Since 2010, when Ekklesia Church in Hattiesburg first took part in the America Reads Mississippi Program – an initiative through Americorps Mississippi which helps place tutors in local schools – nine full-time reading tutors have been placed throughout the Hattiesburg Public School District, putting in more than 5,500 hours of one-one-one tutoring for more than 139 students.
Most people in Hattiesburg – especially those in downtown – are familiar with Carmen Hardy Ford and her culinary prowess at Gratefull Soul, the restaurant on Main Street she owns with her husband, Grant.
But if not for a change in pace during college, Carmen may have returned to her hometown of Philadelphia – with a much different career path.
“I was actually going to go and do casino hosting (after college),” she said. “Philadelphia has the Choctaw Indian casinos, and that’s what I was going to do – go back and manage the casino.”
When Joseph VanZandt was 7 years old, a Hattiesburg Civic Light Opera production of The Wizard of Oz came to the Hub City.
At the urging of his mom – and dad, who was himself a veteran of community theater with HCLO – VanZandt tried out for one of the many roles for children in the play.
“So I did, and I took to it,” VanZandt said. “My dad played the scarecrow, and I was one of the Munchkins. And as they say, the rest is history.”
And what a rich history in theater it’s been for VanZandt.
To hear Bryan Hicks tell it, it’s a good thing he grew up with a sharp sense of humor and a knack for making people laugh.
“I’ve never really been good at anything but cracking wise,” he said. “I was not popular at all (as a kid) – chubby, weird, geek and everything – so the only way I was able to get a little leeway was to crack jokes and make people laugh.”
After graduating from Petal High School in 1986, Rusty Keyes began his career with intentions in sports medicine, working under a scholarship as a student athletic trainer for the University of Southern Mississippi football team.
But four years later, Keyes found his path leading in a somewhat different direction when he joined the Hattiesburg Police Department as a patrol officer – a move that would set him up in a veritable lifelong career in law enforcement, and eventually, as chief of the Southern Miss Police Department.
Becky McKeehan, first and foremost, originally considered herself a writer of poetry – not a songwriter or musician, and certainly not an instrumentalist.
So it’s a good thing she decided to pick up a guitar one day – eventually focusing on bass guitar – or the Pine Belt music scene might be devoid of some pretty influential and well-known bands.
For those who ever doubted the old adage “When one door closes, another one opens,” look no further than Bill Mowers.
After moving from Boston to Hattiesburg in 2010 to work with high-temperature polymer composites for the United States Department of Defense, Mowers saw the project he was working on at The Accelerator come to an end after funding for that endeavor dried up. Realizing there weren’t many other options in Hattiesburg for someone with a PhD in polymer and organic chemistry, Mowers decided to reinvent himself.
Somebody once posed a seemingly obvious question to Danny Rawls: “I like your pictures, but mine don’t look that good – what do you do?”
Rawls’ reply was one simple word: Passion.
“You can’t just mash a button and it’s just going to be like you want it,” said Rawls, a Hattiesburg resident who has studied and practiced the art of photography for most of his adult life. “I find myself, sometimes, living and breathing it too much. Everywhere I go I see an image.”
“Every child is an artist. The problem is how to remain an artist once we grow up.” – Pablo Picasso
Given that statement, Picasso probably would have been pretty impressed with Tasha Messer Williams.
When you find someone who is passionate and enthusiastic about what they do, it’s easy to tell their story.
Grant Hobgood and his girlfriend, Jennifer Lewis, find those types of people almost every day. It’s one of the reasons they turned their love of photography into a budding entrepreneurship, Grant and Jenn Photo, focusing on personal branding with young professionals.
“We wanted to tell other people’s stories, rather than just ours, so that’s what came from it,” Hobgood said. “The personal branding side is just something I really enjoy doing.