It’s been a year to celebrate the brave, the inventive and those who stay the course no matter what comes their way.
A simple act inspired a community at a funeral, the absence of a mom inspired a collective effort to help a boy with cancer and a child found a way to overcome ADHD.
This is by no means a comprehensive list of inspirational stories that unfolded on the Mississippi Coast this year, but these were favorites suggested by the Sun Herald staff. They inspired me. There are honorable mentions at the end.
Never miss a local story.
1. D’Iberville Middle School student Pierson Feeney doesn’t let ridicule from schoolmates dampen his passion for dance. So what if mostly girls take dance? He has used it to manage his ADHD. It worked when medicine failed him. The video of his enthusiastic moves went viral and has been viewed more than a million times.
2. The O’Keefes are in the funeral home business, but when their patriarch, Jerry O’Keefe, died this year, the simple act of a barefoot child inspired not only the family, but also the Coast. Kaiden Wade, 9, stood on a corner with his hand over his heart as the whole funeral procession passed him.
3. Growing up gay and the son of a former Baptist preacher was not always easy. Trevor Ladner struggled until he found dressing in drag and performing at events really liberating, even though it takes four hours to get into the role. The salutatorian of his class, Ladner credits his drag for helping earn a sizable scholarship to Harvard.
4. Jeryn and Larry Bates of Pascagoula go through two boxes of diapers and two gallons of milk each day. They are living examples of endurance as they navigate daily the wonderful world of parenting natural quadruplets (they didn’t use fertility drugs), a 5-year-old and a teenager.
5. Beachwear clothier Steve “Scuba Steve” Johnson inspired thousands of friends on social media when he was open with his diagnosis of colorectal cancer and the struggles he faced in battling the disease. At year’s end, he is back to selling shirts and giving hugs wherever he goes.
6. Hailee Buras of Carriere dreamed she would pitch softball at LSU. Then a doctor delivered the news that a rare eye disease means she will lose her vision. The doctor suggested a school for the blind, but the unflappable Pearl River Central senior found a way to play. She wears a face mask and a heart guard, but Buras pitched softball this year.
7. When word of his leukemia diagnosis spread through Donny Faerber’s church and school in Gulfport, a group formed to fill the role of mom, because he didn’t have the support of a mother. It was a good thing, too, because his father was injured and had to be hospitalized last summer. In October, Donny underwent a bone marrow transplant.
8. D’Iberville High valedictorian Tommy Duong is finishing his mother’s dream — the inspiration for his graduation speech. She came to the Coast from poverty in Vietnam and opened her own business. By her example, he worked hard, too, “to complete her American dream.” Duong will major in business administration and biochemistry at the University of Southern California.
9. Gage was one of the worst cases the Humane Society of South Mississippi had ever seen. Rescued from a fire, the pit bull was burned over 60 percent of his body. But his temperament and personality persuaded shelter workers to do all they could to save him. After everything the dog had been through, he was licking everyone despite all his pain. “We all fell in love with him,” the shelter workers said, despite the negative press pit bulls get.
10. Mike and Janet Fletcher took in Sandra Camphor after a spring storm smashed her home. Camphor, a former theater director at Ocean Springs High School, had dedicated her life to others. When the Fletchers, friends and colleagues were through, Camphor had a renovated and newly furnished home.
The rest of the stories
▪ The Coast wept with Colette and Katrina White who decided to divorce in order to adopt a son, because it is easier in Mississippi to adopt as a single woman than as a gay couple.
▪ The Coast laughed with spunky 91-year-old veteran “Wild Bill” Allen of Gulfport, who took a bride of 76 years, his fourth.
▪ And they marveled at members of United in Blue, who surprised themselves when planning to raise $10,000 for the families of six officers ambushed in Baton Rouge — they raised $10,000 for each family.
▪ Homeowners were inspired to try solar panels after Ocean Springs engineer Bruce Duckett meticulously logged and explained the cost versus the benefit for readers.
▪ Paige and Kaley Wilson, 11 and 8, got a tear from a Biloxi policeman when they earned money to give mugs and hugs to law enforcement.
▪ The Biloxi Shuckers’ Brandon Woodruff pitched through personal adversity after his brother’s death.
▪ Ida Mae Cumbest, a 95-year-old church organist, overcame a stroke and broken hip in an effort to try to keep her organ-playing world record.