° empty

Are you ready for Natchez’s Tricentennial?

How do you define that spark that inspires people to get out of their comfortable lives and do something big, something exciting, something extraordinary?

You could see the flicker of that spark in the eyes of Jennifer Ogden Combs Wednesday when she spoke to the Rotary Club of Natchez about her new position as the executive director of the Natchez Tricentennial Commission.

You can see it in Ogden’s office in the Natchez Visitor Reception Center. The wall beside her desk has been transformed into a oversized 2016 calendar covered in hundreds of bright yellow, magenta and blue post-it notes. Each note represents an event, conference or idea for the upcoming 300th birthday of the city.

You could also see a glimmer of that excitement in the eyes of the other Natchez Tricentennial Commission members who attended the Wednesday meeting.

Anyone who knows Combs, knows that she is passionate about all of her endeavors, whether as an executive movie producer in Hollywood, a volunteer leader for the Natchez Boys and Girls Club and everything in between.

“We are going to have a party; we are going to have a whole lot of parties,” Combs said during her presentation.

Those words alone would be enough to inspire others to get involved. After all, Natchez loves to throw good parties and Natchezians love attending good parties.

But the year will be “so much more than parties,” Combs said.

Planned for the year is a 300-gun salute and a 300-hole celebrity golf tournament. Already established events like the Great Mississippi River Balloon Race and the Natchez Festival of Music will be highlighted. Concerts, symposiums and conferences will also join in the celebration.

Looking at what is already planned less than a year and a half away, one can get a little overwhelmed by the small army that will be required to keep the party going.

As Combs pointed out Wednesday, the tricentennial’s success will depend upon many, many people, including those who now call Natchez home and those who ever lived in the region.

“We are going to reach out to (all of those people) because we want them to participate in some aspect,” Combs said.

My impression is that many residents are not motivated and energized to participate right now. The city’s tricentennial has not been elevated to something more than a plan to attract tourist dollars or a complete a few legacy projects.

So far there may be interest, but there is no spark — just yet.

Combs provided the first flickers of that spark by discussing the goals of the commission in terms that will include the whole community.

The mission is “to unify our community and create new business opportunities by commemorating our past, celebrating our past and creating our future,” Combs said.

Combs began to layout a celebration that will be more than just a party, but will be something that instills a renewed sense of pride, creating a more unified community with a brighter future.

Wednesday was just the beginning. To help the spark grow into a fire, Ogden, Mayor Butch Brown and other tricentennial leaders will have to figure out how to keep the public energized and excited until 2016 is over.

It is a tall order, but with Ogden as the spark, kindled excitement is not far behind.


Ben Hillyer is the design editor of The Natchez Democrat. He can be reached at 601-445-3540 or by e-mail at ben.hillyer@natchezdemocrat.com.