BILOXI - The Aug. 29 reopening of the Beau Rivage means coming home for the McDougal family of Long Beach.
Jon G. McDougal and his wife, Catherine McDougal, are returning to work at the Beau along with their two sons, their daughter-in-law and Mrs. McDougal's brother. After Hurricane Katrina hit, they thought they all were without jobs. Now they are back on the payroll with 3,800 other people at the Beau.
It's been a year of stress, frustration, change and finally hope.
Some family members evacuated for the storm, while others holed up at the parents' home off Klondyke Road. Initial news reports about the Beau and other casinos were bleak.
"We just assumed it was gone," said Mellisa McDougal, the daughter-in-law who works in room reservations. "We just figured it was flattened."
The blow was especially crushing for son, Jon D. McDougal, who was newly hired as a senior systems engineer. He had driven a moving truck filled with belongings from Atlanta about a day and a half before the storm hit. He and his wife were supposed to have closed on a house Aug. 29. It flooded.
"I was in limbo for two weeks," he said. "I didn't have a house or a job. I was brutally depressed until that Friday when human resources called."
The casino needed his computer skills to track employees and set up an information system related to relief efforts. He and his mother, who worked in security, were the first family members back on the payroll. The rest of the family received extended pay and benefits through Dec. 6.
The other son, Jason McDougal, a massage therapist, and his wife, Mellisa, sold their home and moved to Las Vegas to work at MGM Mirage casinos there until the Beau reopened. His maternal uncle, Earl Kranz, a slots supervisor, found temporary employment setting up FEMA trailers. Jon G. McDougal, the family patriarch who had a background in retail, worked at a Long Beach supermarket. He had come to the casino in 2002 to work as a bellman.
Two years later, after never having missed a day of work and receiving seven commendations for his work performance, he was named the casino's employee of the year. He won an extensive gift package, including $2,500, a vacation for two and spending money.
His wife, Catherine McDougal, and son Jason have been with the Beau since it first opened in 1999. She's the one who takes the credit for bringing the rest of the family members in. Their shifts were interwoven in such a way that on some days family dinner took place in the employee cafeteria when they'd all sit at the same table.
Everybody who works at the Beau knows the McDougals, which was a bit of an adjustment for the newest hire, Jon D. McDougal. Strangers telling him they had seen his children was a bit offsetting.
"Who are you and why have you seen my kids?" he would wonder, until he realized that every grandparent shows off pictures of their grandchildren.
His mother and father, who dated as teenagers, have been married 37 years. Both work swing shift. Before they were casino employees, they worked opposite shifts for several years, waving at each other over a two-block space as they were coming and going, sometimes rolling down the window to relay information about a load of clothes in the washer.
At the Beau, they pressed to get the same days off on Sundays and Mondays.
"I want my time off with her now," he said.
What: Reopening of Beau Rivage Resort and Casino.
When: 10:30 a.m., Aug. 29.
Where: Casino property, Biloxi.
Tom Wilemon can be reached at 896-2354 or firstname.lastname@example.org