Nancy Depreo: a fearless first
The first female city councilperson for Diamondhead became the city's first female mayor, where her community benefits from her decades of experience and degrees in drafting, design and construction engineering.
- by Lisa Monti
Depreo started working at 19 and later, with two small children at home, took night classes and earned a bachelor’s degree in construction engineering. She says her two children, April and Anthony, were her “driving ambition” to advance her education.
She has worked on numerous significant projects, from the 1984 World’s Fair in New Orleans to Isle of Capri, Mississippi’s first casino, and the massive Promenade shopping center in D’Iberville. She also had a hand in smaller projects as well, including designing the Charlie Henderson Ford dealership based on a sketch Henderson did for her on a napkin.
Depreo’s work experience has proven to be the best preparation she could have imagined to lead Diamondhead as mayor.
“It gives me such an advantage,” she said, “because my background, my whole career, was construction and civil engineering.” She designed layouts for numerous projects including small commercial development, several subdivisions, numerous road projects and water and sewage systems.
With all that experience in construction, including a working knowledge of the bidding process and change orders, she says, “I’m not the most popular person in the room, but it’s an asset. They can’t get one over on me.”
The fact that Depreo is the only female mayor on the coast is not lost on someone who was the only female in her workplace and on the job site.
“I started out very young, so was it was easy in beginning? No, it wasn’t, because I was walking into a male-dominated profession. I consider myself one of the leaders in breaking the ground for women getting into construction and engineering. It’s very common now but back in the day when I started in the late ‘80s I was the only female in the office, and that went on for many years.”
She knew she had to make her mark and earn her way to be taken seriously. "When I walked on a construction site, it wasn’t about whether I was wearing high heels or boots or what I looked like, it was about my knowledge. I was going to have the respect that I had earned.”
Depreo, who was born and raised in Bay St. Louis, has lived in Diamondhead since 1993. She worked with an engineering firm on drainage projects when Diamondhead was newly incorporated, and later as general manager for the water and sewer district. That was around the time she started thinking about running for the city council.
“After all those years and hard work in other cities to help them thrive and succeed, I saw the opportunity for sharing what I learned with my hometown,” she said.
After she was elected to the council in 2016, Depreo started the Neighborhood Watch and National Night Out programs and began holding meetings for her Ward 1 constituents. The monthly meeting became citywide after she was elected mayor in a 2020 special election. This year she expects to host the milestone 50th ward meeting.
“At first I thought it was good for me to meet people,” she said of the meetings, “then it turned into such a tool for me. I gain as much as the residents. I get to know their concerns and needs and share thoughts.”
Depreo says this is an exciting time for Diamondhead, with multiple projects and developments underway or in the planning stages. One is the new business district, which she calls “a blank canvas” for major new development unlike any other on the coast.
Among the new additions is Memorial Hospital’s 20,000-square-foot facility and the return of Love’s Pharmacy. Residential development in Diamondhead is booming as well, with dozens of new homes being built and more planned.
Depreo also sits on the board of the Hancock County Republican Executive Committee, is a member of Hancock County Republican Women, Keep Diamondhead Beautiful, Hancock Central Rotary, Diamondhead’s Dog Park Steering Committee, Diamondhead Farmer’s Market and Diamondhead’s Senior Center Steering Committee.
She also works as the Mississippi State Ambassador for Rare Disorders. In her mid-40s she learned her body didn’t produce antibodies and now undergoes weekly treatments to combat the rare genetic disorder. As ambassador she advocates to help Mississippians with rare disorders through research and education. “Some days I don’t feel the best, but I don’t take a minute for granted,” she said.
Depreo believes every person has something to offer to those in need. “There’s somebody who needs your talent or experiences, so please reach out. Find what you enjoy and give your all to help in your community.”
She donates part of her mayor’s salary back to nonprofits including CASA, Magdalen House, Friends of the Hancock County Animal Shelter, Diamondhead SPCA, Hancock County Food Pantry, Hancock Resource Center and the Hancock Human Resource Center.
“I don’t consider this a job, it’s me giving back to my community, and I love what I do,” she said.
Away from city work and volunteer hours, Depreo likes nothing better than riding around on a golf cart and playing with her four grandchildren. “They are my everything,” she said. “Any spare moment is all about them.”
Depreo said being a women in politics hasn’t been an easy road. “It has been difficult and still sometimes I feel that way, but I’ve found ways around it. You have to prove yourself before you gain respect, and I’ve worked very hard to have that.”
She believes the way to get more women involved in politics is to support the ones who hold office and reach out to others to let them know what a great opportunity it is to be involved in government. “Women have so much to offer. I encourage them to run and support them,” she said.
Her vision for the next year is “to help Diamondhead prosper and grow and work hard to get new community development into Diamondhead while maintaining the beautiful, safe community we live in. We are so blessed, and we have to work to maintain that.”
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