A product of the Hub City, David Ott had to leave for several years to truly appreciate what he was missing back in south Mississippi.
Ott’s family, which included three brothers and two first cousins who grew up with them, were quite a handful for his mother.
“There were six or seven guys in a three-bedroom house (on Miller Street),” Ott said. “It was fun. I was just glad I was the youngest. I would sleep anywhere.”
He said it was a shock when one of his brothers got married and his sister-in-law actually moved into the house.
“She was the first sister I had ever had, and I was fascinated by everything, much to her chagrin,” he said.
With all the Otts gone from home, his parents moved to his grandparent’s home on North Main and lived there until his mother died a couple of years ago.
Mrs. Ott was a librarian at the Hattiesburg Public Library when it was located in the Cultural Center.
“She was really part of the initiative that finally got Forrest County and the city to build the new library,” Ott said. “She ceased being librarian before the new library was built, but was part of that beginning effort.”
Ott said it was really convenient because she had free labor in him.
“There was many a Sunday I went and emptied the book drop, or cleaned up the bookmobile, back when we had one,” he said. He also noted a summer reading program she had to help students handle the summer slide, which was a thing back then to keep what students had learned a part of them, even during the summer months when they weren’t attending class.
“Mother was all about that way back when,”he said. “She was also eating wheat germ, whole wheat bread, cottage cheese. She was way ahead of her time. Back when I was growing up, 50 years ago, she was doing that. I just wish I had paid more attention in what she told me to do.”
His dad was an attorney and then a chancery judge for quite some time before going back into private practice. “He loved everybody; he loved people,” Ott said. “He gave me the side that likes to invite people over and have parties. Mother just put up with it. She never knew who was coming home with him or how many. He was very gregarious and it was fun growing up with
great parents and a great family.”
One of Ott’s brothers died in Vietnam and the other two live in Jackson.
A graduate of Hattiesburg High School, Ott headed to Jackson to attend Millsaps College following graduation. From there it was off to Oxford to attend law school, later clerking with a firm in Oxford before practicing law in Tupelo for a while.
He wasn’t real excited about Tupelo. “They rolled up the sidewalks at 7 p.m, except on Friday night when businesses stayed open a little later,” Ott said, deciding Hattiesburg looked pretty good. “I came back to civilization.”
His parents were still alive, but his father was having some health issues. “I wanted my children (two daughters and a son) to know my parents, so I bought the first house I looked at on 22nd Avenue,” he said. “I’ve lived there longer than I’ve lived anywhere.”
One of his daughters lives in Baton Rouge. Another daughter in Boulder, Colorado, is getting married in October, and his son and two grandchildren live in Hattiesburg.
Ott admits he’s hosted many many parties in that house to celebrate benchmarks he’s been involved with, such as FestivalSouth, the MeisterSingers and all the things that the Hattiesburg Concert Association has done through the years.
Hattiesburg Concert Association
As current Hattiesburg Concert Association president, Ott has always had a love of the arts, as evidenced by the original pieces of artwork in his Front Street office as well as signed and numbered FestivalSouth artwork by local artisan Amy Guist hanging around the office. He admits to being a big fan of hers.
He remembers back to the start of HCA when Nancy Tatum was instrumental in convincing Paul Lee, a talented choirmaster/organist, to start a civic chorus in Hattiesburg. Ott has sung with the group for years, which started his involvement with HCA. He sang in his high school show choir, the Mini-Meisters, under Tatum’s tutelage.
“We quickly discovered that while I could carry a tune and read music, I can’t act. I’m horrible at acting,” he said. “So she put me on the back row because I wasn’t the one to stay in step and move my mouth at the same time. “
That’s the inspiration where Paul Lee started the Meistersangers. The group was chartered as a non-profit in June 2002 with Margaret Boyd as chairman of the board.
Ott said it was a dedicated core of people, such as Kim Howell, Rebekah Stark-Johnson, Robin Roberts, Connie Roberts and others, who’ve kept the non-profit moving forward. “Most of the people are still involved,” he said.
In the beginning, the non-profit’s legal name was the Hattiesburg Civic Chorus and Concert Association, Inc., which proved to be a mouthful. It was later shortened to Hattiesburg Concert Association.
As an attorney, Ott has always taken care of legal work for the group and says his office, Bryan Nelson Law Firm, has been very supportive of the HCA’s efforts.
