The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week we hear from Aino Driegert’s oral history recorded on January 12, 1973. It would the first of seven interviews documenting the story of Finnish immigrants who came to Mississippi beginning 1899. They settled on the Gulf Coast in a small community named for a nearby orange grove. The name was changed to Laine after the first Finnish settler in the area, Gideon Laine, who encouraged other Finns to come. After the Southern Paper Company opened a mill there in 1912, the name was changed to Kreole. Today it is part of Moss Point.
In the early days, the group had to deal such difficulties as hostile locals, who would terrorize them with night rides, firing into the air and yelling “Yankees go home.” The children were also teased as “foreigners” until they learned to speak English. But soon the hardworking Finns proved their worth and were accepted as part of the community, learning to fit in while keeping their cultural traditions and Lutheran faith intact.
1973 – Aino Driegert was born in Orange Grove, Missisippi in 1902. In this episode, she discusses why her parents left Finland and her father’s love for America. As the daughter of Finnish immigrants, Driegert started school before she could speak English. She recalls how her family struggled to become part of the Gulf Coast community in those early days.
The Gulf Coast Finnish Community worked to maintain their cultural heritage and traditions. Driegert describes various social gatherings such as communal bathing in the family sauna. According to Driegert, even though the children of their community have scattered across the country, they still consider the Gulf Coast home. She reflects with pride on the character of the Finnish people.
PHOTO: Joanne Anderson, Gulflive.com
The Mississippi Moments Decades Series continues counting down to the Center for Oral History and Cultural Heritage 50th Anniversary Celebration in 2021. This week, we dip into a terrific interview conducted in 1972 of William Hubbell, a longtime resident of Biloxi who served as a merchant marine before opening his own business. After retirement, Mr. Hubbell enjoyed collecting and sharing stories of life on the Gulf Coast as an amateur historian.
1972 - William Hubbell moved to Biloxi as a child in 1909. He describes the beautiful wind-powered schooners used by Gulf Coast fishermen in those days and how they would race each other along the shore during the annual regatta, which drew thousands of spectators each year. According to Hubbell, the Fireman’s Parade was another popular event in Biloxi. He recalls the brightly colored trucks and how the firemen were rewarded with copious quantities of beer.
Gulf Coast residents have always traveled to New Orleans for work, shopping, and recreation. Hubbell discusses riding the “Coast Train” before automobiles were common. He also recounts a typical day and riding his pony cart to school along the old beach road.
As a resort town, Biloxi has always been a popular destination for tourists in the summertime. Hubbell remembers the Iowa farmers who chose to spend their winters on the Gulf Coast.
Gene Stork of Big Point, Mississippi, became a commercial fisherman in 1954. In this episode, he recalls working on a “mother boat” for Clark’s Seafood and how they used four skiffs to catch fish. Commercial fisherman like Stork would release redfish over a certain size because those were the egg layers. He explains how the popularity of blackened fish led to a reduction in the redfish population.
Fishing boats sometimes haul in sharks and poisonous species of fish, unintentionally. Stork remembers falling overboard once as he tried to release two sharks from his net. During his time as a commercial fisherman, Gene Stork witnessed many changes. He discusses those changes and compares the nets of today with those of the past.
Retired Fire Chief Robert Gavagnie joined the Bay St. Louis Fire Department in 1972. In this episode, he looks back with pride on a career spent savings lives and training young people to become firefighters. Before the opening of the Mississippi State Fire Academy, local fire departments had limited training resources. Gavagnie discusses how things have changed over time.
As part of their jobs, many first responders witness horrific scenes of carnage and devastation they can never forget. Gavagnie remembers a tragic fire he responded to and how that memory haunts him even now.
When Robert Gavagnie retired as Bay St. Louis Fire Chief in 2007, he had over 25 years of experience. He explains what makes firefighting such a demanding and yet rewarding career.
CAUTION: Contains graphic descriptions of tragic scenes witnessed by the speaker as a firefighter.
For Gulf Coast residents, January means Mardi Gras season and in the South, no Super Bowl party is complete without a King Cake. Beyond the traditional Carnival celebrations in Mobile, Biloxi, and New Orleans, many other southern cities have established their own annual parades and festivities in recent years.
Ocean Springs native, Christa Hode grew up attending the Biloxi Mardi Gras parades with her family. In this episode, she remembers the day her father asked if she would like to be the Queen of Carnival for 1971. As Queen Ixolib for the Biloxi Mardi Gras, Hode wore an elaborate gown and long flowing train. She describes having the gown made in New Orleans and the heavy fabrics they used back then.
