It all started with a pot of gumbo. Jeanne Graeser of Clermont Harbor, who goes by “Granny,” wanted to do something to help veterans who were returning to the Coast after deployment, especially those veterans who had been wounded while protecting and serving their country. So Granny started cooking up pots of gumbo and serving them to veterans along the Coast.
“A long time ago, old ladies like me would adopt a soldier by sending them packages and letters and that’s what got me started,” Granny said. “Then, once they got home, I would invite them over for dinner.”
And that dinner was gumbo.
Granny said she wanted to expand her support and services beyond a bowl of gumbo, so she decided to arrange to take the veterans on deep-sea fishing trips. She said she got involved with veterans as a way to help her sister.
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“No one in my family was in the military, but I started doing this to give my sister something to do when she was dying of cancer,” she said. “I talked her into joining the Soldiers’ Angels group and the soldiers started calling us the two grannies — Granny Woo and Granny Franny — because we adopt them together, but I was talking to one of the soldiers and I told him to make it home and he was going to come over for ‘Granny gumbo’ and I was going to get him a fishing trip; I didn’t even know who he was.”
After they go out fishing, they get a bit of peace and that’s a great thing — I want to keep doing this, but I’m getting old.
Granny (Jeanne Graeser )
She said the first veteran she took fishing was apprehensive about the trip, but she soon saw a change.
“That moment he caught his first redfish, you could see his whole face change,” Granny said. “I said, ‘Aha’ — I knew I could make a difference with the fishing trips.”
Granny’s trips became so popular with wounded veterans that she said she can’t remember how many she’s organized. And although the trips can be costly, she said she has never had a problem funding an outing.
“I have been very fortunate because I am not a nonprofit, but people started trusting me and I started raising funds — I’m just really blessed because I’ve run my mouth so long that people know I take their money and do the right things with it,” Granny said. “After they go out fishing, they get a bit of peace and that’s a great thing — I want to keep doing this, but I’m getting old.”
The latest trip
In May, Granny arranged for a charter boat to take a group of wounded veterans and their families on a Saturday afternoon fishing expedition from the harbor at The Palace Casino near Point Cadet. Ray Billeaud has been on several fishing trips with Granny. He was one of several wounded veterans who was gearing up for the excursion from Biloxi Bay.
“It gives us an opportunity to go out on a boat and fish together, something we wouldn’t get the chance to do,” Billeaud said. “I always enjoy meeting veterans — I was a platoon sergeant when I retired — it’s always nice to get together with fellow soldiers and talk with them and help them if I can.”
Billeaud, whose friends call him “Skip,” said he met Granny when they were working together at Walmart in Waveland. He said they started talking at work and before he knew it, he had been invited to Granny’s house — for a bowl of gumbo.
“She makes great gumbo — and I’m from New Orleans so I know gumbo,” he said. “Granny will do anything to help anyone.”
For Granny, she approaches her service work for the military community the same way she does her gumbo — with humility.
“I just make a roux and add some spices,” she said. “It’s really no big deal.”
About the series:
Our Kind of People is a feature in the Sun Herald and at SunHerald.com that spotlights South Mississippi people whose life or work is an inspiration to others.
Military meet-and-greet for families of veterans
Where: Buccaneer Park in Waveland
When: 10 a.m.-until Saturday, July 29
More information: 225-328-5668