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Pa n u f itto Water h e C e m i u t g r o e B Summny opportunities at the Ma

A Look Back

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Baseball Hectic and time-consuming for many parents!

Vickie Webb

On the cover: Raymond Mason, Lacey Lewis and Maebry Kate Lewis enjoy a leisurely float down the Bogue Chitto River.

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his edition of Pulse is giving a fine sendoff to JCPenney, the legendary American retail chain that is closing its store in McComb after 82 years. As you’ll see inside, Penney’s has quite an impressive history in McComb, dating back to its 1937 opening at the corner of Main Street and South Broadway. Ernest Herndon tracked down a bunch of people who well remember the store when it was the anchor of downtown,

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and they were glad to share their memories. I got here four years before Penney’s moved to Edgewood Mall in 1987. I shopped at the downtown store regularly and always enjoyed its crowded but homey atmosphere. The world is changing, and Penney’s departure is a pretty good example of that. I’ll find my Stafford shirts online, but I certainly will remember how often I bought them in McComb.

Publisher - Jack Ryan Editor - Matt Williamson Advertising Manager - Vicky Deere Advertising sales-

Stacy Godwin, LeWair Foreman, Steven Sawyer, Christy Thornton & Margie Williams.

pulse is a publication of J.O. Emmerich & Associates Inc. and is produced in association with the Enterprise-Journal, 112 Oliver Emmerich Dr., McComb, Mississippi. For more copies or advertising information, call 601-6842421, write P.O. Box 2009, McComb, MS 39649 or e-mail advertising@enterprise-journal.com.

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In Step With:

Vickie Webb

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Vickie Webb displays By Gabrie l Perry There are some people who view community involvement as a fleeting pasttime. For others, it’s much more than that. For Vickie Webb, it’s everything. Webb is senior vice-president at First Bank in McComb, where she started out as a teller in 1974. Community engagement is a pillar of her life. She first became interested in banking as a student at South Pike High School when she would admire financial institutions from the street as she passed by. More than 30 years later, she has made a name for herself in the banking and investment world. Webb is a one-of-a-kind citizen of McComb and a native and sixth-generation resident of Pike County. Her roots in the area are deep. “I track my history back to my fourth great-grandfather and he came here and the first court was held in his house out in Holmesville,” she said. Holmesville, just southeast of McComb, is where she grew up. Webb combines a genuine affection for McComb and Pike County with a passion for helping those who need it throughout her community. She is a staple of the nonprofit community in the area, serving as the representative of south Mississippi to the Boys & Girls Club area council. She discussed the importance of identifying young and talented leaders. p “We go to state In Ste With: meetings all the time Vickie and everybody is tryWebb ing to identify leaders,” she said. “We’ve got to have new leaders, so leadership train-

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ing is very high on my list.” “We’ve got to find good young people to serve on these boards who also have a passion for the community and for the people they’re serving.” She talked about her intital involvement with the Boys & Girls Club of Southwest Mississippi and how it impacted her moving forward. “(Executive director) Randy (Tate) asked me to serve on the board, and at the time, the facility, it was so sad. It was an old storage barn for the city. It had a Vickie Webb at her office at First Bank in downtown small office and some reMcComb where she serves as a senior vice president. strooms. Everything else was just wide open. I mean it was just a shell of a dividuals is to lift everybody up throughout the community. building. Anyways, part of my thing was to “Everyone wants to succeed in life. In orraise money to help make it somewhere that der for you to succeed, other people have to the kids could be taken care of and be in a better environment. And so that was the first succeed, so you look around and you’re like “who can I help bring up with me”?” phase — getting a ceiling lowered and havWhile she has dedicated the majority of ing a central unit put in and a classroom and her life to serving her neighbors, she has a a game room, many years ago in my first particular passion for younger people and term as president of the club. In the ’90s. “What’s there now has tripled in size, and the elderly. Additionally, she recognizes the imporwe have no debt,” she said. tance of fundraising and investment for nonIt’s this brand of effective management profit organizations and is able to help them that has helped Webb make a name for herout thanks to her years of professional expeself throughout her career. rience in finance. However, personal acomplishments are “I try to help a lot of organizations by not of great importance to her. She is dedihelping them with their fundraising needs,” cated to improving the lives of everybody in she said. her community. She is also directly involved in many orWebb is committed to and enthusiastic ganizations due to her being a member of about the development of McComb and its the McComb Creative Economy Project. businesses and infrastructure. She beleives In years past, she was the head of the Iron the best way to help the most vulnearable in-


passion for helping Horse Festival, which made its return in June. She was instrumental throughout the process of the construction of Bo Diddley pavilion in downtown McComb. The pavilion hosts the Iron Horse Festival in addition to other events throughout the year. There stands an abstract statue, fashioned out of steel in the likeness of a photograph of Bo Diddley from the New York Times. The scuplture was created by her husband, Jimmy Webb. Webb also has contributed to other service-based organizations. Notably, St. Andrew’s Mission, which is one of the only organizations of its kind in the immediate area and provides essential social services and support. “I’ve been with the mission board over 10 years... We’re doing great things there a soup kicthen, food pantry, a free medical clinic,” she said. One of the best things about McComb is the way that people and organizations are willing to work together to better acomplish difficult tasks, said Webb. “I serve on the Keep Pike County Beautiful board. We’re helping with a sign for the (Bogue Chitto) water park. We’ve done some things with them and they help us,”

