Jackson County

These are the people who inspired us most in 2017

Clockwise from top left: Ted Hearn, East Central High School football, Alton Bankston, Jeanne ‘Granny’ Graeser, Jesmyn Ward, Doris Witchen, Tyler and Salena Schoenberger, and Ashleigh Pack.
Clockwise from top left: Ted Hearn, East Central High School football, Alton Bankston, Jeanne ‘Granny’ Graeser, Jesmyn Ward, Doris Witchen, Tyler and Salena Schoenberger, and Ashleigh Pack.

Sometimes the simplest acts of courage or kindness, endurance or perseverance strike a chord and inspire people. Sometimes it’s the where-with-all to follow your dream or follow your gut.

The Sun Herald recorded story after story this year of people who volunteer their time, patience and love to work with members of their community who have disabilities. They are a true inspiration.

Here are others on the Coast who inspired Sun Herald reporters and editors:

2017 inspiring01
Gulfport’s Jody Green fell in love with hockey when the Sea Wolves came to town. Now he’s an assistant athletic trainer for the New York Islanders in the NHL. Courtesy Houston Aeros

Chasing a dream

Sports reporter James Jones has watched Gulfport native Jody Green work his way to assistant athletic trainer for the New York Islanders, a National Hockey League team based in Brooklyn, New York. It took 21 years.

“You don’t see many Coast natives working in the NHL,” Jones said. “As a kid, he had a dream. Hockey came here, and he followed it. If you have a dream, chase it.

“He fell in love with hockey when the Sea Wolves came to town in 1996,” Jones said. “Now he’s in the NHL.”

“Jody Green goes to work every day with a huge smile on his face,” Jones wrote.

2017 inspiring02
Ted Hearn, 84, takes a call between talking to people at Feed My Sheep this year. He spends much of his time helping the homeless. Among the many things he does is help people get identification cards, fixes their bicycles so they have transportation or gets them a clean outfit to wear. Amanda McCoy amccoy@sunherald.com file

‘Emulate grace’

Sun Herald Videographer Amanda McCoy worked with reporter Anita Lee to tell the story of Ted Hearn, who tries to “emulate grace” as he works with the homeless of Gulfport.

“I’m not a religious person,” McCoy said, “but he talks about putting your faith into action. He was called to go out among the people. He did, and that’s a powerful message.”

2017 inspiring03
East Central’s Joel Reiser, center, celebrates after his team recovered a Jefferson Davis County rumble in September. East Central High in Hurley took a winning streak all the way to the state championships. Amanda McCoy amccoy@sunherald.com file

‘Playing their hearts out’

East Central’s high school football run all the way to the state championships this year inspired Sports and Features Editor Scott Hawkins.

“Playing their hearts out and losing at the end” captured the Coast’s heart and imagination.

“They were good, dedicated kids,” Hawkins said. “People watched the coach’s pep talk videos every time we ran them. It was a little team that went straight to the top. They didn’t lose a game until the state championship.”

Alton Bankston found this box of letters written by his students more than 50 years ago. Since an article ran in the Sun Herald about his find and his intent to send them to the students, he's had calls from California, Oregon and locally asking about the letters. Mary Perez meperez@sunherald.com file

A noble profession

Digital Editor Kate Magandy admires teachers — all of them — but especially the ones who evoke appreciation in their students.

“Teaching is such a noble profession,” Magandy said, and recalled a story about Alton Bankston of Biloxi, a retired teacher who found 50-year-old letters his history students wrote about themselves and their dreams. It was a class assignment in his first year of teaching.

He mailed them back to the Harrison Central Class of 1966 and got a wonderful and inspiring response full of nostalgia and interest.

2017 inspiring08
Jeanne ‘Granny’ Graeser of Waveland talks to Elizabeth Pate of Indianola, wife of Army veteran Jerry Pate, at the Palace Casino Marina in Biloxi before departing on a Soldier’s Angels boat cruise in May. John Fitzhugh jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com file

Connecting with veterans

Senior photographer John Fitzhugh loves Granny.

He met Jeanne Graeser, known as Granny, when he and Jeff Clark did a story about her work for veterans. She adopts veterans, makes gumbo and finds funds for fishing trips and boat cruises, all to help them heal.

“It’s totally from the heart with this lady,” Fitzhugh said. “She developed a connection with veterans. They talk to her about their combat nightmares, and she understands. Immediately upon meeting her, I thought, ‘I love this person.’ ”

2017 inspiring09
Kathryn Meinzinger, 22, lead an inspiring young life before she died. Courtesy of the Meizinger family

An impressive life

Reporter Mary Perez was impressed with 22-year-old Kathryn Meinzinger who did amazing things with a short life.

