|Beth and Gary Haydel, both natives of New Orleans, decided to relocate to Middle Tennessee after Hurricane Katrina. They are now parishioners at the Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill.
When Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast 10 years ago this weekend, tens of thousands of residents across low-lying areas of Louisiana and Mississippi evacuated for higher ground. More than 21,000 of them landed in Tennessee, bunking with family members and in hotels and shelters. Some stayed and integrated into community and parish life and were taken in by Catholic schools in the Diocese of Nashville.
Still more Gulf Coast residents found their way to Middle Tennessee after the floodwaters receded. Gary and Beth Haydel are one couple who left New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina and decided to permanently re-settle here.
Before the hurricane hit, the Haydels, now parishioners at the Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill, were living comfortably in Jefferson Parish, just outside New Orleans, and contemplating the next phase of their lives. Beth was working for Southwest Airlines and Gary had retired from his family’s business, the famed Haydel’s Bakery in New Orleans, a fixture in the city since Gary’s father started it more than six decades ago.
When the storm hit, the Haydels evacuated to Natchez, Mississippi, before returning home a few weeks later. Their home sustained minimal damage. “We had nothing to speak of compared to what other people had,” Beth said. But with the airport operating far below its pre-Katrina capacity, Haydel lost her job.
That winter, the Haydel’s daughter, whose boyfriend’s family lived in Franklin, Tenn., encouraged her parents to visit the area. Walking around the town square, watching the snowflakes fall, the Haydels were charmed by quaint downtown Franklin.
With Gary retired and Beth out of a job, “we really didn’t have any reason to be down in New Orleans,” she said.
Contemplating the coming spike in home insurance and a bad feeling about the overall economy, the Haydels started thinking seriously about moving. “It would cost more to live there if we ended up staying,” said Gary Haydel.
Even though he can trace his family’s roots in New Orleans back to the late 18th century, Gary was not compelled to stay in the city after Katrina. He loves to regale listeners with tales of the people and history of the city in his distinctive New Orleans accent, but he laments the “violent drug culture” there. Years ago, when he was still working at the bakery, two of his employees were murdered. “I don’t miss that aspect,” he said. “It was not hard for me to leave,” he added. “I like it very much here.”
In February 2006, with Mardi Gras season in full swing, as Beth Haydel was headed out to a parade, she stuck a “For Sale by Owner” sign in the front yard. By the time she returned from the parade, Gary had shown the house and received an offer. “I was a little shocked,” she said with a laugh, remembering how they sold the house “in about 30 minutes.”
Within a few months, they found a house in Spring Hill, moved to Tennessee, and Beth found a position with Southwest Airlines here. As the Haydels settled into their new life in Tennessee, they joined St. Philip Parish in Franklin. When their pastor, Father John Kirk, announced plans for the new Church of the Nativity in Spring Hill, the Haydels became founding members of the parish.
Making the leap from New Orleans, with its deep and dominant Catholic history, to Spring Hill, a brand new parish in a new community that was largely Protestant, was an adjustment for the Haydels. “New Orleans is so Catholic,” she said. “I do miss that.”
Beth decided to initiate one of her favorite New Orleans traditions at the Church of the Nativity, the St. Joseph Altar. The tradition actually began in Sicily, where people prepared a feast to honor the saint, but it was also a common practice in New Orleans, Haydel said. The altar includes baked goods in the shapes of items related to St. Joseph, such as woodworking tools. “I really wanted to bring something up here,” she said. It has now become an annual March tradition at the Church of the Nativity that benefits an area crisis pregnancy center.
“I miss the food and culture of New Orleans,” said Beth. “You can’t really get that anywhere else.” But, she adds, “I love the four seasons here and I don’t have to worry about hurricane season.”