said Webb. More than anything, Webb believes in the magic that makes McComb the city that it is. “People tend to let the negative overshadow the positive. And I try not to let that happen,” she said, “We’ve got so many people here who have some kind of history with the arts. People don’t realize that so we’ve got to showcase it.” Webb is confident that a cooperative nature is what will bring the biggest benefits to McComb in the future. Webb in front “One thing that I’ve stressed is that of Bob Diddley Pavilion in we’re so small, we can’t have turfdowntown guarding. We’ve got to partner togethMcComb for er and make it happen,” she said. “If which she helped raise we weren’t doing that, if we were funds. guarding our turf, that wouldn’t work. Together we’re stronger. If we can keep that up then the community will ben- ing to do my part, whatever I can.” Webb offered her thoughts on a positive efit as a whole.” mindset. Webb said that it was her calling to “I’ve really been blessed,” she said. “Just serve the community to effect positive find your way, I mean just do one or two change whichever way she could. positive things, that would be good. And “I love the community, I love people change our attitudes, I mean you know, I like and God blessed me with a gift so I try to use it. If I don’t use it, I might lose it,” she to think my cup is half full and I look posisaid. “I’ve just been out there for years, try- tively on the community and our future.”

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Bogue Chitto Water Park offers true outdoor experience Come on in the water’s fine! By Gabrie l Perry Leaving Mississippi to experience the great outdoors is like going ice fishing in El Paso — it just doesn’t make any sense. The Bogue Chitto Water Park west of McComb off Highway 98 is one of the crown jewels of southwest Mississippi’s outdoor offerings. The park boasts an impressive layout, including opportunities for camping, hiking and public river access. Nearby outfitters, such as Gator’s, offer visitors equipment such as canoes, kayaks and inner tubes. But the Bogue Chitto Water Park is still a work in progress since its takeover last year by the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance, with officials sprucing up hiking trails and revamping campsites. Scenic Rivers director Joseph Parker wants to encourage the use of park by both locals and out-of-towners alike. “We want you to get out into the community and enjoy all that it has to offer,” he said, “Come to the water park, let me tell you about everything that this region has got.” The park was originally maintained by the Pearl River Basin Development District, a now-defunct former state agency. A combination of dwindling funds, dying local interest and infrequent use was leading the park down the path toward bankruptcy and eventual dissolution. As head of the Scenic Rivers Development Alliance, Parker led the charge toward the acquisition of the park. Parker, a Pike County native, worked for the city of McComb for 18 years as the Director of Recreation and in other administrative roles. More importantly, he is passionate about the project and enthusiastic about what he considers to be an excellent economic opportunity for the region. Before Scenic Rivers Development Alliance took control of Bogue Chitto Water Park, the PRBDD lost nearly $60,000 per year on the property. Another property recently acquired by Scenic Rivers, the Quail Hollow Golf Course, was losing $30,000 under its operation by the state.

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To reach Bogue Chitto Water Park take Exit 15 off Interstate 55 and go east on Highway 98 approximately 12 miles and take a right on Dogwood Trail.

The Bogue Chitto Water Park offers many activities for outdoor enthusiasts, including hiking, tubing, swimming, canoeing, kayaking and camping.

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Scenic Rivers director Joseph Parker and employee Eddie McCalip work to improve water park for summer activities.

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Visitors to the water park float down the Bogue Chitto River on inner tubes. Now, Parker is eyeing a complete revamp of the water park. For now, the water park is mostly maintained by three Scenic Rivers employees — Parker, Eddie McCalip and Michelle Lombas. Their hard work is paying off. Many improvements to the park have already been made. The Mississippi Legislature this year gave Scenic Rivers $750,000 in state bond funds for the agency to maintain various parks throughout Southwest Mississippi, including the Bogue Chitto Water Park, and Parker is planning on more improvements.

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The park maintained between 80 and 90 campsites in years past, with peak occupancy occurring in the 1980s. Under new management, the park will slightly reduce the overall number of campsites. However, those that remain will be updated, becoming considerably larger and much more private, Parker said. Available for reservation are primitive campsites, advanced campsites for RVs and six cabins. Small cabins can sleep up to four people, while large cabins can sleep up to eight. Large cabin rentals run $125 per night and include full hookups for electricity, wa-

ter and waste management. Small cabins run $100 per night and include full RV hookups as well. Advance campsites run $25 per night and include RV hookups for water, electricity and waste management. Primitive campsites run $20 per night and include hookups for water and electricity. Scenic Rivers is also working to clean and update hiking trails. Their goal is to finish the trail cleanup project before the upcoming Hero Dash set to take place in July. A local Boy Scout troop has been working on the trail cleanup project on a volunteer basis.