Hode has many fond memories of being the Biloxi Queen. She remembers how cold it was during the night parade and how much fun she had waving to the crowds. Having spent her life participating in Mardi Gras festivities, Hode has witnessed the comradery and sense of community it provides Gulf Coast residents. She also appreciates the economic benefits and tourism Carnival brings to the area.
As Hurricane Katrina churned across the Gulf in August of 2005, Ruth Christian left her Pascagoula home to wait out the storm with her son’s mother-in-law, a few miles inland. In this episode, taken from an interview conducted in 2007, she shares her memories of the days following the storm as people struggled to feed themselves. She recalls trying to feed 16 people with anything they could find.
A couple of days after the hurricane, Christian found out her home had been destroyed. She remembers coming to terms with the loss of everything she owned at the age of 77.
According to Christian, everyone was in a state of shock. She describes the despair she felt combing through the wreckage, and the joy of finding family keepsakes.
PODCAST BONUS: Because Hurricane Georges damaged her home in 1998, Christian decided not to rebuild a second time after Hurricane Katrina. She discusses her decision to move into an apartment, but remain on the Gulf Coast.
Fifty years ago this week, Hurricane Camille left a wide path of destruction across the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Dr. Henry Maggio was working at a Bay Saint Louis hospital on August 17, 1969 when Camille slammed into the Gulf Coast. In this episode, he remembers feelings of dread as the storm came ashore.
As Hurricane Camille made landfall, it brought devastating winds and flooding to coastal communities. Maggio describes being stranded in the hospital during the storm. He discusses trying to reach the injured afterwards and his decision to evacuate the hospital.
After the storm was over, the long recovery and rebuilding process began. Maggio shares his memories from that time, like being reunited with his family, the loss of their new home, and all the people who brought needed supplies to aid in the recovery effort.
PHOTO: Fred Hutchings – Pass Christian, MS after Hurricane Camille
Edmond Boudreaux’s family came to Biloxi in 1914 to work in the seafood factories. In this episode, he shares his family’s long history in the seafood industry and how his father would work in the factory as child before and after attending school each day.
Growing up on “The Point” in East Biloxi, Boudreaux never thought of his family as poor. He recalls how he and his brothers would play and fish in the nearby marshes and bayous. According to Boudreaux, all people living on the Mississippi Sound develop a connection to the water. He explains how those ties remain constant, even as changes in technology have resulted in fewer people actually working in the seafood industry.
Over the years, the Gulf Coast fishery has weathered challenges from hurricanes, floods, and pollution. Boudreaux discusses those challenges and how recent events have affected the livelihoods of Mississippi fishermen.
This past weekend, June 2-3, 2018, the 89th Annual Blessing of the Fleet was held in Biloxi. As coastal fishermen head out into Gulf in search of shrimp, we decided to revisit the interview of Earl Ross, conducted in 2011. A third-generation fisherman, Ross began shrimping in 1977. In this episode, he discusses his first shrimp boat, the variety of nets he uses and the size of his territory.
When a shrimp boat leaves home on a fishing trip, it can gone for days or even weeks at a time. Ross describes an average day on the water and how he and his crew prepare for the trip. Searching for the best place to cast their nets is a constant challenge for commercial fishermen. Ross explains how shrimpers work together as rising fuel prices erode profits.
With all the challenges facing the Gulf Coast seafood industry, shrimpers have been forced to look for new ways to remain profitable. According to Ross, many shrimpers are now selling directly to retailers. He also discusses how shrimpers have faced increased regulation at state and federal levels in recent years.
Reverend Robert Hartenfeld’s father ran a small country store in northwestern Ohio. In this episode, he explains how watching his dad interact with customers in an intimate and personal way taught him the importance of listening—a skill he would come to appreciate in later years as a Lutheran minister.
In 1983, Hartenfeld came to Long Beach, Mississippi, to help establish a new Lutheran congregation. He describes the anxiety of being a Yankee in the deep South and falling in love with the Gulf Coast. Again, it was his ability to listen and offer support that helped him to gain acceptance and respect in Mississippi.
After Hartenfeld retired from fulltime ministry in 1992, he began volunteering with the Back Bay Mission in Biloxi. As coordinator of the Loaves and Fishes soup kitchen, he feels his most important job is listening to those in need.
PHOTO: St. Paul Lutheran Church, Dailyherald.com
Lawrence Semski was the Biloxi City Attorney when Hurricane Camille struck on August 18, 1969. In this episode, he recounts how the city government struggled to provide basic services after the storm. After Camille devastated the Gulf Coast, offers of assistance poured in from around the world. Semski remembers how Biloxi Mayor Danny Guice’s professional contacts were the first to arrive with aid.
