebook or contacting him directly at firstname.lastname@example.org. “There’s an old saying that you can’t be mad riding a bicycle.”
For more information about biking safety, see the website for the League of American Bicyclists.
Ship Island Cruise
A hearty breakfast, a boat ride, a barrier island with a fort and a shore-side restaurant dinner: the perfect Mississippi summer day.
- story and photos by Karen Fineran
Ship Island, about two square miles in area, lies about 12 miles from Gulfport, between Horn Island on the east and Cat Island on the west. The island is part of Gulf Islands National Seashore, where the nutrient-rich waters of mainland bayous and salt marshes serve as breeding grounds for shrimp, crabs and fish. The island’s beaches provide nesting sites for shorebirds and endangered loggerhead sea turtles.
This year, Ship Island Excursions is commemorating the 80th anniversary of their flagship ferry ship, the Pan American Clipper, which has been operating continuously since 1937.
Our day started early on a Monday morning. The ferry leaves Gulfport at 9 a.m., and we wanted to have enough time that morning to make sandwiches for lunch and to have a filling breakfast before we started our day on the island.
A quick internet search for places near the harbor that open early led us to By the Slice Café (28 Pass Road in Gulfport), which opens at 6:30 every morning. We arrived at the café at 7:30.
Service was speedy after we told the waitress that we were going to Ship Island. I ordered the house specialty, the Potato Casserole Wedge, a hearty slice of baked cheesy goodness topped with slices of bacon and more crusty cheese ($3.99).
My friend had a sausage and Colby cheese omelet ($4.99), and his teenagers seemed well satisfied with their biscuits and sausage gravy. We ordered a club sandwich to go; our waitress told us that many people on their way to Ship Island order a salad or sandwich to-go from the lunch menu, or a piece of cheesecake or brownie from the well-stocked dessert case.
A few minutes’ drive brought us to the Gulfport Small Craft Harbor at the intersection of U.S. Highways 90 and 49. After a short wait, we boarded the “Capt. Pete” ferry, along with couples, families, and groups hauling coolers, chairs and backpacks. The ferry was inviting, with seating outside above deck or at comfortable tables and booths inside. There were large, clean restrooms and a snack bar.
Ship Island Excursions operates through a contract with the U.S. National Park Service, which administers the string of Mississippi barrier islands as part of Gulf Islands National Seashore.
Our skipper that day was Captain Buck, one of six licensed ship captains who work for the organization. During peak season, the skippers pilot the Ship Island ferries, and during the off-season, they perform maintenance and testing on the ferries or take other maritime jobs.
Captain Buck advised us that we had made a good choice by coming on a weekday. “Saturdays in summer are super busy, and they sometimes sell out. I always tell people that they’ll probably find a less crowded boat and a more peaceful beach on a weekday.”
A Short Dip Into Ship Island History
As I sipped coffee from the snack bar and read my iPad during the 50-minute ferry ride, I took the opportunity to research Ship Island’s history. (My reading was briefly interrupted when excited passengers rushed to get photos of the Atlantic bottlenose dolphins jumping alongside the ship.)
It turns out that Ship Island played quite an important role in the settlement of the Gulf Coast. Having the only deep-water harbor between Mobile Bay and the Mississippi River, the island served as a vital anchorage for ships bearing explorers and colonists.
Ship Island was named by the French in 1699 (“Ile aux Vaisseaux”), who were impressed with the protected deep-water anchorage it offered their ships. Some believe that in 1699, Ship Island was the place of the first recorded celebration of Mardi Gras in what is now the United States! (A French explorer is said to have named it “Mardi Gras Island.”) After New Orleans was founded to the west in 1718, Ship Island served as the principal port of entry from Europe for French colonists.
During the War of 1812, the area between Ship Island and Cat Island served as the assembling area and launching point for the 60 British ships that unsuccessfully attempted to capture New Orleans in the Battle of New Orleans.
During the Civil War, Ship Island served as the base from which Admiral David Farragut’s Union fleet sailed in 1862 to attack and capture the ports of New Orleans and Mobile. “Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!”
In 1933, the United States sold the western section of Ship Island, including Fort Massachusetts, to American Legion Post 119 in Gulfport. The Legion built an island fishing resort for WWI veterans, with a pier, a canteen restaurant, and cottages. It even enclosed parts of the old fort itself as rustic lodging. (The Legion turned the resort over to the National Park Service in 1971.)
