In 2016, a host of everyday people stepped out of the shadows and into the limelight. Some of our favorite newsmakers:
1. Biloxi sisters Paige and Kaley Wilson, ages 11 and 8, raised $1,202 selling lemonade, then used their profits to buy Arctic insulated mugs for first responders in South Mississippi. You can find out what they’re up to now at their Delicious Divas Lemonade page on Facebook.
2. Kayla Peterson was tired of the South Mississippi dating game. So the then-29-year-old optometry tech from Bay St. Louis tried a new tactic, auditioning for “The Bachelor” in New Orleans in July. Unfortunately, “The Bachelor” never called, and judging from her Facebook page, she’s still looking for Mr. Right.
3. Julie Kuklinski is described as the glue of East Biloxi. She moved there from Wisconsin 10 years ago to help with the Katrina recovery. She would leave to take a job as a carpenter in Chicago, but the Coast’s hold on her was strong. In 2008, she came back to Biloxi as director the Women in Construction program, which trains women to get well-paying jobs in that field.
4. Trevor Ladner made an unorthodox application to Tulane University in New Orleans during his senior year at Hancock High. Part of it was the video “Unpack” that shows his metamorphosis from Trevor to Miss Annie Thang, his drag persona. Tulane accepted. Then Harvard saw the video and the rest was, well, we don’t know yet know how far Ladner will go but Harvard is along the way.
5. Michael Steffey is more than a Seabee at Gulfport’s Naval Construction Battalion Center. He’s the Atlantic fleet Navy Expeditionary Combat Command Sea Sailor of the Year. As Rear Adm. Frank Morneau, NECC commander said, it’s “an enormous compliment to (Steffey’s) hard work, dedication to the mission and commitment to (his) fellow sailors.”
6. William “Wild Bill” Allen’s new bride, Jamie, said, “We should be old enough to know better but we don’t.” He’s 91 and she’s 76. The World War II veteran finally won her over sitting on a bench on a dock near the Armed Forces Retirement Home in Gulfport, where they met in January at karaoke night. They were married in November at AFRH.
7. Kaylie Mitchell soon could be lighting up your TV as well as your drinks. The December graduate of Mississippi State University and her partner, Hagan Walker, invented Glo, an ice-cube-sized light you can plop into a cocktail. She and Walker hope to get Glo on the TV show “Billion Dollar Buyer.”
8. Paulette Leaphart was back on the Coast in October — with her top on. On April 30, the cancer survivor took her top off and began a walk that would take her 1,000 miles from Biloxi to Washington, D.C. Along the way, she showed the nation a woman can lose everything to cancer — her breasts, her home and her car — and still not give up. In Washington, she met with members of Congress and wrote a cancer-cure bill she said aims to make sure no American will die because they can’t afford treatment.
9. Sarah Margaret Hewes has turned her love for music into a career. She was back in her hometown briefly in the spring before finishing a most-unusual final semester in grad school at NYU. She was about to take off as tour manager for AJR during the band’s tour with We the Kings. “The second draft of my thesis is due the day I get back from tour,” she said, “so I have about 20 pages. I have to write on the road.”
10. Ronald “Griz” Winnert was back as Santa in the Bay St. Louis Christmas Parade. That wouldn’t be so unusual (he’s played the role for years) except six months ago he was in a coma and fighting for his life after an encounter with vibrio. He lost a leg, and his Santa beard, during his 16 days in ICU but he kept the Christmas spirit alive in December.