Next, according to Semski, hundreds of professional contractors descended on Biloxi looking to make some quick money. He explains the process of screening and monitoring these companies to prevent fraud and waste.
Semski characterizes the days following Hurricane Camille as bringing out the best and worst in people. He describes the storm as an equalizer that kindled a spirit of determination to recover and rebuild.
PHOTO: Wiki Commons
After graduating pharmacy school, Louise Lynch and her husband purchased a drugstore in her hometown of Waveland. In this episode, she discusses a variety of topics including her time at Ole’ Miss during WWII, the challenge of being accepted as a pharmacist by those who knew her as a child, and issues related to civil rights.
When Lynch’s husband passed away in 1963, leaving her to raise seven daughters alone, she found comfort, continuity and invaluable assistance within the tightknit community. Lynch passed away on July 12, 2016 at the age of 93.
As a third generation fisherman, Clyde Brown grew up hunting and fishing on the Gulf Coast. Even as he pursued a career with International Paper, he worked to preserve the natural resources of the Gulf and protect the interests of fishermen. In 1982, Brown worked to dredge out an access canal into Bayou Heron after it became filled-in through disuse. He recalls how they raised the funds for a landing to make Bayou Heron accessible for everyone.
Due to his interest in preserving our marine resources, Brown was appointed to the Gulf of Mexico Program for Fisheries. He describes his work with the program and how his desire to establish a reserve in Jackson County led the Grand Bay National Estuarine Research Reserve or NERR. Brown credits his wife’s pecan pie for sealing the deal.
Clyde Brown was awarded NOAA’s Environmental Hero Award in recognition of his thirty-year commitment to coastal conservation. He looks back on the occasion with humor and humility.
As Hurricane Katrina churned across the Gulf of Mexico in late summer of 2005, Steve Grimm of Picayune was busy attending to the daily challenges of running Highlands Community Hospital (then Crosby Memorial Hospital). While the storm ravaged the Gulf Coast on the morning of August 29, he and his staff tried to save medical records and equipment as the roof blew off the building.
In the episode, Grimm describes the situation they faced the morning after including, no security, only backup generators for power and shortages of food, fuel and other basic necessities of life. He explains how they began to pick up the pieces and prepare for the next time even as they struggled to return to something close to normalcy.
According to Grimm, lessons learned from Hurricane Katrina will not be wasted. He is proud of how his hospital staff stood up to adversity and confident that they will be better prepared moving forward.
On the evening of October 11, 1973, Charles Hickman and Calvin Parker were fishing the Pascagoula River when they had a close encounter with a UFO. In this episode, Hickman describes being taken aboard an alien spacecraft!
After filing a report about their abduction they returned to their jobs at Ingles Shipyard. Hickman recalls not being prepared for the media circus that followed.
Hickman and Parker were questioned repeatedly by authorities and examined by the medical staff at Keesler Air Force. In a podcast extra, Hickman recounts the chain of events.
The lives of Charles Hickman and Calvin Parker were forever changed after that night in October of 1973. Hickman gave numerous interviews and wrote a book about his experience. Parker attended UFO conventions and started his own television production company in 1993 called UFO Investigations. Charles Hickman passed away at the age of 80 on September 9, 2011.
CNN sent correspondent Kathleen Koch to Mobile, Alabama to ride out Hurricane Katrina. After the storm, when she was finally allowed to travel to her hometown, Bay Saint Louis, Mississippi, the level of devastation and suffering she witnessed was overwhelming.
In this episode, Koch describes feeling intensely conflicted between the detachment her job required and the desire to cast aside her role as a reporter and do anything possible to alleviate the suffering she encountered. She and crew decided to use their time off the air to search for the missing and help survivors.
After Hurricane Katrina, South Mississippi residents came together in a spirit of cooperation and self-reliance. Koch recalls a resourceful group of young people she met at their unauthorized shelter and a mad dash to Wal-Mart to bring them much needed supplies.
John Hairston was the Chief Operations Officer for Hancock Bank in Gulfport, when in Fall of 2005, Hurricane Katrina threatened the coast. In this episode, he remembers preparing for a hit, but predicting a miss.
When Hancock Bank's corporate headquarters was wiped out, all of the bank’s records and computers were destroyed. Hairston explains how they were able to transfer all of their operations to Chicago within four days. Hairston recalls handing out tens of millions of dollars to anyone with an IOU and giving a new meaning to the phrase "money laundering."
George Bass was the Long Beach Fire Chief when Hurricane Katrina struck the Mississippi Gulf Coast in 2005. In this episode, he remembers meeting with his men in the final hours before the storm and how he assured them that they would be okay. Bass describes how he and his fellow firemen hunkered down as the winds from Katrina threatened to bring the station down around them. He also explains how they fanned out looking for survivors even before the storm had passed
Afterwards, it was time for the cleanup to begin. Bass recalls feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of the task before them.
