Life stories of 2007

Published 12:00 am Sunday, December 30, 2007

Natchez Pilgrimage celebrates 75 years

Tourism in Natchez this year celebrated the anniversary of a momentous rainy day.

Seventy-five years prior, Pilgrimage was born when the state garden club’s meeting got rained out and enterprising women decided to open their doors and show off the insides of gorgeous mansions.

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The tradition lived on, and Natchez Pilgrimage Tours marked the anniversary in a big way.

Historic photographs were collected and displayed and participants in previous Pilgrimage events were honored.

On top of that, the organizers of the Historic Natchez Pageant included the stories of black Natchezians in their well-known production for the first time. William Johnson and Ibrahima became skits in the tourist-friendly pageant, finally marking the beginning of a new era.

Jex battle inspires others

Randa Jex wasn’t supposed to see 2007, much less live through it.

But she refused to accept the fact that her stage four metastatic breast cancer was terminal.

Jex, 60, has been fighting cancer since 1996. She’s been through intense radiation, chemotherapy and a mastectomy. But she’s not defeated yet.

Jex doesn’t call herself an inspiration, and she doesn’t like filling that role.

Her goal is not to inspire, but to stay alive, spend time with her children and enjoy life.

In the process of living that life though, she’s touched hearts across the Miss-Lou.

Houses voted tops by AIA

Natchez residents have long known about the fascinating turns up top in Longwood and the glorious wrap around porch at Dunleith.

This year, the news was shared with the architecture world.

The American Institute of Architects featured both antebellum houses in an online poll, allowing people to vote for their favorites.

Longwood won, and Dunleith finished fifth.

Longwood — a house left unfinished for 150 years — received 1,809 votes, out of approximately 20,000 that were cast for 32 nominated buildings.

Both homes are featured in the AIA’s 2008 calendar.

Downtown Churches turn 200

Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and First Presbyterian Church — both in downtown Natchez — celebrated big birthdays in 2007.

Both churches turned 200, though First Presbyterian did a little maneuvering to prove its age. The historical marker outside the church says the congregation is 10 years shy of 200, but old court documents found this year said differently.

And the church agreed.

They aren’t planning to change the marker out front, but the members of First Presbyterian were happy to be 200 this year.

Jefferson Street was more sure of itself, and marked the special day with a service, luncheon and storytellers on horseback for the kids.

Boys become small town heroes

Nicholas Smith and Elbert “P.J.” King became small town heroes in October when they took control of the school bus they were on after the driver fell ill.

The Natchez High School students traveling on Hutchins Landing Road noticed that their bus driver couldn’t control the bus, and sprang into action.

Smith stepped on the brake and King put the bus into neutral.

Then they used the bus’ radio to call for help for their driver.

All the students on the bus escaped without injury, and Smith and King were honored by the Natchez-Adams School Board for their bravery.

Fountain gets makeover

One hundred years of disrepair and 15 years of fundraising culminated in March when the fountain at the center of Memorial Park got a facelift.

A grassroots fundraising effort netted enough money to replace 25 to 30 percent of the fountain and refurbish the rest.

The result is a 7,500-pound fountain recreated based on photographs of some pieces of the original statuary.

The annual Arts in the Park festival was a major contributor to the project, but private donations also made the fountain a reality.

The fountain was installed in segments over the course of one day.

Alcorn State’s morgan crowned Miss Mississippi

Natchez wasn’t home for the beauty crowned Miss Mississippi this year, but it might as well have been.

Kimberly Morgan, a graduate of Alcorn State University, has been in and out of Natchez for several years now.

In 2005 she was in the Natchez Opera Festival’s “Porgy and Bess” playing the lead. She’s routinely sung at area churches a visited with area youth.

She was crowned Miss Mississippi in July and hasn’t looked back since.

She said one piece of advice helped her through the pageant.

“For those who have a dream, follow it, believe it and claim the victory. If it is in God’s will it will be fulfilled.”

Vidalia Garden club celebrates 75th

Seventy-five was the magic number in 2007 for garden clubs.

As Pilgrimage in Natchez turned 75, so did the Vidalia Garden Club.

The women celebrated their roots in September, displaying photos and scrapbooks for community members to see.

The Vidalia Garden Club started shortly after the Depression hit. Seven women formed the club, intent on beautifying a river town full of saloons and wild men.

Over the years, the club grew and took on new landscaping projects to make the town shine.

Their anniversary gala celebration was at the Vidalia Conference and Convention Center.

Lights, Camera, Action

From “Bonnie and Clyde” to the Food Network, Natchez made the perfect setting for film crews this year.

Several independent producers used the Miss-Lou as a backdrop for their films.

And in April Alton Brown and the crew from “Feasting on Asphalt” went taste testing at Club 601 and The Donut Shop.

Convention Center Media Liason Sally Durkin and several others in town have worked in recent years to attract film crews to the area. Their work began sprouting fruit this year, and they’ve said there is more to come.