During World War II, the Coast Guard used Ship Island for anti-submarine beach patrol.
In 1969, Ship Island was changed irrevocably when Hurricane Camille’s massive 30-foot tidal surge cut Ship Island into two separate islands, creating East and West Ship Islands. Everything on West Ship Island was completely destroyed, including a new 3,000 square foot snack bar, a power plant, and a 300-foot boat dock.
East Ship Island remains mostly vegetation and wildlife, accessible only by private or chartered boat, while West Ship Island is a tourist destination, with most visitors arriving by the privately owned ferry boat company Ship Island Excursions. The gap between the two islands is still known as the Camille Cut.
Since then, other major storms have breached the divided island, though these smaller breaches filled back in naturally. Hurricane Katrina almost completely submerged East Ship Island in August 2005, and wiped out the visitor and employee facilities, pier, and boardwalk on West Ship Island. All have since been rebuilt. In 2008, Hurricane Gustav and Hurricane Ike ravished the eastern half of Ship Island yet again.
A Day At The Beach
As the ferry tied up on Ship Island and passengers disembarked, a stiff wind blew and dark storm clouds threatened our plans to enjoy the sun. The crew announced that umbrellas would remain closed until the wind died down later in the morning, and they informed us that in case of rain, several covered pavilions offered shelter.
I felt reassured that the crew seemed familiar enough with the weather patterns to know that the weather was likely to clear up soon. Sure enough, within 90 minutes, the sun emerged and the sky was clear for the rest of the day.
As we walked across the wooden boardwalk that crosses the island over the marsh, we passed the imposing, brick fortification of Fort Massachusetts, and then a large covered picnic pavilion with tables and benches, restrooms and showers, and a ranger station.
Near the end of the boardwalk were another covered picnic pavilion, more restrooms, and the Ship Island concessions and gift shop just as we reached the south beach. At the shop, reclining canvas lounge chairs could be rented for $5 per day, and large umbrellas for $15 per day.
The teenagers with us wasted no time diving into the frothy surf, inventing challenges to amuse themselves, and renting boogie boards and inner tubes at the nearby snack bar pavilion. We sank down in our folding carry-on chairs to take in the sun and watch the antics of the crabs skittering nearby. We read, fed the seagulls, had a couple of beers from our cooler, and darted into the surf whenever we felt warm.
Within an hour, everyone felt hungry enough to dive into our food supply and bring out the chips, fruit, and ham and cheese sandwiches that we had made that morning. Even so, we found ourselves later in the afternoon eyeballing the grilled food for sale at the snack bar. We picked out some chili-cheese hot dogs, chips and beer to eat under the shaded pavilion with a pleasant view of the Gulf. While we were there, we also bought some pretty cool Ship Island hats, visors and swim trunks.
A Tour of Fort Massachusetts
Like many other visitors that day, we took a break from the beach to stroll around historic Fort Massachusetts on the sand spit at the extreme western tip of Ship Island. We also stopped to read every instructional placard placed about to get a little context of the fort’s purpose and history.
The formidable brick and granite fort was commissioned to protect New Orleans from foreign invasions, like the unsuccessful British attack in the 1815 Battle of New Orleans. Its construction began in 1859 and continued up to the Civil War, when the Confederates named the uncompleted structure Fort Twiggs after one of their generals.
However, the only action that the fort saw during the war was a 20-minute cannon exchange in the summer of 1861 between the Confederates in Fort Twiggs and the Union steamer USS Massachusetts. Ship Island was soon abandoned by the Confederates because they felt it could not be adequately protected, and the Union took possession of the island the same year, renaming the fort Fort Massachusetts in honor of the Union warship that had seized the abandoned outpost.
We became absorbed by the small museum, exhibits and informational placards installed around the fort. We learned that the fort had become a prison for Confederate prisoners of war, and that there are more than 153 Confederate soldiers buried on Ship Island. Ship Island was also the base for the U.S. Second Regiment (Louisiana Native Guards Volunteers), one of the first American units composed of African-American soldiers.
After Fort Massachusetts sat mostly empty for over 30 years, it was abandoned by the federal government in 1900. A sole cannon still stands guard from on top of the fort today.
The Skrmetta Family
The original “Captain Pete” was Martin Skrmetta, an 18-year-old Croatian fisherman from the Dalmation island of Brac who immigrated to Biloxi in 1903, a time when the harvesting and canning of oysters and shrimp was the city’s chief industry. The hardworking young man began working for his uncle, piloting the wood sailing schooners that hauled millions of pounds of oysters and brown shrimp to be processed at Biloxi’s seafood canneries.