Scenic Rivers employees Eddie McCalip and Michelle Lombas prepare to hang a sign outside the park office. Parker credits the immense progress that has been made to community involvement. “We’re about 85% done with the Bogue Chitto Water Park trail clean up project,” he said. “It’s a lot of small stuff. Help from the community with small things helps free up staff to tackle the big things. Many hands make light work. The idea of sharing and working together is not a new concept. That’s what’s got everybody on board.” Parker noted that anyone interested in volunteering with the park is welcome and appreciated. In order to volunteer over the summer, individuals need to undergo a short application and interview process. The park already has a number of volunteers slated to lend a hand this summer and is actively encouraging others to apply. Scenic Rivers has also recognized the immense opportunity that lies with avian enthusiasts. The organization is working on a project intended to increase opportunities for birding throughout the region and specifically within and around Bogue Chitto Water Park. Nature trails will soon have placards with photos of the various species of birds found throughout the park. Parker mentioned the intrinsically co-dependent nature of the amenities available at Bogue Chitto. One prime example would be the way that the recently installed water features contribute to a thriving bird habitat. Parker said that his goal is to eventually offer a Scenic Rivers Birding Tour, which could potentially tap into a worldwide market of birders. Parker sees the park’s potential to attract visitors. In his mind, it should be considered a first-choice vacation destination. He believes that through hard work and cooperation with local vendors, the park will be able to achieve that. This beautiful area that contains all of the features necessary to make a fantastic summer trip. Parker has made it his mission to expand awareness of the park. One way he intends on doing that is by instituting a guide service to local amenities and attractions. The idea is that tourists could come to the region and set Bogue Chitto Water Park as home base while taking part in other activities. More than anything, Parker wants to emphasize the importance and power of the community coming together to work on projects such as this one. “Many hands make light work,” he said. n 2019 Summer Issue

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Memories, Renovation and VBS! This summer I’ve spent a surprising amount of time sweating in shapewear. Sweating in shapewear at funerals, sweating in shapewear at weddings, sweating in shapewear at work. Lather, rinse, repeat. I wonder why we Mississippians schedule weddings and funerals in the summertime anyway, although I suppose the funerals can’t be helped. Recently, I had occasion to travel back to Amite County, the motherland, to NATALIE attend a family funeral and McMAHON celebrate the long, well lived life of my aunt BonTHE CYNICAL nie, a fine lady who always OPTIMIST dressed to the nines. Sadly, n this is now one of the only times we get to see cousins who have scattered far and wide, and reconnect with one another. Although the service took place at the Gillsburg Baptist Church, we had to stop and take a look at the recently renovated Historic Gillsburg Baptist Church, which we’ve always simply referred to as The Old Church. The New Church was finished in 1968. By Gillsburg standards it’s still new. It was much grander and bigger than the old church. At the time it was built congregations were flourishing, sanctuaries were bulging at the seams and more room was needed. You didn’t miss church unless you were in the hospital, and if you got out of the hospital by Saturday evening you’d be expected in church Sunday morning. I remember attending Bible school in the Old Church back in the 1970s — vacation Bible school, I mean. First of all, the mothers would talk about it, really hype it because they would be

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ready for a break from the kids. Plus, at the time we lived in the little brick duplex next to the parsonage, so it was especially convenient. My excitement started to From left, cousins build. Dwain Easley, Martha McMillan, “Wait. Vacation Connie Easley Bible School? Is Richardson and Billie Burt rememthis school? Is it a ber wonderful vacation? A comtimes at GIllsburg bination of both?!” Baptist Church. Either way I knew I needed to get in on this adventure. Every day, first thing, all the children and volunteer teachers met in the sanctuary and sang songs. We just sang old standards, we didn’t have special hand movements to match the lyrics. I think at the time we Baptists considered that too close to dancing. After that we split up into age groups. We learned Bible stories and made crafts. Praying hands out of plaster, macaroni art, and my favorite, the handprint ashtrays. I don’t remember where the Bible says thou must glue dried macaroni noodles to construction paper, but clearly it’s either commandment 11 or 12. I never once attended a VBS that didn’t teach macaroni art. I wish I still had one of those ashtrays we made in VBS. My kids don’t believe that was an acceptable craft for children. When we were done for the day we went back to the fellowship hall in the New Church and had snacks. Red Kool-Aid in a paper cup and two sandwich cookies. There were no variations in the menu. I mean sometimes you’d receive your Kool-Aid in a styrofoam cup, but we always had sandwich

cookies. I don’t mean Oreos, either — no chocolate creme-filled, but off-brand blonde sandwich cookies. No cute little bags or tags, no Pinterest ideas. We ate them happily and considered them a real treat. At the end of the week there would be a party. Our parents would come and hear us sing the songs we’d practiced, ooh and ahh over our macaroni portraits which they’d be required to keep forever in place of pride in our homes. I remember packing mine up in a box when I was first married. A lot of important moments took place in both the old and new churches. Weddings, funerals, homecomings, Sunday schools and services over a lot of years. History. Constant upkeep of an old building is a labor of love, and a total renovation even more so. The Old Church could have been left to rot and ruin when the congregation moved to The New. Restoring it to its former 1933 glory could have been nixed due to expense and trouble. But Gillsburg has a faithful membership, made up of people who don’t believe in discarding their history. “The bones are good. We are stewards of


this property. We will fix it.� Church members raised funds, asked for donations, volunteered their time, while carefully making sure the project didn’t take anything away from the New Church. What they have now is a beautiful little white church, with hardwood floors, dark molding, and original stained glass windows. A place full of history, still vibrant and useful, holding special services and events. Maybe some of its memories have been forgotten, but you know they are still there. And are still being made. And I for one am more than happy to dress up and sweat in my shapewear if it means I can share in them. n n n Natalie McMahon hails from Amite County and lives in Summit. She serves as the Library Director for Southwest Mississippi Community College, writes for thebaconwrappedblog.com, is wife to Tommy and mother to Connor and Molly.

