Some area residents look back at Katrina, their old homes and the answered prayers of a new home

Published 12:00 am Sunday, August 30, 2015

‘A great place to start over’ 

Miraculously their houses survived Hurricane Katrina, but even though not homeless, New Orleans residents Kathy Gergo and Steve and Kim Koppman decided it was time to leave the Crescent City and make Vicksburg their home.

“I found my house was one of the 20 percent that did not get flooded out. I was living close to the levee near Tulane University at the river bend,” Gergo said.

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Gergo is an American artist, originally from Hungary.

“There was a lot of mess, but not much damage,” she said.

Gergo said she left New Orleans before the storm rolled in and came to Vicksburg to stay with her friend, Lesley Silver.

“I called Lesley and said it looks like the storm is going to hit, and I am just trying to get across the bridge, and I think I need to move on to higher ground. It looks bad. So she said, ‘Well, why don’t you just come here,’” Gergo said.

“So I threw a few things into the back of the car, like many people and headed out.”

Gergo said it was three months before she was allowed back into her home in New Orleans.

While in Vicksburg, Gergo said she learned to live with her circumstances.

“Picking up pecans became the highlight of my day,” she laughed.

Finally, when Gergo was allowed to return to her home in New Orleans in October, she was relieved to find that it only needed some minor repairs.

After installing new floor tiles and replacing the refrigerator, she said she put her home on the market.

It sold, and by November she made her way back to Vicksburg to stay.

Gergo said she first moved into a loft apartment on Washington Street across from Silver’s art gallery.

“When I saw it I jumped up and down. I loved everything about it. I made part of it my studio,” she said.

Unfortunately, after living there for only two years, she said she realized making the trek up and down the steps was not conducive for her knees and eventually bought a ranch home in Oak Park, where she has resided for the past eight years.

Gergo said she loves living in Vicksburg, but the transition of moving here was emotional.

“Oh my word, I was grieving for two or three years. Everything was new and strange,” she said.

It was also painful when Gergo traveled back to New Orleans, she said.

“Tears were just rolling down my face. I realized in my lifetime, probably, it won’t be back and although my house was there nothing was the same. It was a disaster area,” she said.

“I really grieved for New Orleans and for my favorite swamp that was only 45 minutes from my door step. I try not to acknowledge the fact that it has been 10 years.”

Gergo did adjust to her new surroundings she said, eventually making friends and meeting new artists.

“On Sundays, I got in my car and started driving on a road to see what it was like. I just wanted to get familiar with the area,” she said.

The move to Vicksburg has also allowed Gergo to enjoy a slower pace of life than living in a big city, she said, and added Vicksburg was close enough to New Orleans for her to visit.

Gergo’s current artwork will be featured at the New Orleans Academy of Fine Arts in October. Pieces included in her “Transition” show even reflect some of her new surroundings.

The Koppmans have been residing in Eagle Lake since November 2005 and restarted their wholesale apparel business Grand River Clothing in January 2006.

“Vicksburg has been a good move for us. We have been happy.” Kim said.

Before making Vicksburg their home, the couple lived in Algiers, which is in Orleans Parish, Kim said.

When Hurricane Katrina made landfall, the Koppmans said they evacuated to Tennessee, where they had family.

Upon returning home, like Gergo, the Koppmans said their house was still standing.

“We had a lot off damage, but we were not completely flooded,” she said.

At first, most everyone left our area following the storm, Kim said, but eventually some returned.

The Koppmans said they decided it was time to leave for good so they began their search for a new place to live.

The decision to move to Eagle Lake hinged on the water, Steve said.

The couple said they decided to focus on properties within a feasible driving radius from New Orleans, but was close to water.

Eventually they were able to find property on Eagle Lake Shore Road, where their home overlooks the beautiful 4,700-acre lake.

“This was a great place to start over and a safe place to run our business,” Kim said.

Since moving to the Eagle Lake area, Kim said their business has thrived and grown and they have met many new friends.

The Koppmans own Grand River Clothing, which is based online.

“It has been a great place to live. I believe the storm brought a lot of people here to live, and we have all kind of connected along the way,” she said.

Kim said she occasionally misses some of the restaurants and the culture about New Orleans, but not enough to want to move back.

“Vicksburg has been a little slower pace of life, but we have adapted to that, and I think our nerves needed it badly,” Kim laughed.

“Sometimes tragedy happens and it looks so terrible at first, and then something good comes out of it if you just step back and wait,” she said.

About Terri Cowart Frazier

Terri Frazier was born in Cleveland. Shortly afterward, the family moved to Vicksburg. She is a part-time reporter at The Vicksburg Post and is the editor of the Vicksburg Living Magazine, which has been awarded First Place by the Mississippi Press Association. She has also been the recipient of a First Place award in the MPA’s Better Newspaper Contest’s editorial division for the “Best Feature Story.”

Terri graduated from Warren Central High School and Mississippi State University where she received a bachelor’s degree in communications with an emphasis in public relations.

Prior to coming to work at The Post a little more than 10 years ago, she did some freelancing at the Jackson Free Press. But for most of her life, she enjoyed being a full-time stay at home mom.

Terri is a member of the Crawford Street United Methodist Church. She is a lifetime member of the Vicksburg Junior Auxiliary and is a past member of the Sampler Antique Club and Town and Country Garden Club. She is married to Dr. Walter Frazier.

“From staying informed with local governmental issues to hearing the stories of its people, a hometown newspaper is vital to a community. I have felt privileged to be part of a dedicated team at The Post throughout my tenure and hope that with theirs and with local support, I will be able to continue to grow and hone in on my skills as I help share the stories in Vicksburg. When asked what I like most about my job, my answer is always ‘the people.’

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