By Thomas Sellers Jr.
At the corner of West St. and Easley, Velda Dedeaux can be found in her uniform guiding her “kids” safely across the streets.
Many Millington motorist in cars, trucks and SUVs have driven past the woman in the bright vest. And several students have causally walked around the DeLisle, Miss., native crossing the road carefree.
Dedeaux goes about her everyday duties at Millington Central High School and E.A. Harrold Elementary as just one of the ways of giving back to her adopted hometown. Later this year Deadux will mark her 10th year of calling Flag City home.
In August 2005, Dedeaux began a long journey that span a week from Louisiana to Millington. The natural disaster Hurricane Katrina led Dedeaux to a new place to call home.
“Aug. 29, 2005 — we were hearing this was going to be the worst storm ever,” Dedeaux recalled. “And every year working for the Navy, they gave us hurricane training at the beginning of hurricane season in June.
“They always told us, if a real bad storm came through, New Orleans is a bowl,” she continued. “It’s going to be filled up with water. Normally we didn’t leave for storms. Or if there was a storm there, I would be the only car heading east on I-10 trying to get home to Mississippi to be by my family.”
Dedeaux had family on her mind as Hurricane Katrina was approaching through the Gulf of Mexico.
“I decided to go to Mississippi with this storm because we heard how bad it was going to be, how the city was going to flood,” she said. “II got really scared. For the first time in my life, I got scared of a storm. I wanted to go home.
“I didn’t have an automobile at the time,” Dedeaux added. “I called my Mom and she was going to send my brother to come get me. But he got as far as Slidell, which is 30 minutes from New Orleans. I could not leave. I got so scared I cried. I remember talking to my Mom on the phone crying.”
Rose Marie comforted her daughter over the phone and Dedeaux collected her nerves to find an exit plan out of New Orleans. With one of her friends driving a city bus on the West Bank, she grabbed a few things ready to head her hometown of Pass Christian, Miss.
The city with a population around 4,000 located around the Gulf of Mexico in Harrison County seemed like the safest place in the world to Dedeaux at that moment.
“It was where the storm hit land, my hometown,” Dedeaux recalled. “Worst case scenario happens. Even where I lived and where my Mom lived, all the storms that passed through never had any water. They never had flooded because we were 7 miles north of the beach. My Mom’s house sets on blocks. It had four feet of water. So my hometown was underneath water too.”
Dedeaux had nowhere to go once news got back to her Pass Christian and New Orleans were battling floods.
“I only packed two days worth of clothes and my electronics,” she said. “I’m an electronics junkie so I had my computer, PalmPilot, GPS. I hid my pictures because back in 1982 I had an apartment fire and lost everything I had. The thing that affected me the most was losing my pictures.
“So this time, I put my pictures deep in the center of my apartment hoping that we didn’t get water there,” Dedeaux added. “And we didn’t because we lived on the West Bank.”
Dedeaux and her group got 2 hours away from New Orleans to Franklin, La.
“The storm was so bad, the winds from the storm, we ended up going to Shreveport,” she noted. “That’s when I realized it was bad and I wasn’t going home. We started hearing all these bad reports on the news.
“I didn’t have a car,” Dedeaux continued. “I was in Shreveport and I wanted to go home. I was crying everyday because I couldn’t contact my family in Mississippi.”
That Sunday Dedeaux attended church with her family’s well-being on her mind. She was worried about her six siblings and mother.
“I tried calling my Mom but all the circuits were busy,” she recalled. “I thought I would be able to get her because this was a week after the storm. About 20 minutes after that, my phone rings. It was my Momma calling me. ‘I tried to call you.’ She said, ‘I was at church and I didn’t have my phone with me. It was in the car.’ I said that was God taking care of business. I stopped talking to her and started crying. She told me to stop crying.”
Once the tears stopped flowing, Dedeaux started to make plans to reunite with her family. Her first thought was taking a train — but no tracks were in use. Next idea was taking a plane. No flights were available.
Dedeaux ended up on a bus heading to Jackson, Miss., with plans to just stay overnight. Her family was coming to get her.
“On my way to Jackson, I got a call from my supervisor assistant department head from my office,” Dedeaux recalled. “She asked me what was I doing. I told her I was on the business trying to get down to Mississippi. She said ‘We really need you here in Tennessee. Can you come up here?’ I told her, ‘I have to call my Mom and see if it’s OK.’ I called my Mom and I told her what had happened. She said she was OK with it.”
With her Mom’s blessing, Dedeaux called her assistant department supervisor and took the job. After a bus trip to Memphis, Dedeaux was in Shelby County in early September 2005.
“I kind of knew where I was going because I’ve been in the Naval Reserves for a while,” she noted. “After I had made Chief, I came back up her for my training, CPO training at Millington in 2000.
“So I kind of knew where I was going,” Dedeaux continued. “But when I got here, it had grown so much from the last time I was here. When I was here in 2000, there wasn’t a Walmart. We had to go to Bartlett or Memphis for anything we wanted. I saw some positive growth from those 5 years.”
From 2000 to 2005, Dedeaux said Millington had some new features that she was looking to help her mind settle down. And being a part of the Navy also helped her adjustment period.
“I know the Navy takes care of their own,” she said. “Being a civilian employee of the Navy, they put me up in the Navy Inn. I stayed there until they determined we weren’t going back right away. So they said everybody get an apartment. At the end of September I moved to Cordova in an apartment. Cordova was the closest we could get.”
Dedeaux lived in Cordova until December of that year because she was informed her job was permanent. With a need to live closer to her work, Dedeaux finally landed a home near USA Stadium in May 2006.
“Millington reminds me so much of my hometown,” she said. “It’s small and the people are so friendly. I know almost everybody on my street. I don’t care what anybody says, I live on the best doggone street in the city.”
From her days of walking to and from work, Dedeaux got to know her new neighbors better. The self-described talk-aholic got involved in the community by becoming a crossing guard among other things.
Once she retired from her Navy in June 2010, Dedeaux got more involved with the community as the relations director of Playhouse 51 and worked with the Millington Family YMCA.
Running errands for those organizations is just part of the 60-year-old plans for staying in shape. Dedeaux is active with hiking, and taking on challenges like the MS150 Bike Ride.
The mornings and afternoons of helping Millington youth get home safely allows Dedeaux a chance to relax.
“I see these same students,” she said. “I knew about the time each one will show up. One graduated last year was from Louisiana as well. We would chat about things sometimes.”
From the children to her peers, Dedeaux has grown to love Millington and plans to stay.
“I made this my home,” she concluded. “I could have gone back home in 2010 when I retired. I kind of miss my family because they do stuff as a group. They have fun and I’m missing all of that. But this is home now for me.”