Renovated Gillsburg Baptist Church

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McComb JCPenney: By Ernest Herndon In 1937, the JC Penney store opened in the old Jacob’s Theater building in downtown McComb. In 1987, it moved to Edgewood Mall. And in 2019, it’s closing. “As part of a standard annual review, JCPenney can confirm that it will be closing its store located at the Edgewood Mall in McComb, Mississippi, with an effective closing date of July 5,” company spokesman Caitlin Piper said in an email. (The business name has taken various forms over the years: J.C. Penney, JC Penney and JCPenney.) At 82 years, that’s a long ride for any business, especially one that has clothed so many people.

“It supplied everything for the family — everybody from Amite, La, Tylertown, Liberty, Kentwood — all those little towns.” Joann Buie Longtime JCPenney employee

“It supplied everything for the family — everybody from Amite, La, Tylertown, Liberty, Kentwood — all those little towns,” recalled Joann Buie of Bogue Chitto, who started as an office clerk in December 1975 and retired as personnel supervisor in February 2006, more than 30 years later. On March 25, 1937, the McComb Daily Enterprise newspaper announced that Xavier A. Kramer had remodeled the old theater, also known as the Dickerson Building, for Penney’s to occupy. That was the year pilot Amelia Earhart disappeared, the Hindenburg blimp blew up and boxer Joe Louis became heavyweight champion of the world. Ella Fitzgerald, Benny Goodman and Guy Lombardo played the music that kept America’s toes tapping.

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As the decades passed, Penney’s remained a mainstay of the local retail economy. Buie recalled the layout of the three-story building: men’s and women’s clothing on the ground floor; children’s clothing on the balcony; home department, catalog sales, offices and storage on the top floor. “When I first started there, they catered to the farmer,” Buie said. “They sold overalls, khakis. We did a world of business in those overalls and khaki pants.” Later, as farming gave way to businesses and town jobs, casual clothes became the biggest sellers. Penney’s remodeled and expanded, taking in adjacent stores. “We had a booming business. It was a gold mine, really,” she said. “It was not just men’s or ladies, it covered the whole family.” The home department sold bath and bedroom items like sheets, bedspreads and draperies. What the store didn’t have in stock could be ordered from the catalog. “We did a tremendous volume in the catalog,” Buie said. “It was a world of business. We called it a zoo. It was unbelievable when they cut that catalog out, because we did so much.” Buie liked the downtown location. “It was convenient to the banks. It was a family block. You knew everybody from store to store,” she said, citing a list of businesses that included shoe stores, dime stores, bank, furniture store, ladies shop, sporting goods store, diner and hotel. One change to downtown shopping was the closing off of Main Street and construction of a pedestrian space called Sunshine Square Mall in 1972. While attractive and pleasant, it kept customers from parking in front of Main Street stores. In 1985 the “mall” was demolished and returned to a street. TO EDGEWOOD AND BEYOND In 1987 Penney’s celebrated its 50th anniversary in McComb — and moved to Edgewood Mall. “Everybody was excited,” Buie said. “It was a larger area. We had much more merchandise. It was good business down there. Our sales just continued to grow.” The mall store even featured a style salon. “We had a lot of good, faithful employees stay with us for 20


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Photo from the March 25, 1937, Daily Enterprise shows Penney in its thenbrand new downtown McComb location.

This is a photo of Penney’s when it was still downtown before moving to Edgewood Mall in 1987.

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years,” Buie said. “That would help a lot when you came in and saw the same faces, and the ladies would call and tell you when something came in that you liked.” The mall was a nice place to work, too. On their break, employees could shop other stores and eat in the food court. So what happened? Why is the store closing after such a great run? “They wanted younger leadership, and when they retired older, more experienced, knowledgeable managers, it went down from there,” Buie theorized. In her day, “Penney’s had a dress code,” she recalled. “We wore heels, we wore dresses. Eventually we could wear pantsuits — not just pants but matching suits. Now the girls wear flip-flops and jeans.”

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Then there’s the Internet. “They say a lot of people shop online,” Buie said. “I don’t. I don’t know how much online sales Penney’s did.” In the email, Piper explained the closing — one of many — this way: “This decision is the result of an ongoing review of our store portfolio, which includes assessing locations that may not meet our required financial targets or represent an opportunity to capitalize on a beneficial real estate asset. It’s never easy taking actions that directly impact our valued associates and customers, however we feel this is a necessary business decision.” Piper added, “Eligible associates who do not transfer to another JCPenney location will receive separation benefits, and all impacted associates may participate

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Longtime employee Joann Buie stands outside the old Penney building in downtown McComb.


in a three hour on-site career training class, at no cost to the associate, which offers tips on resume writing, answering interview questions and more.” So what’s the future of brickand-mortar retail clothing stores? “It doesn’t look like it can long last, but you’ve got to have places to shop, too, so I really don’t know what’s going to happen,” Buie said. A STORIED HISTORY Dr. Louis Dent Dickerson constructed the downtown building in 1916 at the corner of Broadway and Main and called it the Dickerson Building. Jacob E. “Jake” Alford operated Jacob’s Theater there from 1916 to 1926. The theater featured live acts — including renowned jazz trumpeter Louis “Satchmo” Armstrong — as well as silent movies.

