HATTIESBURG — The University of Southern Mississippi will celebrate significant post-tornado recovery achievements with a special ceremony set for 10 a.m., Sept. 5 on the Hattiesburg campus.
The public is invited to attend the ceremony, which will feature a grand reopening of the Ogletree House, the home of the University’s Alumni Association that suffered extensive damage from the Feb. 10, 2013 storm. The event will also include recognition of major restoration projects involving the front campus landscape and arts facilities.
Gov. Phil Bryant and other dignitaries will be on hand to mark the occasion, which will also feature an unveiling of the Southern Miss Tornado Relief and Landscape Restoration Honor Wall — recognizing donors who made significant contributions to the restoration campaign.
“I am excited that this day has arrived and that we are able to celebrate the relentless efforts of each individual whose hard work and dedication allowed us to make substantial progress in the restoration and recovery process,” said Southern Miss President Rodney D. Bennett. “I am deeply grateful to each person who supported The University of Southern Mississippi through this time of rebuilding, and I look forward to hearing about how our campus and community benefit from restored facilities and outdoor spaces.”
The EF-4 tornado that tore through the Hattiesburg area 17 months ago caused heavy damage to the southern edge of the Southern Miss campus. The storm destroyed the front half of the Ogletree House, one of the University’s five original buildings. The venerable structure has been since restored to its pre-tornado luster.
“Over the past year and a half, the transformation that has taken place on the southernmost edge of the Hattiesburg campus has been nothing short of incredible,” said Jerry DeFatta, executive director of the Alumni Association. “The restoration of the Ogletree House has been a complete success. As our alumni and friends return to the Ogletree House, I have no doubt they will be impressed by the quality of work done to this historic facility.”
The College of Arts & Letters took a substantial hit from the tornado, forcing displacement of many students. Multiple music and visual arts facilities were damaged, including the Jazz Lab, Mannoni Performing Arts Center and Marsh Hall.
“While the tornado damage was traumatic, the outpouring of support from our university community, the commitment of our architects, engineers and physical plant employees, and the tireless work of our faculty and staff have enabled our programs in art and music to reposition their programs to much improved renovated facilities – aligning our facilities to the high quality of our arts programs they serve,” said Dr. Steven Moser, dean of the College of Arts & Letters.
The tornado’s destructive path cut directly across the front porch of the Hattiesburg campus, permanently altering the University’s venerable landscape. More than 75 mature trees were lost in the storm. Almost immediately, officials announced a landscape restoration project that has produced impressive results. New trees, sodding, shrubbery, sidewalks and lighting have helped transform the once-tattered landscape into a beautiful showcase. Enhancements also included a major renovation of historic Lake Byron.
Dr. Christopher Crenshaw, associate vice president for facilities planning and management, notes that while important work remains to be done, huge strides have been made in restoring the campus’ scenic beauty.
“We are proud of our progress and the results of our landscape restoration efforts,” said Crenshaw. “We recognize that these improvements would not have been possible without the generosity of so many who donated to the university’s restoration campaign. We will continue our landscape enhancements believing that the results will positively impact the Southern Miss experience for all of our students, faculty, staff and visitors.”