Bicentennial

They once lived at Centennial Plaza — they recently returned after 60 years

More than 60 years after they moved away, Lawrence Behan Jr., Deborah Zeitsuss, Nancy Clauer and Ann LaRosa return to Centennial Plaza in Gulfport on Monday, March 27, 2017.
More than 60 years after they moved away, Lawrence Behan Jr., Deborah Zeitsuss, Nancy Clauer and Ann LaRosa return to Centennial Plaza in Gulfport on Monday, March 27, 2017. Courtesy

It was a reunion more than 60 years in the making, and it happened to coincide with the upcoming 200th birthday party for Mississippi. Nancy Clauer, formerly Nancy Behan, joined her sister, Deborah Zeitsuss of Gulfport, brother James Behan Jr. and family friend Ann LaRosa of Biloxi recently for a stroll down memory lane.

Clauer, who splits her time between Gulfport and Michigan, was one seven children, including Behan, Zeitsuss and LaRosa, who grew up on the property of Centennial Plaza in Gulfport when it was the mental hospital for the VA. The four of them went to the property together recently to make a photo. It was the first time they had been there since the 1950s.

“My dad was Dr. Lawrence Behan and he was the director of the hospital, so we had to live there,” Clauer said. “We lived there from 1955 until 1959 — I was living there from seventh grade until 10th grade.”

Living among diversity

Clauer said she and her family lived a “very normal life” on the grounds of what is now known as Centennial Plaza.

“One of the residents there taught my brother how to fish,” she said. “He showed him how to catch fish with a safety pin and a piece of beeswax.”

Although she said her friends often wanted to know what it was like to live at a mental hospital, Clauer said she is grateful for the experience.

“We had a normal childhood,” she said. “But I think growing up around that kind of diversity was good for us — it never bothered us at all and we enjoyed our time together in Gulfport.”

Returning home

Clauer said she and her husband were on the Coast visiting Zeitsuss as Centennial Plaza was being prepped for the two-day Mississippi Bicentennial Celebration South. She said the temptation was too great to not go to the old home place for a photo.

“We had a great time walking around and talking about memories we had there,” she said. “But we were very surprised how much things had changed since we lived there.”

Although Clauer and her family enjoyed reminiscing about their lives at Centennial Plaza, she said they will not be attending the celebration.

“I’m disabled and I don’t like big crowds, but it looks like it’s going to be a lot of fun.”

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