2011 Unsung Heroes
Unsung Heroes never understand why they deserve the credit they never get. In fact, to them, what they do isn’t anything special; it is just living life in the only way they know how. But the 12 faces on these pages make our community special. They are the movers and the shakers behind the scenes. They are the smiles that greet us everywhere we go.
Unsung Heroes are nominated by community members based on their community service. The staff of The Democrat narrows the list and breaks the news to the always-unsuspecting heroes.
Kathy Fitch isn’t afraid to give your heartstrings a good yank, and her yanks are saving lives.
Mrs. Fitch, who realizes the power of a good photograph, has put her amateur photography skills to work as a volunteer for the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society.
Instead of using photos of difficult to see puppies and kittens behind metal bars in messy cages, Mrs. Fitch decided to photograph the animals in a more comfortable setting where their personalities were more likely to shine.
Initially, she loaded photos of adoptable pets into digital photo frames placed in businesses around town. Printed posters came next, followed by a slick new website — natchezpetadoptions.com — in March 2010.
Now, Mrs. Fitch spends approximately three to five hours a week photographing shelter animals and an additional six hours to cull through photos, edit them for the web and update the site. She balances her volunteer work with her job as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at University of Mississippi Medical Center in Jackson, but her heart is with the dogs and cats of Natchez.
“I feel that I work for the animals at the Natchez-Adams County Humane Society, and my paycheck comes when those pets get to go home,” she said.
She became a NACHS board member in spring 2009. You can pay Mrs. Fitch for her service by adopting the miniature pincher mix, pictured with her above, from the animal shelter. Ask for No. 226.
Joe and Dianne Good
Joe and Dianne Good rarely have a front yard free of bikes, skateboards or little feet.
But, more important, the children who fill their yard also flood their hearts.
The Goods worry about children in their neighborhood. They fear the youngsters do not have the opportunities to learn, grow or experience life and love like they should.
So seven years ago the couple decided to do something most people would never consider — load 40 children onto a bus and hit the road.
The annual summer trip to places including Washington, D.C., Walt Disney World, San Antonio and Atlanta, has touched the lives of more than 200 children.
The Goods — and whatever chaperons they can find — take children who have often never left Natchez to museums, cities and natural wonders.
Only students who make good grades and work hard at fundraisers for the trip ever board the bus. But the Goods won’t leave a hard-working child behind for lack of funds.
Mr. Good regularly solicits donations from area businesses to make the trip a reality for children in need. Next on the travel itinerary is a trip to Canada in June.
The D&J Youth Group never closes its doors; just drive by the Goods’ house and you’ll see evidence of that.
“We want every kid to understand they need to show respect, go to school, stay out of trouble,” Mr. Good said. “I always try to talk to them. I think that’s my job.”
Mike Lomasney has donated countless hours of time to restoring memories of Christmas past.
And Santa’s No. 1 Natchez helper isn’t done yet.
When efforts to make Christmas in Natchez a coordinated event began in 2009, Mr. Lomasney volunteered to begin work on the famous wooden Christmas decorations created by an International Paper employee and showcased for decades.
Some decorations had been left in storage to decay for years; others are still missing.
Mr. Lomasney spent approximately four hours a day from Christmas 2009 to Thanksgiving 2010 in the basement of Margaret Martin Performing Arts Center restoring the handcrafted scenes.
He replaced motors and lights, repainted and repaired approximately 10 units and created a new snowman display to add to the mix.
The decorations were on display in December, but Mr. Lomasney’s work continues on more decorations.
Lomasney has also been a regular Habitat for Humanity volunteer for the last two years, putting in more than 200 volunteer hours.
“He is a hard-working man who is committed to doing a quality job without much fanfare,” Habitat board member Duncan McFarlane said.
Bryant and Jean Reed
If more people responded to problems like Bryant and Jean Reed the world would simply be a better place.
The Reeds, longtime Natchez residents, jumped to action last spring without really giving it a second thought.
The couple lives near one of the “Welcome to Natchez” signs at the entrance to town. They watched for days as the grass around the sign got taller, nearly knee-high.
No city or state employee arrived with a mower, so the Reeds went to work with a push mower and a weed cutter.
“This is the first impression when you come into town and you need that first impression to be neat and clean,” Mr. Reed said at the time.
Their contributions to the community are “nothing outstanding,” Mr. Reed said, but sometimes simple acts have the greatest impact.