In time, Skrmetta became a first-rate skipper, and in the early 1920s, the entrepreneur had his own 56-foot diesel-powered schooner built. He named that first boat the Pan American, establishing in 1926 the company that is now Pan Isles, Inc., doing business as “Ship Island Excursion Ferries.”
In the 1920s, a shortage of freezer facilities caused the shrimping industry to have to shut down during the summer months. Shrimpers began using their vessels to haul general cargo in summer, such as clamshells destined for private driveways. It was then that Captain Pete began to charter his ship for summer pleasure cruises into the Mississippi Sound.
Biloxi was a major resort area in the Roaring Twenties, and the Pan American carried a jazz band, tap dancers and a roulette wheel aboard the boat. Tourists were ferried from Biloxi to the Isle of Caprice between Ship and Horn Islands, known as “the Monte Carlo of the South.” There, tourists gambled and danced the evening away, on the boat and in the casino and dance hall on the island.
Unfortunately, the Isle of Caprice literally sank into the Gulf due to natural and manmade causes (like tourists removing the sea oats for souvenirs). By 1932, the island was completely submerged (and still is), so that year, Skrmetta purchased property on the eastern part of Ship Island to develop his own tourist resort.
With its dock and small beach pavilion providing access to pristine swimming waters, Ship Island became a popular destination. As the number of tourists increased, Captain Pete built three increasingly larger excursion boats: Pan American Clipper (1937), Gulf Clipper (1950), and Pan American II (1963). After Captain Pete’s death in 1963, his son Peter Mathew Skrmetta continued to manage and finance the operation, which expanded the same year with daily departures from Gulfport.
The National Park Service purchased the island in 1971, and the Legion turned the business over to the NPS. The Skrmetta family continued as usual, ferrying and providing concession services for the NPS. In 1981 Peter built another ferry, the 65-foot, 150-passenger Island Clipper, to support the increasing Gulfport passenger counts. In 1990, the company purchased the 110-foot, 374-passenger Gulf Islander, and in 2000, another large aluminum vessel, the 100-foot, 308-passenger, Capt. Pete.
The business is now owned and operated by Peter’s four sons, and operates three passenger ferries, the air-conditioned Capt. Pete and Gulf Islander, and the smaller, historic 65-foot Pan American Clipper.
The oldest of Captain Pete’s grandsons is Louis Skrmetta, Pan Isles’ CEO and president. He is also known as Captain Lou, and is one of three siblings who skipper the family’s ferries to Ship Island. His brother, Captain Kenny, is also one of the company’s active ferry skippers, and his brother Steven is a licensed skipper as well.
Louis described his earliest memories of Ship Island, riding on the Pan American Clipper in the early 1960s on his grandfather Captain Pete’s lap when he was six or seven years old, being allowed to “steer” the ship, and then camping out on the island with his siblings and cousins. “We used to all sleep together in the big screened-in porch of the snack bar,” he remembered fondly.
“The business is a true family business,” Louis enthused. “Just like me and my brothers did, my nephews and young cousins are training to move up the ladder. We start off as teenagers working in the snack bar and as barbacks. Then we train as deckhands onboard, and then when we turn 18, we apply for our captains’ licenses and take the exam.” His own son Peter Joseph Skrmetta got his captain’s license five years ago when he was 23, Louis added with pride.
Since he was a child, Louis has been fascinated by the history of the island, and the role that it has played from the colonial era to the present. “Ship Island is such a children-friendly, family-oriented excursion to begin with, but kids who are interested in history can really benefit, like I did.
“The National Park Service has staff on the island at all times, and they give historical tours. Also, NPS has joint programs with the University of Southern Mississippi to bring kids here for a maritime summer camp.”
Louis also pointed out that some of the most special things about the island that are often missed by casual visitors are the serene and scenic hikes. The hike toward the east end of the island is about one and a half hours each way, and the easier hike toward the west end is about 30 minutes each way. I made a note of that for my next visit.
A Fitting Cap to the Day
At about 4:15, we walked back over the boardwalk to the other side of the island to check out the beach there and to wait for the 5:00 ferry. Pleasantly fatigued and mildly sunburned, we started driving back toward Bay St. Louis, keeping a sharp eye out for an outdoor restaurant where we would feel comfortable sitting with our still sandy clothing.
