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Cemetery tours will bring South Mississippi characters to life

Cemetery Tour

Cemetery tours will bring South Mississippi characters to life

by Mary Perez

If graves could talk they'd tell some fascinating stories, said Laurie Rosetti with Biloxi Main Street, who helps research and present the city's annual cemetery tour.

"Some people ask if it's a spooky tour," said Rosetti. "It's not." The cemetery tours across the Coast are held around Halloween but are factual rather than frightful.

The first event of the "season" comes Thursday. The Local History and Genealogy Department at the Biloxi Public Library on Howard Avenue will offer a sneak peek of the Biloxi Cemetery Tour with visits from a couple of the characters. One of them, Captain John Walker, left behind his journal from the late 1800s. It will be used to illustrate the importance of keeping a journal for genealogy research.

Lots of research

His isn't the only journal. "We have a bunch of examples," said Jane Shambra, Local History and Genealogy librarian.

The free program is from 5:30 to 6:30 p.m. and is open to all ages.

For the first time in eight years, the Biloxi Cemetery Tour will kick off with a Sunday and daytime event at 2 p.m. Oct. 26. A repeat tour will follow Oct. 28 starting at 4 p.m. About 1,500 people attended last year's tours.

Preserve Biloxi, the organizing committee, asked the community to tell stories handed down about their ancestors who are buried in the cemetery. Albert Ott will portray Peter Ott, who served in the Spanish-American War and was the only Marine from Biloxi in the Civil War, Rosetti said.

Raymond Egers Jr. will portray his father, Raymond Egers, a band leader along the Coast in the 1940s and '50s. One of his stories is about a kid named Pete who came with his clarinet but was too young to play in the band. "That man was Pete Fountain," Rosetti said.

Helping people find work

Following Kat Bergeron's historical account in the Sun Herald, Nikola Skrmetta was added to the nine stops on the Biloxi Cemetery Tour. He was the first Yugoslavian immigrant in Biloxi and the first person he met was Lazaro Lopez, owner of a seafood processing business. Despite the language barrier, Lopez hired him, and said Skrmetta did the work of 100 men. Skrmetta wrote to family and told them to come to Biloxi.

"That's the kind of thing that would have been lost to history," Rosetti said.

The history of Beauvoir's cemetery in Biloxi will be told Oct. 24 by Mary Fuller, a Beauvoir bride who married eight times and was known to say, "As long as the good Lord keeps taking them so will I."

Kitsaa Stevens, events coordinator at Beauvoir, said among the others buried there who will be portrayed are Eva McDaniel, who opened the first photography studio in Gulfport, and James Marks Tinnon, who became a postmaster in Alva, Miss., after the war. Tours will begin at 6 p.m. and admission is $8 for adults and $3 for children.

The popular Historic Krebs Cemetery tour won't be held this year but will return for 2015. Jackson County residents can instead take a free guided tour Nov. 1 of the Griffin Cemetery at the end of Dantzler Street. Golf carts will be available to get around the cemetery.

A growing tradition

This is the second year for the tour, which has grown from two presenters last year to seven this year, said chair Deidre Bishop DenBleyker, who noted the tour started because the history of Moss Point "is slipping between our fingers." Robert Wells will tell the stories of some of the 21 Confederate soldiers buried in the cemetery beneath 300-year-old cedar trees. The oldest graves in the cemetery will get purple ribbons to mark the short lives of Burissa and Benjamin Bradford, ages 11 and 3, who died in 1848 of an invasive fever. Anchors signs will designate the graves of 10 tug boat, barge and ship captains.

In Hancock County, the 21st annual Cedar Rest Cemetery Tour returns at dusk Halloween night at the cemetery on Second Street. Members of the Hancock County Historical Society will be in period attire for tours from 5:30 to 8 p.m.

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Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray to lead Christmas Parade in Columbus

Miss Miss

Miss Mississippi Jasmine Murray to lead Christmas Parade in Columbus

The Columbus Christmas Parade is going to have a younger feel this year.  

Jasmine Murray, the reigning Miss Mississippi and Columbus native, will serve as the parade's grand marshal. Main Street executive director Barbara Bigelow is thrilled to have Murray on board with the parade, which Main Street has organized since 2007 when it took over the annual event. 

Last year, the attraction was Clydesdale horses. 

This year, the attraction is more attractive.  

This is the first year that the Columbus Young Professionals will chair the Christmas parade committee. Bigelow hopes they will continue to host the event in the future. 

The parade will be held on Dec. 13, and will follow the same route as the parades of the past. Bigelow said there will be some changes to the parade to make it capture the hearts and minds of the community. Those changes, she said, will be revealed closer to the parade date.  

"I'm from Columbus, so I'm sure there have been many times that I've been able to go and watch it," Murray said. "So, it's crazy that I'll actually be in it, and be a big part of it." 

Being the centerpoint of a parade will be a first for the pageant winner. She was surprised to receive the honor.  