The Reeds are members of Jefferson Street United Methodist Church and participate in regular visits to area residents on behalf of the church.
Mrs. Reed is a member of the Natchez Garden Club.
Mr. Reed is a member of the Rotary Club of Natchez and is on the Natchez Stewpot’s board of directors.
Carolyn Ridley is only one member of a great team, she insists. And with no other than God himself as their coach, Ridley’s group has a few wins for the community under its belt.
Years ago, Ms. Ridley inquired about having a Jackson dance company — Ballet Magnificat — perform in Natchez.
The cost was too high, and Ms. Ridley moved on. But when her Parkway Baptist Church Sunday school class began looking for a community service project approximately three years ago, Ms. Ridley hadn’t forgotten about the ballet.
Before she called, though, the ballet called her.
“I just know it was God,” she said.
This April, Ms. Ridley and her team will welcome the Christian ballet company to Natchez for the third year in a row. The Sunday school group sells tickets around town and all profits from the performance go to the Guardian Shelter for Battered Families.
Ridley now co-chairs the event with Dorothy Sylvester. Beatrice Owens and Dr. Akinremi Akinwale round out the team. In addition to promotion and rounding up sponsors before the show, the team is responsible for logistics on the day of the ballet. The Guardian Shelter received a combined $13,000 from the first two ballets. Ridley is hopeful this year’s profits will top $8,000.
“She was the seed that got the whole show started,” Guardian Shelter Administrative Assistant Sandra Barr said. “She’s a non-stop mover and shaker.”
Monroe and Betty Sago
Monroe and Betty Sago couldn’t bear to see an important part of Natchez’s history to be forgotten, and their work in 2010 helped ensure the story of a generation would be told for years to come.
For years the couple has owned the property where the Rhythm Night Club once sat. When Mrs. Sago began connecting with survivors of the tragic 1940 fire, which killed 209 people, she felt a pull to tell their story.
The couple began work constructing a museum to the fire’s victims, their families and the community that was so affected by the tragedy.
“We had the property,” Mrs. Sago said. “Our decision was, if we don’t do anything about it, no one else will.”
The Sagos began collecting newspaper clippings, photos and memorabilia from the time.
After a dedication and grand opening in 2010 the museum was officially open for tours.
The couple staffs the museum themselves from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Saturday.
They collect donations at the door that help cover operating costs and will fund scholarships to area students who write an essay on the fire.
Because the fire left many Natchez children without a parent, Mrs. Sago hopes to raise enough money from tours to make regular donations to the Natchez Children’s Home.
Anniece Smith cared for others for 20 years as a Registered Nurse, and retirement didn’t change anything.
Mrs. Smith is a member of Morgantown Baptist Church where for 15 years she has been teaching a women’s Sunday school class composed mostly of widows.
Sunday school extends well beyond the walls of the church, though, with the group coming to Smith’s house monthly for dinner.
If a class member has a need, Mrs. Smith is there.
“In her opinion we are supposed to help each other with humility and without bragging,” step-daughter Lynn Smith said. “Not only does she talk the talk, she walks the walk.”
Mrs. Smith is also a member of the church Women’s Missionary Union and is currently serving on the pastor search committee. She’s a regular provider of goodies for the bake sales and pitches in at all the fundraisers.
What does she enjoy about retirement? More time to help others.
“I love (retirement),” she said. “It lets me do things for the ladies, visit them and check on them.”
Will and Jeanette Warren
When Will and Jeanette Warren decided to return to Natchez the community received the blessing.
Mrs. Warren decided in the summer of 2009 it was time to move back to the town where she and her husband grew up after approximately 45 years away
“I fell back in love with Natchez,” she said.
A year later the Warrens were coordinating a workday at the house of an elderly neighbor that was in dire need of renovations.
The Warrens collected donations from neighbors and friends to buy supplies ahead of time, getting help from several local businesses as well.
Then on a hot July day in 2010 the Warrens and their crew of volunteers began pruning the lawn and painting the house.
Their hope, Mrs. Warren said at the time, was that other neighborhoods would follow their lead, working together to make the community a better place.
Mr. Warren continues to do his part every Tuesday and Thursday morning, tutoring students at Natchez High School in chemistry, algebra and calculus for free.
He is also a lay Eucharistic minister, taking communion to shut-ins with his wife by his side.