Family displaced by storm decides to stay in Ironton

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, August 29, 2006

They are on a bowling league at Spare Time and are involved in the activities at Mt. Olive Baptist Church.

The Rev. Michael Thompson, his wife, Diane and son Michael Jr., are now Irontonians. But their journey to find a new home in a new place was instigated by Mother Nature, not a burning desire to move northward.

The Thompsons and 24 other families came here in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, which devastated parts of Louisiana and other Southern states one year ago this week.

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A trip to Ohio

Of the couple dozen families who initially accepted the offer of assistance from the Ironton-Lawrence County Community Action Organization, only 14 families, most of them from New Orleans, remain nearly a year later. Some have returned to New Orleans. Others decided to stay.

Michael Sr. said he went back to New Orleans a couple of times after the hurricane and flooding. He and his family have opted to remain in Ironton for now.

“There was no sign of life and habitation. And in my area, the area where we were, it was like it was (after the hurricane),” he said.

Along with him, his wife and son, his daughter, Johndra Patterson, and her family live a couple of doors down at the 10th Street Apartments. Some extended family members stayed in Louisiana; others went to Florida or Houston, Texas. They plan on getting together for the holidays.

Diane said after the hurricane the family spent some time at the civic center in Lake Charles, La., trying to figure out what to do next. When the Ironton-Lawrence County CAO sent representatives to Lake Charles and invited Katrina victims to come northward, Diane and her daughter decided to give it a try with the understanding they could come back home if the move was a bad idea. She said at first, she thought she was moving to Kentucky but the wound up in Ironton and a waiting apartment.

“I got here and they had everything for us,” Diane said. “The beds were made, there was furniture in all the bedrooms and a washer and dryer. There was a TV set. They said they would give us shelter and clothing but I never expected this.”

First Baptist Church of South Point adopted the family for the first few months they were in town. Church members brought in food, clothing and other necessities, getting list of needed items from the Thompson family.

Starting a new life anyplace can be difficult, but it has been perhaps all the more so for New Orleans transplants because they came under the worst of circumstances, having lost their homes, their jobs and having been separated from friends, family and their home community.

Michael said the hardest thing about leaving New Orleans was leaving behind a church family and his blood family, though he still hears from some of them once a week or so.

Still, both he and his wife have managed to find work. He was hired as a counselor at the Ramey-Estep Homes. In New Orleans, he had worked at The Sheraton Hotel and prior to that the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s National Finance Center.

Diane now works at Open Door School. Michael Jr., who graduated from Ironton High School in the spring, is in college now at Ohio University Southern, studying engineering. They are thankful for strangers who have become new friends, that they have found work and a new church home.

“The people are very nice, truly,” Michael Sr., said. “We truly have been blessed. We enjoy it here, I enjoy working at Ramey-Estep.”

His wife echoed that sentiment.

“One guy yesterday said ‘you were lucky’ and I said luck had nothing to do with it. God brought us and he provided for us. When I got on that bus I said a prayer and asked God to guide us and he did. He provided for us and watched over us and he gave us what we have.”

Making the move also meant trading big city life for small town pursuits.

“There is not as much to do,” he said. “I hadn’t been bowling in years. Now, we bowl on a league.”

For Diane, who had lived in New Orleans all her life, the Ironton switch was one she was ready for.

“I love the area,” she said. “I had never heard of Ironton. I can’t explain it, but when we came here and after the excitement died down it felt like home. I think we were meant to be here.”

An adopted daughter, Stella Reynolds, chose not to stay in Ironton. She went back to Louisiana, but Diane said she has not heard from Stella since she left.

“She said she didn’t have a car and there were no buses. She said none of her friends were here,” Diane explained.

One amusement the family found in Ironton had nothing to do with what went on inside a building, but what went on outside: Ohio weather.

“When we got here it was in September and the leaves were changing,” he recalled. “I was just amazed at how awesome it was. Everything was so beautiful. We just used to go out riding. It just blew me away. My wife had never seen snow. When we had a little snow and she went outside to take pictures, she was so excited.”

If life has taken them down a road they had not planned to travel, Michael is philosophical.

“I realized God wanted me here and he wanted us here for a reason,” he said. “Working with the kids at Ramey-Estep has been a blessing. I know God called me here to help out.”

Will the Thompsons stay forever?

“Only God knows,” he said. “I leave it up to him. My wife and I prayed when we first came down here. It was really a move by God, we wanted the purpose God had for us. That’s what life is all about.”