Legacy of Lovely: Carol Vegas
- story by LB Kovac, photos courtesy Holly Vegas
Holly Vegas said she didn’t know that city planners were naming a park after her mother until well after the grand opening on December 26, 2005.
Holly Vegas, who lives in New York, says “I think I found out from a friend of a friend.” By the day of the park’s opening, Mrs. Carol Vegas had been dead for more than five years. But one thing she didn’t take to the grave was her legacy: Carol Vegas accomplished more than most in her 64 years alive.
Carol Peterson was born on January 9, 1936, near Oakland, California. She didn’t make it to Bay St. Louis until April 1963. In between, she received a bachelor’s degree in art.
She was thinking about pursuing a master’s when she met Paul Vegas, an engineer, on a blind date. Holly says that it wasn’t in her plans to fall in love, but they were married in 1956. “Paul was her rock,” says Holly. “He gave her the strength to do what she did.”
She then moved to Guatemala when Paul got a government job working on the Pan-American Highway. She knew no Spanish, but she taught herself. She knew little about cooking meals, but she learned to, among other things, “kill the food to get it on the table,” says Holly.
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.”
“[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.
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.