“After I wrote the story, I wish I’d met her,” Perez said. “She touched the community. She did missionary work ... all these accomplishments at 22. I thought, ‘If she could do that at 22, what could I do if I applied myself?’ ”

Meinzinger, who dreamed of being a hockey head trainer, also fostered 30 dogs while going to college and working at a coffee shop. She was a camp counselor, Sea Wolves fan and a page in Washington D.C.

2017 inspiring10
A photograph of Sophia Mohler hangs in a prominent position in David and Theresa Mohler’s downtown Ocean Springs establishment, TatoNut Donut Shop. Mohler was the first of three children in Ocean Springs to be diagnosed with DIPG in August of 2009. Amanda McCoy amccoy@sunherald.com file

Courage and faith

Reporter Margaret Baker was inspired by three sets of parents, each from the Ocean Springs area, who stood by their children as a rare cancer took their young lives, each within a year of being diagnosed.

Baker’s series on DIPG brought out the heartbreak and challenges these parents faced as they were helpless to stop the disease.

“Their courage and their strength and their faith,” Baker said. “The relationship between them and their children was like nothing I’ve ever seen in my life. It’s hard on all of them. It still is, even years after.”

Obit Witchen06
Doris Witchen of Pascagoula waves to a passing motorist as she walks down Live Oak Avenue in Pascagoula in 2011. Witchen was 84 when the Sun Herald did a profile story about her tenacity. She walked every day for 35 years and died at the age of 90 this year. John Fitzhugh jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com File

Get up and go

Digital Producer Yolanda Cruz was inspired by the walking woman of Pascagoula, Doris Witchen, who walked twice a day, every day (but one) for 35 years.

“There are so many excuses not to get out there ... I’m tired, it’s cold,” Cruz said. “The fact that she got up and did it, no matter what, inspired me.”

Can anyone guess the day Witchen missed? It was a little over 12 years ago. Witchen died at the age of 90 this year.

In this Jan. 7, 2017 photo, Willie Nelson performs in Nashville, Tenn. Mark Humphrey AP file

Still got it

Reporter Jeff Clark, who writes about entertainers, admires musicians with tenure.

“Willie Nelson at 83 and 84 is still touring,” Clark said. “He has 200 dates a year. Charlie Daniels at 81 is still going.

“They’re at the top of their game when they’re in their early 80s. I hope I live that long, and I’m still good at what I’m doing,” Clark said, and then added Frankie Valli to the inspiration list.

INSPIRE Ashleigh Pack02
Biloxi patrolman Ashleigh Pack, center, and her partner, Patrolman John Lewis, talk to a woman in the Rue Magnolia district in September. Pack wound up in Glamour magazine as part of a report on the state of women in the United States. John Fitzhugh jcfitzhugh@sunherald.com file

Live your life

Reporter Robin Fitzgerald, saw inspiration in a spunky, 5-foot-2, Biloxi police officer who wound up in Glamour magazine in a report on the state of women in the United States.

“She’s a female in a male-dominated profession and a single mother,” Fitzgerald said. “I’m seeking my dream, but I feel like she’s inspiration for younger women who might want to enter a male-dominated profession.”

The story of Ashleigh Pack headline: “Live the life you want to live. Female cop says hard work and persistence pay off.”

Christopher Hansen
This still image from a video shows Chris Hansen, a Pulse shooting survivor. Jessica Koscielniak McClatchy

True terror

Social Media Editor Justin Mitchell interviewed Chris Hansen, a survivor of the 2016 Pulse nightclub shooting in Orlando, on the Sun Herald and McClatchy podcast “Out Here In America,” in it’s first season.

“I thought discrimination and hurt was when someone called me a derogatory name or deleted me from Facebook for being queer,” Mitchell said. “It wasn’t until I met Chris Hansen, a Pulse survivor who saved at least two wounded people during the gunfire, that I realized what true fear and terror for being who you are felt like. Seeing the bullets in the wall of the building brought me to tears. Chris Hansen showed me how to be an activist, how to be a survivor. He showed me what a hero for the LGBTQ community looks like.”

jesmyn ward
Author Jesmyn Ward speaks at Book Expo America, Thursday, June 1, 2017, in New York. Mark Lennihan AP file

Writing truth

News Editor Lauren Walck is a fan of Jesmyn Ward.

There’s not many Coast success stories as impressive as hers, Walck said. The DeLisle native is now an official genius, having won a MacArthur “genius grant” this year, as well as her second National Book Award for Fiction.

“Her work tells the important and often-ignored experience of what it’s like to grow up black on the Mississippi Coast and the South,” Walck said.

“As a female editor in a state historically known for it’s good ol’ boys mentality, I’m inspired by a Southern female fiction writer having such grand success in 2017, a year when there’s been a lot of talk over women’s issues and in particular fiction writers.”