HCA was designed as an umbrella organization, under which would eventually envelop the Destination Series, the Meistersingers and the then soon-to-be organized FestivalSouth.
When Lee moved on, Ott said that’s when he became engaged with Jay Dean, former Southern Miss symphony conductor and FestivalSouth artistic director, and Mike Lopinto, current FS artistic director, and the three started talking FestivalSouth, actually in Dean’s driveway.
Ott remembers it being right before New Year’s Day about 12 years ago.
“This is FestivalSouth’s 10th year and it took us a full 18 months from that initial conversation,” Ott said. “I basically told them that Paul was leaving and I had two options as the leader of the motley crew – to either hit up all of my friends to try and pay the bills and pay the bank what we owed them, because we were pretty much in debt - badly - or if he had a better idea.”
FestivalSouth turned out to be that better idea.
“That’s where FestivalSouth was born, after many many bottles of wine and meals,” Ott said.
He described the HCA board, which met monthly, as “real interesting,” which was kind of the legacy from Lee’s days.
“At the time we had to envision where FestivalSouth would go in the future, while at the same time trying to complete the season for the Meistersingers, which had already been sold, in addition to concerts we were already obligated to put on,” he said.
Supporting the FestivalSouth idea, a group of HCA members became re-engaged alongside Dean and Lopinto.
Ott said it was Lopinto who came up with the name. “We wanted the name to be something regional as well as catchy, not just Hattiesburg or Mississippi,” he said.
The group decided on a June run since nothing was going on in Hattiesburg during the summer.
“We looked at the calendar for a timeframe; it’s normally not too hot yet, but getting hotter,” Ott said. “It gave us the opportunity to fill up a slot in the civic calendar, and we just went from there.”
Ott said they approached the Forrest County Board of Supervisors and the Hattiesburg City Council, and both have been very generous and gracious throughout the years, as has Forrest General Hospital.
“FestivalSouth couldn’t have happened without the support we’ve had from them at a very significant level and the support of a lot of other people,” Ott said. “The idea was to make something really great for Hattiesburg and I think we’ve definitely done that.”
Ott said FestivalSouth provides a good assortment of entertainment for everyone.
He also noted the great talent available at both the University of Southern Mississippi and William Carey University that takes things to the next level.
Ott is a fan of both visual and performing art and says it’s been a journey getting FestivalSouth to this point. But he thinks his participation at such a high level may be winding down.
“I’ve been telling them for five or six years they need to find my replacement,” he said. “I’m ready for my replacement to come on board, although I’ll still be connected.”
Ott is excited about this year’s 10th anniversary FestivalSouth celebration.
“I’m so glad Linda Eder is coming back,” Ott said. “She gives a stunning performance, is gracious, and what a voice. I appreciate people with that kind of talent. And it’s amazing we have so many people here at Southern Miss and William Carey that have that kind of talent. They go on from here and do great things.”
Ott noted this year’s golf tournament, a first for FestivalSouth, with proceeds benefitting the ARTie events for families.
“It’s just another way to get the community engaged and raise awareness through different avenues,” he said. “It takes every different avenue because the arts are so starved for funding.”
In his spare time, Ott has spent the last 20 years renovating houses. He’s done a lot in Parkhaven. “After Katrina I really looked around the neighborhood where I live, and that area was a particularly decimated area because we had so many pine trees, which just came down in droves,” he said. “I think we must have had some tornadoes that took out tops of trees and things like that.
“I looked up on Aug. 30, 2005, and surveyed what was left of my house, yard, and my street and figured that one of two things were going to happen – I was either going to move or I was going to have to start buying up houses in the neighborhood because some of these were owned by older people who were not going to rebuild and not repair, because some of the houses were so damaged.”
Ott said it was a real big “if” they were going to be rebuilt or not, so there were a number of opportunities that he took advantage of to buy them and fix them up. He still rents a number of homes in that neighborhood.
Most recently he’s been working on a couple of houses on Miller Street, where he grew up.
“I think that street has a wonderful inventory of older homes and I really think it’s a diamond in the rough,” he said. “It’s good because you still have a real good core of the neighborhood.”
Ott’s son lives in the old Coleman house on Miller Street. He said others had also been buying houses in that neighborhood and doing the same thing.
Whatever Ott is involved with, it appears he’s most happy at home in Hattiesburg.