by Pat Saik
Dress her in blue jeans, hand her a shovel, and Katharine Truett Ohman is happy. For her, gardening is not just a hobby, it is a passion.
Fierce advocate for “re-greening” Bay Saint Louis, Ohman is a one-woman beautification machine. Having worked on project after project, especially after Hurricane Katrina’s destruction, Katharine has accomplished the kind of change that has transformed a broken landscape from a dirty gray to a thriving green.
For example, one of the first projects she brought to fruition after Katrina was planting 450 Crape Myrtles along the roadway. Helped along by donations of flower bulbs from the organization “America Responds with Love,” Ohman also helped organize a community trade-off of flower bulbs for metal cans or canned food. Through these efforts Hancock County residents received free of charge over a quarter of a million bulbs to plant.
Years ago, Katharine had her own landscaping business. The nursery businesses that she worked with then remain part of her re-greening support system. As a result of her good relationships with suppliers, most if not all of the trees, bushes and bulbs, were donated for the project at hand. Dan Batson’s GreenForest Nursery is just one of the generous donors to her projects.
Katharine receives help in implementing her projects from the Bay St. Louis Beautification Division as well as the City’s Division of Public Works, not to mention countless volunteers.
Support and approval for her projects from the City of Bay St. Louis is astounding. Katharine commends Mayor Les Fillingame for his love for a healthy community and his willingness to work together in support of the next project Katharine proposes.
“It takes a lot of work to get projects done,” Katharine muses. “It takes the entire community.”
One of Katharine’s sisters describes her as “a connector—someone who knows how to pull it all together and make it happen.”
Ohman has been showered with recognition for her community work with the environment—more awards than she can remember. She believes it important to acknowledge and thank any individual who has contributed to a project. But what is most important to Katharine is seeing how Bay St. Louis has had a rebirth of her natural beauty.
Katharine’s roots are deeply embedded in the community she loves. While growing up in New Orleans, she and her family drove often to Bay St. Louis via old US Highway 90. Both her mother’s parents and her father’s family had a summer house on the Mississippi coast.
In 1977, when Katharine was a young teenager, she and her parents, her two sisters and two younger brothers moved to Bay St. Louis. Sadly, her father died just a year later. Next-door neighbors Bill and Nell Frisbie provided loving emotional support, as well as their daughter, Jo Frisbie Gilmore, and the community at large.
Katharine credits her parents with instilling in her, by example, the duty one has to serve their community. Her father, for example, ministered to men in prison. Following in his footprints, Katharine often has and continues to work with jailed offenders held by the city and county. Together they accomplish re-greening projects.
In partnership with Mississippi State University’s Christian Stephenson, one on-going project has been creating and maintaining a community garden. Katharine—who has a master’s degree in psychology -works at building relationships with young offenders using her skills as both gardener and therapist. The men learn a useful skill and a sense of self-esteem.
All of the fruits and vegetables grown at the community garden are donated to the senior citizen center or the food pantry in Bay St. Louis.
Katharine is grateful to her parents for encouraging each of their children to be whatever they wanted to be, but always to work from a foundation of love and commitment to family and community.
She respects her parents for teaching her the credo she now lives by: be respectful to the environment and respectful to each and every human being.
Katharine’s fierceness and commitment to bettering her community may spring from her maternal lineage. She is a descendent of Susan B. Anthony, an activist in a Quaker family of social activists. Anthony (1820-1906) became an ardent advocate for women’s suffrage rights and other social justice issues. She spent her life working for justice with a moral zeal.
Likewise, Katharine says that she is “strongly pressed” to do what she is doing—that sometimes one must take on “what is heavily placed upon you.”
Katharine believes that a beautiful-looking community goes hand-in-hand with good mental health and good economic health.
When Katharine worked with public schools across the coast in improving mental health programs, she most enjoyed working with children. In order to help children remember her last name, she told them to just think “Oh, man, here she comes!”
Katharine Truett Ohman is a force of nature and luckily for Bay St. Louis, a good omen for re-growth through re-greening.
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