KEEP NATCHEZ BLOOMING: Volunteers honored at Celebrate the Blooms event

Published 4:49 pm Monday, July 10, 2023

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NATCHEZ — To begin the 2023 celebration of the blooms in Natchez, the Downtown Natchez Alliance (DNA) group recognized three Sallie Junkin Ballard Keep Natchez Blooming Award recipients on Saturday morning.

Presentations were made inside Smoot’s Grocery during the Downtown Natchez Farmer’s Market, where the organization also celebrated by having a sale of young Crepe Myrtle Trees ready for planting.

The award is presented to individuals and groups who show the same spirit that Sallie Ballard had when she devoted her time and energy to making Natchez a more beautiful and better place for all.

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Her granddaughter Sophie Nord said that Natchez “was the center of her universe,” and she made it her business to always know what was happening in town. Nord recalled living in Natchez at a young age and continuing to visit frequently after moving to Gulfport, walking to the Malt Shop for ice cream and appreciating the city’s beauty.

“It was always a magical, safe and happy place here,” she said. “Anyone who visits would say there is something magical about Natchez.”

Ballard’s legacy is left behind in hundreds of Crepe Myrtle trees planted throughout the city, which she fundraised and campaigned for during her life.

“Fast forward to around 1999 or 2000, I was a senior in high school getting ready for college, and we didn’t talk about my graduation or anything like that. We talked about the 2,000 Crepe Myrtles by the year 2000,” Nord said. “I remember thinking that if my 74-year-old grandmother is taking over the town with this, I better up my game when I go to college because she had some really big shoes to fill. … I feel like you can look all over town and see little reminders of her all over the place. … She taught us how to work tirelessly in service of others and how to make the world a better place.”

The first award was presented to the Adams County Master Gardeners.

For almost 20 years, beginning in 2006, the Adams County Master Gardeners have provided free Crepe Myrtle pruning education and hands-on demonstrations, said DNA President Michael Pace.

Over the years, seasoned and new members have collectively planted thousands of Crepe Myrtle trees and organized planning and efforts for new tree wells in streets with solid concrete.

When little was known of the dreaded bark scale, “other than it could spread quickly and cause severe and unsightly damage to the trees,” the Master Gardeners were quick to take action to assist the city and individually treat over 1,500 Crepe Myrtle trees to control the spread and trained city work crews to do the same, Pace said.

The Master Gardeners have also been a part of other non-Crepe Myrtle-related projects, such as landscaping and planting at the Natchez Bandstand on the bluff and by the colonnades at the Natchez Visitor Center.

Next, former DNA president Chesney Doyle recognized John Holyoak and Kevin Miers.

Holyoak — as a founding member of the Natchez Community Alliance — launched efforts that include Christmas in Natchez, the Natchez Trails project, benches on the Natchez bluff, renovation of the Natchez Bandstand, construction of the Bridge of Sighs, planting additional Crepe Myrtle trees along Main and Franklin streets and played an integral part of the city’s downtown revitalization efforts as a member of Friends of the Riverfront (FOR) Natchez.

Kevin Miers additionally led efforts to beautify what has been designated as the city’s central arts district along N. Commerce Street by cutting eight new tree wells and planting new trees where “the streetscape was abysmal,” Doyle said.

Miers followed this effort “by pressure-washing the sidewalks himself,” she added.

Additionally, Miers is recognized for his work through community organizations such as the Downtown Development Association — the predecessor of the DNA —, FOR Natchez and the Downtown Merchant Group. He is also credited with leading efforts to form the DNA and serving on the board of directors.