Bacchus On The Beach in Pass Christian (111 West Scenic Drive) hit the spot, with a large outdoor patio and a long covered bar, a view of the Gulf, and platters of raw and charbroiled oysters with cold drinks (we barely missed half-off oyster happy hour, which ends at 6 p.m. every day). Everyone agreed that it was a fine ending to a good day.
If you have never been to Ship Island, then you’ve missed out on one of Mississippi’s treasures. And if you haven’t been to Ship Island since your childhood, take your children, to share with them one of the rare experiences that has remained essentially unchanged from the time of your childhood to theirs.
All You Need To Know
The excursion costs $29 per adult and $19 for children aged 3 to 10 (babies are free). If you’re going to take the family out more than a few times over the summer, your best bet may be the Frequent Rider Pass (10 adult trips for $205, or about $20 per person per day; or 5 adult trips for $115, or $23 per person per day). Discounts are offered to active military personnel and senior citizens for $27.
From mid-May through mid-August, ferries depart Gulfport at 9 a.m. and noon, and depart Ship Island for the ride back to Gulfport at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. This schedule permits visitors to enjoy either a whole day or a half-day on Ship Island.
In the spring, from mid-March to mid-May, and in the fall, from mid-August to the end of October, the ferries make two round trips daily on weekends (departing Gulfport at 9 a.m. and noon, and departing Ship Island at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m.) and one round trip daily on Wednesdays, Thursdays and Fridays (leaving Gulfport only at 9 a.m. and leaving Ship Island only at 5 p.m.).
There are no trips on Mondays or Tuesdays in the spring or fall, and the ferry does not operate at all in the winter between November and mid-March.
Bring some cash onto the island if you want to buy snacks or gift items (the ticket office in Gulfport takes credit cards, but not on the boats or on the island). The snack bar sells cheeseburgers, chicken wraps, nachos, hot dogs, beer and sodas.
You are welcome to bring compact folding chairs and umbrellas, any ice chest not exceeding 42 quarts, and any beverages you like, so long as they are not in glass bottles or containers. Umbrella and chair rentals are also available there ($5 per chair, $15 per umbrella).
And be sure to come prepared for the sun and possibly intense heat; if you are sensitive to burning, bring hats, high-SPF sunscreen and long-sleeved protective clothing. The main beach is staffed with lifeguards.
The fleet remains active year-round with chartered special event shoreline cruises such as corporate parties, weddings, cocktail parties, and class reunions, typically a sunset cruise from about 7 to 9:30 p.m., with catering and entertainment options available. For more information, call 228-864-1014.
A small shrine to Our Lady of the Woods has become a touchstone for two girls' schools - together spanning more than a century and a half.
- story by Ellis Anderson
The grotto was built in the 1860s on the grounds of St. Joseph’s Academy, a parochial girls’ school that was just a few years old at the time. St. Joseph’s was started by three hardy French nuns who made the journey across the Atlantic for just that purpose. Classes filled immediately.
According to an excellent article on the Hancock County Historical Society’s website, the presence of the nuns heartened Father Buteux, the pastor of Our Lady of the Gulf Catholic Church. He wrote about their arrival with great enthusiasm in his 1855 diary.
Bay St. Louis then was a primitive village. Living conditions would have been Spartan, even by standards of the day, without conveniences like electricity or running water. Yellow fever and other diseases were always a threat.
Yet three more nuns arrived the following year. By the 1860s, when the shrine was built, the school began to offer boarding facilities. Board, tuition and washing (of clothes, presumably, not students), cost parents $220 annually in 1867.
The grotto was built after a perilous trip Father Buteux made, sailing from France back to the States. Caught in a violent storm that sheered the mast from the schooner, the priest promised to build a memorial to the Blessed Mother if she would spare the ship and its passengers. In those early days of the city, the shrine was set deep in the surrounding woods.
St. Joseph’s Academy continued to grow through the years, gaining a national reputation for scholastic excellence. Unfortunately, an enormous fire ravaged much of the town and destroyed the school and the church in 1907.
The plucky nuns rallied with wholesale community support and found funding to build a new school. They and their students moved into an elegant new three-story building in 1908. In 1924 a companion two-story brick building was constructed. Referred to as the gymnasium, it was used for music and other classes as well.
The ultimate demise of St. Joseph’s came from a scarcity of teaching nuns rather than a diminishing student body. The front building that had been built in 1907 was torn down after the school was closed in 1967. According to one graduate, it was an act that came as a shock to the town’s residents and the alumni who cherished the architectural treasure.
