Local loves showing off hometown

Published 2:44 am Monday, October 4, 2010

NATCHEZ — Bernice Berdon knows every building in downtown Natchez.

Not only does she know what those buildings are today, but she knows what they used to be as well.

Berdon, was born and raised in Natchez, moved away for her career, but always knew she’d return her hometown.

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“Growing up, Natchez was a small town where everyone knew everyone,” she said. “Some people didn’t like that, but I really did.”

Berdon graduated from Natchez High School, attended Ole Miss for two years and, in 1956, took a job with International Paper in Pine Bluff, Ark.

Berdon, who retired at 54 from International Paper, came back to Natchez after her retirement for those very same reasons.

“Natchez is still a beautiful, small town,” she said. “People in one of the retirement villages in Jackson write me all the time saying I should move there, but I can still drive in Natchez. I could never drive in Jackson.”

And she’s not shy about telling people what she loves about Natchez. In fact, when The Dart landed on Merrill Street, she was cleaning her house for company to arrive and visit Natchez.

Berdon’s return to Natchez was an easy one. After retiring from IP in Pine Bluff, came to Natchez to look for a house to purchase, even while her house in Arkansas was still for sale.

“I looked at this house, left and called right back and said ‘I want to make you an offer,’” Berdon said. “Within 30 minutes I had bought a house.”

Berdon then realized she had to get moving on selling her house in Arkansas.

“I was going on a trip to St. Louis, and I told my real estate agent to have the house sold by the time I got home,” Berdon said. “I called him when I got to St. Louis, and he had already sold my house.”

Berdon said the reason she has such affection for Natchez is because her childhood was filled with wonderful memories and people.

“I was so incredibly fortunate,” she said. “I had a great family and had a great life growing up.”

Berdon remembers fondly going to the Baker Grand Theatre and getting snacks, soda at the downtown drug store and summers fishing at Lake St. John.

Berdon, whose father managed the Natchez Ice Company, said her family rarely had summer vacations. Instead, she and her two sisters, spent their summer vacations at Lake St. John.

“My grandfather had the first house out on the lake,” Berdon said smiling. “My favorite thing was pole fishing. I could spend the entire day out there just pole fishing.”

During the spring, Berdon said her life revolved around Spring Pilgrimage and the Historic Natchez Tableaux.

“But they never asked me to be the queen,” Berdon joked. “I don’t know why. I would have been a great queen.

“The costumes we had in the pageant, were just spectacular,” she said. “Each year, I was just amazed at what I got to wear.”

When she returned to Natchez, she picked up right where she left off by helping out with Pilgrimage. Berdon would regularly serve as a hostess at different houses and is a member of the Natchez Garden Club.

She also enjoys gardening and playing bridge but doesn’t do either with the regularity she once did.

“When you get older, you have to leave some things behind, but I have had a good life,” she said. “I’ve been very blessed for my entire life.”