"It means a lot to me, because I'm from Columbus," Murray said. "This is my hometown and I know so many people here. I just have appreciated the support and the encouragement over the years that I've competed in the pageants, that I've competed in American Idol -- all these different things. So, it's amazing to see that support continue to flow in, and that's why I really love Columbus."  

Murray has taken the year off from her studies at Mississippi State University to serve as Miss Mississippi. She said she is learning a lot even outside the classroom. She's also helped fund her education by winning scholarship money at the Miss America competition.  

"It's going to definitely help me continue my education, and that's what I'm very excited about," said Murray, who is studying broadcasting at MSU.  

It is not her first time taking a break from school to step into the spotlight--Murray left for Nashville to pursue music for a year following high school. Despite her experience in the spotlight, grand marshaling a parade will be a new role for Murray, and a new dynamic for working on her pageant wave. Although she currently lives in Starkville, Murray is delighted to have an opportunity to contribute to the traditional celebration in her hometown.  

"Wherever you grow up is always going to be special to you, because you have roots there," Murray said. "You pretty much know everyone in the town and in the city, and it's home. I think that's the special thing is when you can call this place home and you can come back and see familiar faces." 

As grand marshal at the Christmas parade, Murray is sure to see lots of familiar faces while she rides down Main Street.

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Beyond the ribbon cutting: one couple’s secret to long-term success in downtown Laurel

Beyond the ribbon cutting: one couple’s secret to long-term success

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Beyond the Ribbon Cutting: One Couple's Secret to Long-Term Success - Business in Downtown, Laurel


So often we find ourselves focused on the up-and-coming, on the new ideas and great leaps of faith. We see excited entrepreneurs opening up shop, carefully planning ribbon cutting ceremonies and sending out press releases, hoping to soon see an influx of eager faces walking through their freshly painted doors, wallets at the ready.

Story by Bethany Gilbert, LMS Media Consultant

We love a grand entrance and we love to see others taking risks and filling old buildings with new ideas.

But, what happens next? What happens when the “newness” fades? What is it, really, that separates the new from the battle-hardened businesses chugging along month after month, year after year?

What makes one business sustainable and another a quick, bright, burst of light, soon to fade?

Finding the secret to success

Of course, our goal is to see every new and old business alike bustling happily along for years to come, slowly and steadily building Downtown Laurel into the greatest version of itself. We want to see the risks rewarded and so, we set out to find an answer to the great question: what makes a business sustainable and strong?

Our answer was waiting for us in a quiet, familiar building on one of the busiest streets in Downtown Laurel. Far at the end of 5th Avenue, right past the grand flag pole, you’ll find a simple off-white building with beautiful window displays and a seasonal flag flapping gently in the breeze.

Many years ago you would be facing the doors of the old Western Auto store and, next door, a tiny hamburger shop owned by a Mr. Upton, aptly named the “Deluxe Cafe”.

Debra Blackledge finds herself working in the same building today, fondly remembering the little cafe as it once was. She remembers, “We used to come across the railroad tracks and smell those hamburgers cooking. There was no interstate then, no McDonalds. The little glass bottles of coke were just 6 cents a piece. You could hardly find a seating place.”

The cafe was once just one long countertop, lined with barstools. That delicious smell was no accident – the smoke was funneled out of the brick wall through two pipes, beckoning all who came within a block of the old cafe to step inside for a 10 cent burger on a delicious greasy bun.

The owners of that little cafe and the Western Auto next door likely knew what the buildings’ current owners, James and Sue Smith, know today – the secret to a sustainable business isn’t in the flashy opening or the freshly painted door, it’s in something much simpler, and sometimes, much harder to achieve.

The spark that lit the long-burning flame

The clean-up of the old buildings.

The clean-up of the old buildings.

The Smiths didn’t set out to own one of the oldest businesses in Downtown Laurel. They were presented with an opportunity and decided to take a leap of faith, trusting in a simple philosophy of treating people well.

In 1973 James was offered the opportunity to purchase the long-standing W.A. Moody & Associates typewriter company, where he had been employed as a technician for several years. The company was located on Magnolia Street and was housed in a small simple building – a reflection of the simple, speciality equipment and services they offered: selling and repairing basic office equipment.

He and his wife, Sue, decided to move the business a few blocks away to a larger space, where they could expand the offerings and services – changing the name to Office Products Center in the process.

The old cafe and auto store buildings were purchased, but were in great need of repair. Walls were knocked out, years of trash and debris removed and soon, the two buildings were ready for their new tenant.

At first, the Smiths simply offered basic office equipment and supplies. Later, they grew to offer gifts, antique furniture, even a large selection of “Mississippi-made” products. Currently, over 44,000 items can be found either in the store-front or online. Sue says, “We sell everything we legally can!”

But even today, that simple, sometimes-illusive philosophy holds strong. James and Sue know that their success has never depended on the displays of new products or the selection of office supplies.

Office-Products-Center-Laurel-MS-3 Office-Products-Center-Laurel-MS-4

A simple philosophy, and a challenge

James says the secret to success is this,

You’ve gotta hang in there with the ones you’ve got!