Tommy Longo was Mayor of Waveland when Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast in August of 2005. In the episode, he remembers the city before storm and the devastation after.
As Hurricane Katrina made landfall in the early morning hours of August 29th, 2005, Longo and his family took shelter in the Waveland command post. He recalls the group’s struggle to survive as the floodwaters rose.
Longo was born and raised in the city of Waveland. He discusses how Hurricane Katrina has changed the he thinks about his home town. He also recalls their efforts to convince everyone to evacuate the area and how he convinced one lady to leave her cats.
Photo Credit: photosfromkatrina.com
On September 29th, 1915, a category four hurricane made landfall near Grand Isle, Louisiana, killing 275 people. In this episode, Jim Kelly of English Lookout recalls the town’s largest employer and the aftermath of the storm. He remember how the factory used to produce crushed oyster shells by the trainload and how the hurricane changed all that.
Kelly was 10 years old when the hurricane destroyed the school and most of the homes in English Lookout. He explains why he wasn’t able to return to school until two years later.
In this Podcast Extra, Kelly describes how they would unload oysters from the schooners and roll them in railcars into the factory steamers.
Gene Stork, of Moss Point, began working as a commercial fisherman in 1954. In this episode he recalls being part of a “mother boat” crew and how they worked together to catch fish.
He also discusses how Coastal fishermen would try to avoid catching redfish over a certain size because the larger fish are the egg layers. Stork feels the increased popularity of blackened redfish in Louisiana led to overfishing.
Stork learned how to fish for flounder through years of experience. He remembers wading for miles through the shallow waters of the Gulf trying to catch the elusive fish.
In a Podcast Extra, Stork talks about how during the winter months, his attention turned from fish to oysters. He describes how he gathered oysters and how he and his wife would clean and shuck them by the gallon.
The BP Oil Spill of 2010 generated stress and financial hardships throughout the Gulf Coast fishing industry. In this episode, Daniel Nguyen of the Mary, Queen of Vietnam Community Development Corporation discusses how that stress affected the Vietnamese Fishing Community.
After the BP Oil Spill, Congressman Joseph Cao formed a rapid response team to assist the Vietnamese fishing community. Team member Tuan Nguyen recalls those hectic days of community service and the cities they visited.
While BP hired many out-of-work fishermen to assist with the clean-up following the oil spill of 2010, some Vietnamese fishermen were left out due to the language barrier. Peter Nguyen explains how he assisted those fishermen to find work during the recovery.
Tuan Nguyen recounts with pride, the ways the rapid response team assisted, not only the Vietnamese community during the months following the oil spill, but the entire Gulf Coast.
On April 20th, 2010, an explosion aboard the Deepwater Horizon drilling platform, in the Gulf of Mexico, led to the largest crude oil spill in history. In this episode, commercial fisherman Peter Floyd recalls being confident that the Gulf Coast would survive. Joe Jewell of the Mississippi Dept. of Marine resources discusses the “triple threat” faced by Coastal fishermen.
After Hurricane Katrina, Crab fisherman Louie Lipps opened his own seafood restaurant in Frenier, Louisiana. Five years later, the BP oil spill brought a whole new set of challenges to the Gulf Coast seafood industry. Lipps remembers how his business was affected.
According to Peter Floyd, optimism is trait inherent in all successful fishermen. He feels that dire predictions in the media did more harm to the seafood industry than the spill itself.
Mardi Gras has been celebrated in Biloxi since 1883. In this episode, Jerry O’Keefe remembers the excitement of attending the parades as a boy in the 1930s. Later, as a young father in the 1940s, O’Keefe shared his love of Mardi Gras with his children.
After being elected Mayor of Biloxi in 1972, O’Keefe realized the city’s Mardi Gras fundraising system needed to be overhauled. He explains how that was accomplished and why Mardi Gras remains so important to the city's identity.
Gulfport native John C. Robinson moved to Chicago and became a pilot after graduating from the Tuskegee Institute in the early 1920s when blacks were considered incapable of grasping the principles of aviation. He did this by taking a job as janitor of the Curtis Wright Flight School and earning the respect of one of the instructors. After graduating, he stayed on as an instructor and helped other Africian-Americans enter the field. He later convinced his Alma Mater to open a flight school--thus paving the way for the Tuskegee Airmen of WWII.
In this episode, Gulfport writer Thomas Simmons shares stories of Robinson that he gathered in eight years of research for his book: The Brown Condor-The True Adventures of John C. Robinson.