“Our aunt played the piano as the background music to movies in Jacob’s Theatre,” recalled Ann S. Bordelon. “This was when movies were only silent ones. How I’ve wished I had paid more attention to all those stories our grandmother was always telling. Better yet, wish I could have recorded them.” “Later, X.A. Kramer purchased the building, added a floor on the third story for a roller skating rink (Kramer Roof ), and leased the remaining portions of the building to J.C. Penney,” wrote Alford’s grandson Jim Alford in a column on the building’s history in the July 31, 2017, EnterpriseJournal. Architectural signs of the building’s theater era are still apparent to a trained eye. “At a distance you can see the

Cox stands by letters that once adorned the exterior of the downtown business.

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proscenium (stage) opening,” said architect Steve Cox, whose office is next door to the old Penney’s building and shares a wall with it. “The third floor is not original,” Cox said. “That’s why the elevator does not go to the top. It only goes to the second floor. The third floor was not original to the building. It was added on an existing structure. You can tell because of the proscenium.” The stage was on the north end. The third floor, named Kramer Roof, at one time had a wooden skating rink — 7,100 square feet of oak flooring. That floor is now exposed to the elements since the roof collapsed. “Rags told me he roller-skated in there,” said Cox, referring to his late partner William Ragland “Rags” Watkins III, who died in 2003 at age 80. Frank Faris Jr., now of the Seattle area, grew up around Penney’s in the 1950s and ’60s. “My father was manager of the McComb JCPenney from 1952 when Pres Steadman retired until his retirement in 1968. (In those days JCPenney had a mandatory retirement age for managers),” Faris wrote in an email. “During his tenure in McComb the store was located on Main Street. I recall a major remodel shortly after he arrived. Air conditioning installation followed shortly thereafter and the conversion from a central cashier

with a system of cups with cash transferred via tracks from the sales floor, to the cashier to cash registers. Also during his tenure, Penney began accepting credit cards and introduced a catalog similar to Sears. “When Dad became manager, the top floor was a skating rink. Their lease specified that the skating rink could not be operated during store hours. At store closing time, the skating would begin, and conversation in the store was almost impossible due to the noise from the skating above. “I attended McComb High School from 1952 to 1957 and worked at JCPenney in McComb during Christmas and summer vacations during high school and college.” ‘AN OPPORTUNITY ZONE’ Architects Watkins and Cox moved their office to the building next to the downtown Penney’s in 1988, a year after Penney’s moved to the mall. Around the same time, David and Delores Feldman bought the old Penney’s building and opened Holmes Stationers there. Finding an old safe inside, David Feldman asked Joann Buie if she could open it. Though it had been years since Buie had worked there, the combination came back to her. “I turned the lock and it opened,” she said. Holmes Stationers operated for nearly 20 years there before moving to its current

g`mÉååÉó=ÄìáäÇáåÖ=íáãÉäáåÉ • 1916, Dr. Louis Dent Dickerson built structure known as the Dickerson Building • 1916-1926, Jacob E. “Jake” Alford operated Jacob’s Theater there • 1937, X.A. Kramer renovated building, leased to JC Penney • 1987, Penney’s moved to Edgewood Mall • 1988, Feldmans bought building for Holmes Stationers, renovated Kramer Roof • 2016: Sold to Terrance Alexander for Jubilee Performing Arts Center • 2017, Roof collapsed, building remains vacant 22

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location on Highway 51 North. Three years ago the Feldmans sold the Penney’s building to Terrance Alexander, who moved his private school, Jubilee Performing Arts Center, into it. Alexander later transferred ownership to his corporation, Talex. At 5:30 p.m. Sunday, July 23, 2017, the roof collapsed — just hours after a church group had left and students had assembled to go to a choir award program in Jackson. It could be called a miracle that no one was injured. Early reports said the “third and fourth floors” collapsed in 2017, but Cox said that was a mistake. “The top floor, the third floor, is there,” he said. There are various theories as to the cause of the roof collapse, but Cox has his own opinion. “I think it was an old building that relied on gravity and masonry that was failing,” he said. Since then the building has remained vacant. The old wooden skating rink is intact but exposed to the elements, the narrow caramel-colored planks now bleached gray and starting to curl. The rubble has been cleared away, but lawsuits and countersuits emerged. JPAC moved to a different location and is now at 312 W. Presley Blvd. under the name Jubilee Performing Arts Conservatory. Penney’s memorabilia is scattered all over. Tommy Catchings, who has a shop up the street, has typewritten letters from 1952 between J.C. Penney himself and the late Enterprise-Journal publisher Oliver Emmerich, in which Penney appointed him to the Board of Trustees National Council for Community Improvement. David Varnado, who runs Topisaw General Store restaurant with his wife Edie a block away, has a wooden folding chair with “Kramer Roof Garden” stenciled in red on the back. Cox has the large metal “JC Penney Co.” letters in his attic, with the exception of one “n.”


Penney’s posting prompts lots of buzz From staff reports

The renowned Kramer Roof — 7,100 square feet of oak flooring — now lies exposed to the elements following 2017 roof collapse.