The gymnasium was destroyed by another fire a few years later. Hurricane Camille in 1969 scoured the grounds. The Our Lady of the Woods shrine was all that remained.
A campus that had been one of the prides of the coast no longer existed. And local parents who wanted a parochial education for their daughters had to look elsewhere.
Then, in the aftermath of Camille, a local attorney with four daughters kick-started a drive to establish a new girls’ school at the site of the former. The late Michael D. Haas teamed with the pastor of OLG, the late Msgr. Gregory J. Johnson and Brother Lee Barker, who was principal of St. Stanislaus College prep school at the time.
Haas’s wife, Myrt, calls herself the original naysayer of the project. When the idea was first discussed, she found it difficult to believe such a grand dream could be brought to fruition. But her enthusiasm quickly caught fire. She remembers that the concept had instant “wholesale community support.”
Many obstacles had to be surmounted. For instance, the group discovered the new school couldn’t receive accreditation without a science lab, a library, or language courses – things that seemed out of reach with their limited funds. But Father Lee offered to share the facilities at St. Stanislaus, an unprecedented move. Co-educational programming between the all-boys school and the female students at St. Joseph’s had never before been considered.
“Our girls learned a lot from the experience,” says Myrt, laughing. “For one, they learned to put on lipstick before they went over to the St. Stanislaus campus.”
Myrt says that the main reason the school succeeded was the good attitude of the early students. In those early days, they didn’t have the resources that the public schools did. For example, there was no cafeteria, considered a school basic.
“I give the students credit for sticking with it and making it work,” Myrt says. “Those girls made it happen as much as the parents and teachers.”
Current OLA principal Darnell Cuevas, who’s been at the school’s helm for two years, says that the school’s enrollment is nearly up to pre-Katrina levels now, with more than 250 students. The students are excelling academically as well. In 2017, 38 graduates scored in the top tier on standardized college entrance tests and were awarded nearly $5 million in scholarships.
The Our Lady of the Woods grotto has become a historical and spiritual tie between the two academies. It’s a favorite place for group photographs of students, teachers and St. Joseph’s graduates, who reunite often. In May of this year, more than 40 students and teachers from the final class of 1967 gathered for their 50th reunion.
The grotto was a favorite meditative spot for Cuevas, even before she began as principal, and she’s eager to see that her younger charges learn the history of the shrine.
Both Myrt and Cuevas speak fondly of the legendary caretaker of the shrine, Sister Albertine, who kept the grotto tidy and with a candle burning at its base around the clock, throughout the year, for decades.
Myrt tells the tale of wartime sacrifice that kept Sister Albertine from performing her duties.
“During World War II, enemy submarines were patrolling the waters of the gulf,” says Myrt. “We had blackouts every night. Lights had to be turned off in houses and buildings. Even cars couldn’t drive the coast roads with headlights.”
“The Coast Guard came to St. Joseph’s, saying that they could see the candle at the foot of the shrine more three miles out in the gulf. Sister Albertine had to stop lighting the candle. But just for the time being.”
Brice Phillips, founder, owner, engineer, station manager, DJ and talk show host at WQRZ 103.5 FM rules the airwaves in Hancock County by merging two passions: communications and community service.
- story and photos by Tricia Donham McAlvain
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Since Chinese television stations were the only ones available when Brice was growing up in Taiwan, he turned to radio for entertainment, tuning in English-speaking stations from around the world.
As a boy, he was also a frequent visitor at the MARS (Military Auxiliary Radio System) base of operations in Taiwan. At the time, MARS allowed service personnel to connect internationally with family and other service people. At MARS, he learned the inner workings of radio and its power to facilitate communication — especially in emergency situations.
Brice also credits his mother for instilling a never-say-die determination. "When you have a sense of accomplishment, you can't stop trying. Mother said never quit. ... One day, you will succeed.”
His mother’s advice proved to be true. Today, Brice Phillips is president of Hancock County Amateur Radio Association, Inc. (HCARA). The 501c3 non-profit organization runs both WQRZ (serving Bay St. Louis, Waveland, Diamondhead, and Kiln) and the “station-in-progress,” WQRG, which will serve the wider Diamondhead area.
Due to his extraordinary community contributions during and after Hurricane Katrina, in 2006 Brice was awarded the Small Business Administration’s Phoenix Award for Outstanding Contributions to Disaster Recovery by a Volunteer. That same year, he also garnered the Mississippi Governor’s Award for Volunteer Excellence.
