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USM celebrates post-tornado ceremony


On Sept. 5 at 10 a.m., The University of Southern Mississippi welcomed faculty, staff, students, alumni and many others to the celebration ceremony for the reopening of the Ogletree House and the restoration of the landscape at the front of campus.

The event took place on the front lawn by the Ogletree House, which is home to the Southern Miss Alumni Association.

The ceremony was lead by Bob Pierce, vice president for advancement. Pierce acknowledged and thanked the prominent attendees of the ceremony. Among the people he acknowledged were members of the Ogletree family, members of Byron E. Green’s family for whom Lake Byron is dedicated, state legislatures, members of the College Board, members of the Mississippi Department of Archives as well as many other individuals and groups he felt went above and beyond to help restore Southern Miss.

“We may get knocked down,” Pierce said. “But we will always return to the path and continue our way to the top.”

Pierce then acknowledged the donors who contributed to the $2.3 million raised for the restoration fund.

Following Pierce was USM President Rodney Bennett. Three days prior to the tornado that struck campus February 10, 2013, Bennett was named president of Southern Miss. Upon hearing word of the destruction, Bennett left his home in Georgia to aid and lead the Southern Miss community.

During the ceremony, Bennett spoke of the many opportunities the university offers and will continue to offer its students. He also gave thanks to the people who made the restoration of campus possible.

“For us, this event demonstrates the resilience of the Southern Miss spirit,” Bennett said.

Also in attendance was Gov. Phil Bryant. The Southern Miss alumnus opened with sentimental words regarding his attachment to the university.

“Everything I dearly love in life has come from The University of Southern Mississippi,” Bryant said.

Bryant spoke of the hardships USM and the state of Mississippi have faced through their history. Bryant also gave acknowledgment to his wife Deborah Bryant. Through tearful eyes, Bryant told his story of the tornados that took place April 28, 2014 and the work his wife did to aid the communities affected. Events such as that are ones that Bryant feels add to the resilience of Southern Miss.

“Southern Miss, we have rose up on eagles wings and we will continue to soar,” Bryant said.

Bryant then welcomed Lou Ann Poynter, president of the USM Foundation, to the podium. Only five years prior to the tornado was the unveiling of the recently restored Ogletree House. The $3 million campaign for this restoration began June 2005. Poynter said she remembers the hardship that took place to restore this historic building.

“The journey to the top is not a straight and narrow path,” Poynter said.

Poynter also shared her appreciation for those who funded and restored the beautiful landscape of the campus.

With closing remarks, Jerry Defatta, executive director of the Southern Miss Alumni Association was brought to the podium. DeFatta gave recognition to the rich history of the Ogletree House.

“It’s an icon that honors the service of one man and his family to this university,” DeFatta said.

DeFatta thanked the staff of the alumni association for their continued faith and dedication to the university, even through the setbacks of the past two years. He also presented President Bennett with the Official Ring of the Alumni Association. This type of ring is typically given to graduates of the university. But DeFatta said that though President Bennett does not hold a degree from Southern Miss, “he is a true golden eagle.”

Attendees then gathered to the front of the Ogletree House to witness the ribbon cutting done by Mrs. Ogletree herself. The unveiling of the donor wall aside Lake Byron followed shortly after.

A reception took place in the Ogletree House parlor following the ceremony.

The Performing Arts Center and the George Hurst Building will host an open house tonight from 4-6 p.m. for people to view the completed renovations for the Department of Art and Design and the School of Music.

(Ceremony photos developing)

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USM celebrates post-tornado ceremony