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.”
Janet Gurwitch has had the opportunity to do some amazing things during her career. She’s rubbed elbows and dined with the rich and famous. She created and sold a multi-million dollar cosmetics company. She’s held her own against some of the top labels in the country. She’s part owner of a Major League Baseball franchise.
Gurwitch wasn’t shipped off to some fancy boarding school. She didn’t further her career by studying within the hallowed halls of the Ivy League. She had a desire and a drive to make something of her life.
And it started in Hattiesburg.
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.
Chris Cook is a cut above the competition as his barber shop, JC Cook Barber Shop, sheared the competition for Best Barber Shop in 2019 Best of the Pine Belt voting.
Cook, 40, came by his profession honestly. As the shop’s Facebook page proudly proclaims, “the Cook name has been synonymous with barbering in the Pine Belt since the 1940s. I'm proud to carry on the family tradition in my shop since 2005.”
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.
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.
Chances are if you’ve been given advice at some point in your life – whether you’re a man or a woman – it came from your mother, a grandmother, a favorite aunt, a bossy sister, a respected teacher, a best friend or some other woman who has made a lasting impression on you. The Pine Belt has a plethora of women who enrich the lives of many of its residents day in and day out. It’s this advice or wisdom they’ve cultivated through their many experiences in life.
Jerry Buti of Go Young Fashion in downtown Hattiesburg came to America chasing an education and wealth. He’s done pretty well for himself.
This year his downtown business celebrates 40 years of serving men of all ages, sizes and ethnicities. He was asked one time why he didn’t carry women’s clothing. “Because what women put on they look good; men tend to be a little slobby,” he said.