It grieves many people to see the noble old structure standing empty and untended.Water is seeping steadily inward through old brick and masonry, gradually compromising the building’s integrity. Cox has made architectural drawings of what he believes the building could be if restored. David Varnado has this old “The building’s got such potenwooden chair from Kramer Roof tial. It’s a shame to see it rot,” he in the old Penney’s building. said. “It’s going to take somebody with vision and money, because this is an opportunity zone.” Alexander said the downtown building is “in limbo” pending the outcome of the lawsuits, but he holds out hope. “We’re looking forward to doing something great with it if we retain ownership,” he said. He would like to see it reconfigured as “walled gardens” with no ceiling — a venue for weddings, concerts and other such events. “It’s too gorgeous to destroy,” Alexander said. “I think if we put all our heads together, we can figure out something.” n

Pulse magazine posted a request on the “You Know You’re from McComb” Facebook page seeking information and photos on the old J.C. Penney building in downtown McComb, and got lots of responses. Among them: • Joey Boyd: “That was a fun store for an imaginative child. I used to go up to the third floor and drop little wads of lint down on people’s hair when I was small.” • Janice Carruth: “Coldest water fountain in town, right at the bottom of the stairway.” • Jennifer Lewis Jarrell: “I loved the candy machine on the landing of the stairs, maybe second floor. That was so long ago.” • Robbie Decoux: “My aunt worked there in the office for years. Thus at age 5-6, I am in a white shirt, black shorts, and saddle-oxfords modeling Easter clothes in the front window during the early 1950s, pre-air conditioning, surrounded by an infinite supply of candies, especially those yellow chicken peeps. All is well as peeps are rapidly devoured, until around 11:00, here comes the sun and up goes the temp in the front window. I will leave the rest to your imagination, but I will admit I have never eaten another peep, nor was I ever again recruited as a Penny’s male model.” • Sherry Steele Jones: “My mom worked there for years! The ladies must wear dresses and high heels, though they could wear flats behind the counter. I watched many parades and walked to the Palace Theatre a good bit. I had to be pretty young as we moved from McComb when I was 10.” • John J. Goodwin: “Grandma took us shopping there all the time for school clothes. Every time I went I was fixated on the fact that years before me it had a skating rink up above. Could only imagine it.” • Anna McManus Burris: “Oh the memories of going up and down the stairs.” • Evealena Thrash: “So many memories. Remember our homeec teacher, Mrs. Doris Edwards, placed some of our sewing outfits in the window of JC Penney’s, one of my dresses happened to be there. I wad so proud for this country girl from Mars Hill.” • Raymond Hunter: “I worked in that stock room way up top, unpacking clothes! Graduated to salesman in men’s wear. 0ne weekend due to an illness of a lady salesperson, I had to cover part of women’s! Blush. ‘What size bra are you looking for?’ Blush— redheads blush easily!” n


Baseball By Travis Conne lley

Coaches Chris Weekley, Heather Harden and Missy Carruth sit on sidelines

Coach Missy Carruth watches as Lexi Lott rounds the bases.

Coach Missy Carruth instructs players during a recent practice.

For the individuals involved with youth baseball and softball, a lot of time and preparation go into it. And what some may not realize is just how hectic their lives may be. The key is to find the balance between their baseball and softball lives and their personal lives. For Missy Carruth, the head coach of the Pike County Dixie Youth 10-and-under All-Stars softball team, a lot of her time goes into her team. But she and her husband Jeff, who frequently helps out as a coach on the team, make it a priority to spend plenty of time with family as well. “We really deal with a lot with three kids,” she said. “It is a little bit of a balance, so we really try to focus on which ever child has the activity that night, that the family supports them. The older brothers come support the little sister just as the little sister supports the older brothers, so our fun family activity is centered around a baseball field, softball field or a basketball court. “It does help that all three kids, along with Mom and Dad, like sports.”


Summertime sports can be very time-consuming With so much going on athletically in their lives, Carruth said the family does focus on one day of the as a lull day — a day to spend with each other and away from sports — and that day is Sunday. “Sunday is really a great lull,” she said. “With church, definitely we put our faith first and our family, then our sporting activity. Sometimes it is difficult to keep it all in balance. We have family day on Sundays — whether it is at the lake together or we are at our house together. “Sunday afternoons for my entire family — my parents, my brother’s family, my sister’s family and all of their kids— we always have a great time with Sunday lunch after church and then enjoying some down time.” Carruth, who works as a pharmaceutical sales rep, admits that when it comes to her team eventually traveling to play ball, it can be challenging. “It is challenging in regards to time,” she said. “We as coaches got together and decided that we were going to short-distance travel so it doesn’t put too much of a strain on family. Jackson is doable, there and back as opposed to spending an entire weekend, which would cause more of a drastic sacrifice as far as the family side of things.” One advantage that helps Carruth is the fact that the league allows her to choose the tournaments her team plays in leading. “The USSSA league has a variety of tournaments that we can choose leading up to preparation for the state tournament,” she said. “So we can actually choose which tournaments and the number of tournaments we play leading up to that, there is no certain requirement. So we as coaches got together and the families of the girls to decide which will best prepare us and what will not overcommit us as well as our girls.” n n n In a similar situation is Jacob Poole, the head coach of the 8-and-under Pike All-Stars softball team. Like Carruth, Poole is married with three

Coach Jacob Poole hits balls to his players for fielding drills during a recent practice.