Brice has called Bay St Louis home for more than 26 years, moving to the coast from Slidell. Former Bay St. Louis mayor Les Fillingame contracted with him as a bench technician to repair VCRs, radios and other electronics.
His first job at a local radio station was with WBSL AM in Bay St Louis. When Brice was hired, WBSL was off the air because of a broken transmitter. After repairing the transmitter, he moved on to a popular coast rock station. Working late nights on weekends as a DJ gave him on-air experience - until he violated protocol by playing a song not on the playlist. That experience merely reinforced Brice’s belief in freedom of speech.
Determined to launch his own radio station, Brice’s father cosigned a loan for his first transmitter. It became the workhorse for WQRZ 103.5 FM. In the early days, the transmitter was powered by solar panels. After Hurricane Katrina, Brice used car batteries to keep it going so he could inform his desperate listeners during the storm and in the long aftermath.
Deciding to stay on the air during Katrina reflects Brice’s dedication and his first-hand knowledge of how important communications can be during severe weather.
During the storm, WQRZ was only off-air for 90 minutes while Brice was fighting the hurricane to swap out antennas during the unprecedented tidal surge. He was one of 35 early responders who had gathered at the emergency operations center in Bay St. Louis. When the water in the building started rising, the situation looked so dire that the rescue workers wrote their assigned numbers on their own hands to make identification easier for compatriots in case they drowned.
He hasn’t missed a beat since the storm. The station has been on the air 24/7 ever since. Internet streaming allows listeners around the world to tune in.
(Click here to stream from "Tune In," a free site that doesn't require to sign up).
WQRZ offers programming about gardening, politics, and community news. Every weekday, during the two-hour Morning Show, Brice and his volunteers read news from the local papers, connecting with residents who may be disabled or economically challenged, and with those who just like to hear neighborly voices.
The music playlist varies with the day of the week. There’s Local Monday, for instance, when area musicians and singer-songwriters are featured. Blues Tuesday, Free Speech and World Wednesday (keeping listeners abreast of local civic meetings), Jazz Thursday and Rock-n-Roll Friday keep listeners entertained through the week.
Music from the ’70s and dance music are Saturday favorites, while Sunday is “Album Therapy,” starting with gospel, moving on to albums and ending with relaxing new age music: “The floaty stuff,” Brice says.
"Brice amazes me every day,” says Jennifer Sones, WQRZ volunteer of seven years. “He can take something that is nothing and build anything.”
Lynn Smith, a WQRZ volunteer of five years, explains the general philosophy. "The station maintains the ability to play anything possible, including 8-tracks, reels, cassettes, and vinyl. We have no rules other than those of the FCC. We also hold a ham radio license for official communications.”
"People are lost without communication,” Brice says. “Information is the key that binds our community together. I’ll do this for the rest of my life.”
“Rock on, dudes!”
Who to Believe?
I recently went shopping with friends to a number of our favorite thrift shops and found a long linen coat, a sweater, two shirts and three dresses. All of the items fit and I bought them.
For non-thrift store afficianados, the first piece of advice I have for you is to avoid shopping by size. You may miss some great buys that way.
The coat I bought was a size 6, the sweater was a medium; one shirt was an XS, and the other a large. The first dress I bought was a 6, the second was a 2, and the third was a 0. Really? A zero? That is absurd.
This is Deena Shoemaker. She is a teen counselor and a frustrated buyer of women’s clothing. These are the photos she posted on her Facebook page to illustrate a point. Clothing sizes make no sense. Her travails were written up the in Business Insider.
Mind, Body, Spirit
When someone you love dies, people irritate you. Friends especially. Lots of them do, anyhow.
Here is a for-instance. The ones who come up and ask you what stage of grief you are in are beyond irritating. “What stage are you on?” was how I always answered.
Grief may have stages but they are in such a constant muddle that anger bleeds into denial that may, in an hour or so, morph into bargaining or depression, and so on and so on. Some wag once said that everything learned in sociology is either obvious or untrue. How obvious and true.
Across the Bridge
Across The Bridge
At Home In The Bay
Beach To Bayou
Coast Lines Column
Friends Of The Animal Shelter
Growing Up Downtown
House And Garden
Old Town Merchants
On The Shoofly
Puppy Dog Tales
Station House BSL
Talk Of The Town
Wines And Dining