Every day James and Sue have a single goal – to treat their customers like friends and family, to go above and beyond to serve their needs.

James recalls an interaction with a recent customer where his team worked hard to find an item that the customer had been searching for for two long days. In 30 minutes they had the product in her hands, assisted with the install and quickly followed up to find other ways to help. The customer, another Downtown business owner, will likely refer OPC to others in the future and hopefully, learned a simple lesson herself – the secret to a sustainable business is to treat people well, day in and day out.

There is great wisdom in this simple philosophy, but it seems to be fading with time. Between the ribbon cuttings and grand openings, the social media posts and website updates, it is sometimes hard for us to focus on the more simple ideas, on the everyday interactions.

Along with James and Sue Smith, we would like to issue a challenge to you. Today – find a way to treat your customers well. Go that one extra step, give them an experience worth talking about and an interaction that makes them feel cared for.

And tomorrow, do it again.

In 20 years, as you stand in your still-thriving business,  you’ll look back and realize James was right, you DO have to hang in there with the ones you’ve got and treating people well is the secret of a sustainable business.

We want to hear from you

Go to our Facebook page and leave us a comment about a time where a local business has treated you well, or, better yet, find that business and leave a review telling everyone about your experience.

The Greater Belhaven Foundation Announces “Great Places in America 2014” Designation

Belhaven award 2014

The Greater Belhaven Foundation Announces “Great Places in America 2014” Designation

(Jackson, MS) – The Greater Belhaven Foundation (GBF) is pleased to announce that Greater Belhaven, comprised of the historic Belhaven and Belhaven Heights neighborhoods, has received the “Great Neighborhoods in America 2014” designation by the American Planning Association (APA) as part of its Great Places in America program.  Greater Belhaven is one of only ten neighborhoods in the nation to receive this honor.  

Guidelines for this designation include neighborhood form and composition, neighborhood character and personality, and neighborhood environment and sustainable practices. Characterized by its eclectic architecture, tree-lined streets and friendly neighbors, Greater Belhaven residents are comprised of artists including writers and musicians and professionals including attorneys and doctors. 

“Our great neighborhoods have so many attributes, and this designation recognizes these qualities and the people that live, work and play here.” said Virgi Lindsay, Executive Director of the Greater Belhaven Foundation.  “We have worked hard to maintain the historical integrity of the neighborhoods while incorporating modern-day amenities and continued growth.  This award represents the dedication of the Greater Belhaven people and our neighborhoods.” 

Greater Belhaven boundaries stretch from the north end of Congress Street to Interstate-55 and from High Street to Woodrow Wilson. The area includes two historic districts – Belhaven and Belhaven Heights – which also are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The Belhaven Historic District is the largest historic district in Mississippi. Belhaven Heights was one of the original ring neighborhoods springing from downtown Jackson in the mid-1800s. The name, Belhaven, comes from Col. James S. Hamilton, whose house was constructed in 1875 in Belhaven Heights. He named his grand home “Belhaven” in honor of his ancestral home in Scotland.

Greater Belhaven is home to four parks including a community playground, walking and fitness trails and movie and concert area. It features multiple museums including Pulitzer Prize winner Eudora Welty’s home, Jackson’s only AAA four-diamond, small luxury hotel, several restaurants, retail establishments, healthcare facilities and the City’s first mixed-use district. Homes range in size from mansion to cottage reflecting the diverse socioeconomics among the neighborhood’s residents. Institutions include colleges, a church, elementary, middle and high schools and the state’s only professional theatre.

Greater Belhaven Foundation is the long-range planning organization for the area and coordinates the annual Bright Lights, Belhaven Nights end-of-summer festival, consistently named a Top 20 Event in the Southeast for the month of August by the Southeast Tourism Society. GBF also coordinates the Being Belhaven Arts Series showcasing free concerts, theatre and art in Belhaven Park.

APA is an independent, not-for-profit educational organization that provides leadership in the development of vital communities. APA's flagship program, “Great Places in America”, celebrates places of exemplary character, quality, and planning. Places are selected annually and represent the gold standard in terms of having a true sense of place, cultural and historical interest, community involvement, and a vision for tomorrow.

Other neighborhoods designated as “Greater American Neighborhoods 2014” are:

Adams Morgan, Washington, DC;  Arbor Hill, Albany, NY; Central West End, St. Louis, MO; The Fan, Richmond, VA; Fields Corner, Dorchester, MA; Fremont, Seattle, WA; La Alma/Lincoln Park, Denver, CO; Uptown, Oakland, CA; and Victorian District, Savannah, GA.


Greater Belhaven Foundation, a non-profit group governed by a board of directors with representation from the Belhaven and Belhaven Heights neighborhoods, works to improve and revitalize the area through long-range planning, economic restructuring, historic preservation, green space enhancement, and improvement of Fortification Street, the major east-west corridor between the two neighborhoods.


Photo: “Great Places in America 2014” Designation


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