Coach Jacob Poole signals to stop runner as Anna Sawyer waits to advance home.

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children. His daughter, 8-year-old Cameron, and his stepdaughter, 7-year-old Lydia Melancon, are on his team. He also has a stepson, 11-year-old Luke Melancon. Poole said he and his wife Tiffany found that the balance between their personal, professional and athletic lives revolves around more than just baseball. “You just really have to schedule what you are going to do,” he said. “Because we are not just playing ball, we are at church camp, we are at gymnastics, we are at everything else under the sun so you just have to prioritize and hit what you have to do when you have to do it. We do a lot of charity work stuff too all of the time. So you learn how to adapt.” And Poole gives an immense amount of credit to his wife who has been a huge help in the process. “Thank goodness my wife is a good woman and she helps,” he said. “It is a team project the whole time, it takes both of us to do everything. She makes sure they are organized, Umpire Guy Christen enjoys the game and has been officiating for clothes are clean and every37 years. body is fed and where they are supposed to be and I handle coaching. It takes a team just like on the field.” Despite having so much devoted to coaching softball, Poole still spends a large portion of his time running his State Farm Insurance Office in Liberty. He admits that when he and his family aren’t involved in work or softball, they spend time together with other sports or activities. “We’re playing football or soccer or basketball,” he said. “We’re swimming or we are at church camp, gymnastics, we’re hunting or fishing. Luke and Cameron got their first turkeys this this — we weren’t able to get Lydia hers. They all got deer this year. So we do a little bit of everything.” n n n In addition to coaches, the task of finding balance between personal and athletic lives can be a bit of a hassle for umpires as well. For Guy Christen, it took up a lot of his time during the season. “During the baseball season I’m usually gone about five nights a week, and most weekends I am gone with tournaments.” he said. And despite the busy schedule, Christen said that he still enjoys it and he has gotten into a groove with it.

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“I’ve been umpiring for 37 years,” he said. “I enjoy working with the young guys getting into umpiring and teaching them the ropes and what to listen to.” Christen has been retired from the State of Louisiana for about nine years. He taught drivers education but is now mostly tending to his 231⁄2 acres in Smithdale when he is not umpiring. “I would say it picked up about 50 percent because I have more time to devote to umpiring because a lot of times, especially here, you have to travel a lot,” he said. “There’s only so many high schools in your area. You may have to travel 60 or 70 miles to a game or 70 or 80 to a tournament. So when you are working you almost have to turn those down.” Christen said that overall, umpiring is still very rewarding. “I love it because I get to work with the kids,” he said. “And to hear them say, ‘We’d like you to umpire a game’ and they know that I am going to take care of them and not cheat them and that it good.” Regardless of his hectic schedule, Christen makes it a habit of spending time with his family. “Family is number one. Umpiring keeps me young. I am 64, almost 65 and I’ve been doing it forever.” And he is very thankful of the support he has received from his wife, Angie. “She’ll come watch me umpire sometimes and she knows that I love doing it,” he said. n

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A focus on the community Filmmaker out to discover what makes ‘Pike Strong’ By Matt Wi lliamson Kendal Miller’s work in film has taken him around the globe, but lately he’s been excited about a photo project he’s been working on to document people in Pike County. At his office inside the McComb Business Mill, Miller showed off a photo of local singer Antonio Turner, taken with a medium format Mamiya 645 camera. “I really am passionate about Southwest Mississippi and Mississippi as a whole. I'm really passionate about the narratives that are coming out of here,” he said. That enthusiasm, coupled with Miller’s desire to become more involved in documentary projects, spawned his idea for “Pike Strong,” a photo series encapsulating the cando spirit of people who have something positive to say, either through their voice or their talents. “The idea is to be a

Kendal Miller, right, works on the set of a production. mirror back to the community,” he said. Miller’s goal is to eventually make gallerysized prints of his work and exhibit them in two “pop-up” galleries. The mission behind the project is to enlighten residents to the hidden gems of local talent and the spreaders of good vibes about the community, and to capture a sense of hope that he believes the area needs. “We have a narrative of decay. We have a narrative of scarcity. We have a narrative of our best days are in the past and not ahead of us,” Miller said. But he doesn’t think any of that is true. To prove the pessimists wrong, Miller began his project with a question: “I wonder what strength looks like here.” n n n Miller, 40, grew up in Starkville, moved to McComb at 15, studied film, dropped out of college and went to work in the industry.

