Legacy of Lovely: Carol Vegas
The park surrounding the historic Bay St. Louis City Hall and the shoofly oak is named after a woman who left a lasting legacy of loveliness.
- story by LB Kovac, photos courtesy Holly Vegas
She did missionary work with primitive Indians in the rainforest. She slowed down a little to have four kids. All of this under, as Holly puts it, “a hail of gunfire:” Guatemala was in the middle ofa brutal civil war, one that would only be settled a little before Carol Vegas’ death. But the war didn’t stop her; Carol Vegas did what needed to be done.
When she finally got to Bay St. Louis, she didn’t settle down into the role of quintessential Southern housewife so prevalent in the 1960s. The only hallmark of that image she retained was her penchant for hats. Holly says, “She loved her hats; any time there was a significant event, she would find a way to wear a hat.” She was 5’3” and had fire-licked hair out of a bottle, something women at the time just didn’t do.
And this beautification business that Carol Vegas is now so famous for? Holly says it all started because of trash. “She was infuriated by people throwing their junk out,” she says. And, once again, she did what needed to be done. “She wanted the new place she called home to be a better place.” Carol and three other ladies organized a group of kids who would pick up trash in the mornings and on the weekends. “That’s what I remember about growing up: always being dragged around to pick up litter.”
“She would never not do the right thing,” says Holly, and this strong sense of ethics is something the daughter feels she inherited from her mother. “And, if there was something to be done – a party or whatever – she would do it to the nth degree.”
It’s around this time that she met Ellis Cuevas, long-time publisher and editor of the Sea Coast Echo. The two “fell in a good friendship,” as Cuevas puts it, and, over the year’s served on many committees, boards, and task forces together. Cuevas can attest to Carol Vegas’ long list of accomplishments. “It was a hell of a journey [working with her],” he says.
“[Her] biggest project was anti-litter.” Of course, where this litter was mattered little to Carol Vegas, or Cuevas. Together they served on the Bay St. Louis Beautification Committee, the Hancock County Beautification Committee and the Marine Debris Taskforce, where they helped on numerous projects that made the neighborhoods, roads and beaches less trash-filled and more beautiful.
Independent of Cuevas, Carol Vegas also served on several highway landscaping committees and city beautification projects. She’s credited with designing the Tree of Life at the Harriet Center and the rose window at Christ Episcopal Church. For her efforts beautifying the Gulfport area, Carol Vegas was awarded medals, titles, plaques and other awards too numerous to even list.
In the last years of her life, when she’d “retired” from public work, Carol Vegas did not let up. Holly shares, “Her ritual every morning was to call all of these people and just listen to them. She was a kind of therapist… That’s what caught me off guard [at her funeral] – how many people she emotionally supported… And she did it all out of this sense of purpose.”
Picking up litter certainly isn’t the glamorous side of beautification – not like designing gardens or arranging ornamental flowers – but it is important and necessary. Carol Vegas made a career out of it.
If you ever see the sunlight coming over the old City Hall, casting long shadows over the swing sets or the wildflowers, think that it wouldn’t be that pristine or beautiful if it weren’t for someone seeing a piece of litter and deciding something needed to be done about it
Just a few months prior to its opening, the park formerly known as City Park was a mess. No one needs reminding that Hurricane Katrina hit the area hard, and a lot was lost. But Carol Vegas Park was one of the first things in the area people came together to clean up and rebuild it. More than 500 volunteers and residents worked to clean up debris, lay the foundation and add the equipment donated by KaBoom!
And, in Carol Vegas’ name, the area was left a little brighter.