He was working with his father in construction when he enrolled in classes at Southwest Mississipp Community College in 2001, with plans to study filmmaking. Before getting ready to transfer to the University of Southern Mississippi, he invested his savings into digital videography equipment. Some friends who were film students at USM said the viability of digital production was in question at the time. Somewhat discouraged, Miller dropped out. “I just learned more through workshops and hands-on experience and working with other people,” he said. “I've never been qualified on paper for any of the career choices I've had.” Miller relied on networking and workshopping to gain the experience and connections he needed to develop contacts and find work. “I started a little production company here, just doing events-type work and it grew to be a pretty decent side company,” he said. 2019 Summer Issue

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“We were covering some internationally and covering a good bit of the Southeastern U.S.” Then Katrina hit. “We were in Chicago looking at houses when Katrina hit down here,” he said. The monster 2005 hurricane sped up Miller’s decision to move to Chicago, where he went to work with a company that did a lot of work documenting the scourge of substance abuse on the city’s south side. Miller said that when his son was 2 he turned down a decision to take a union job, which would have given him the opportunity to work on feature-length productions but would have also come with long hours and days on end spent away from home. “I couldn't justify doing that from a family perspective. I pivoted off of that and decided to go into some commercial work,” he said. Commercials, music videos and independent films became his main source of work. “I shot for Florida Georgia Line a couple of times when they first hit it big — a lot of CMT stuff. I had a TV producer friend of mine who did a lot of stuff for GAC and CMT,” he said. “My bread and butter has mostly been in the commercial space.” But a lot of those jobs came with difficult working environments, sometimes with toxic personalities and morale-deflating circumstances. Working with producers and directors

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Kendall Miller views some of his work. was a necessary evil to getting jobs in that market. “I never wanted to be a director,” Miller said. “But they had a bigger voice in the creative process.” That bigger voice led him to pursue directing. Miller also found limitations from producers, so “I decided, ‘Well, I want to step into producing,’ ” he said. When he struck out on his own, he left behind a culture of work that often came with a “trail of abuse” heaped upon the creative staff from directors and producers. "There were multiple times in my career where a crew member wasn't fully paid. ... The producer was like tough. ... I would reimburse them out of my check to make

sure they were taken care of,” he said. “I have a mantra that I came up with early in production and it was people over projects.” n n n Miller moved back to McComb in 2016 and started working on small projects for himself and with Los Angeles-based production company Territory 6, which he serves as an executive producer. With Territory 6, which has made commercials for Mercedes, BMW, Audi and Lifeproof phone cases, Miller works with a business partner, an account manager and a sales rep all based in L.A. and he telecommutes from McComb. “Now I'm in the position to determine the culture of our productions,” he said.


Miller films an actor on set in one of his earlier works.

He occasionally leaves home to work on projects but isn’t shooting anything commercially in Mississippi at the moment. Miller said he hopes the state Legislature will pass some film incentives to lure more productions to the state. “Those thing are going to help the ability to do some work here,” he said. But until those things happen, Miller will continue to train his lens on inspir-

ing people he encounters for his Pike Strong project. “There is strength here and there are people here who are doing good things that have valuable things to say,” he said. And he believes that work can have a big impact on getting people to look past negativity and focus on the area’s positive attributes, starting with its people. “I think that the real battle here is for hearts and minds,” he said. n

Miller worked on commericial projects in Chicago before returning to Mississippi.

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Fresh vegetables and fruits are summer’s bounty Living on beautiful Lake Dixie Spring is one of my many reasons I love summer. I love sitting on my porch, watching mommas and daddies teaching the new children on the lake how to ski and enjoy life on the water. But the best reason to love summer is the arrival of the fresh vegetables and fruit that we have missed during the dreary days of winter. I adore fresh-snapped ANN green beans cooked with JACKSON small new potatoes with a little chopped onion CLEAN PLATES thrown in the pot. Add n some cornbread and that's a meal. Of course you can add some type of meat to the menu, but I'm happy with just the fresh vegetables. Stores are now filled with homegrown tomatoes, okra, squash, bell peppers and

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so many others, but my real passion is my endless array of fresh fruit — blueberries, strawberries, peaches, plums, raspberries, pears and on and on. I love fresh fruit, especially fresh blueberries cooked in any way, including muffins, cakes or pies. But my favorite method of eating fresh blues berries is rinse, put in bowl, top with a little sugar and pour on the cream. Enjoy our great abundance of fresh fruit an right-out-of-the-garden vegetables. We are lucky to live in this area, where we are blessed with many types of fruits and vegetables.

The McComb Farmer’s Market, open from 8 a.m. to 1 p.m. on Thursdays during the summer, is a great place to get them. Vendors from around the region gather at the downtown parking garage, offering some of the best fresh-grown produce you can find around here. Shopping at the farmer’s market is a great way to support local farmers and shop for some outstanding produce.


And when you get home with your bounty, try this recipe. It’s one of my favorite ways to enjoy fresh fruit:

OVEN ROASTED FRUIT Serves 8 6 peaches, pitted and cut into eighths. 6 red plums, pitted and halved. 1/2 cup sugar 2 cups fresh blueberries and/or raspberries 2 tbsp orange juice

Preheat oven to 450 Place the peaches and plums in a single layer, cut side up, in two oven-proof glass containers. Sprinkle with sugar. Add berries. Bake 20-25 minutes until tender. Heat broiler and place fruit about 5 inches below the heat. Broil for 5 to 8 minutes until the berries release some of their juices. Remove from broiler and sprinkle with orange juice. Serve warm, at room temperature or chilled. You may substitute any berries or any kind of soft fruit, such as figs, nectarines or mangos. n

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Splish-Splash Stay cool, enjoy summer outdoors!

Above, Sophia LeFebbre and Parker Thornhill cool off in a kiddie pool at the splash pads at Central Park in McComb. At right, Mayia Simmons is sprayed with a water gun by Shaun Ellzey, pictured below right. Below, DJ and Laylay Shaw run through rings of water.

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The best of Southwest Mississippi

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The best of Southwest Mississippi

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