Long beach– It
was only wind and water -- wind and water that destroyed a century
of God’s work, wind and water that destroyed manmade structures
that have stood the most violent of storms. Yet, one thing remained.
The beautiful Gulf Park campus of The University
of Southern Mississippi is positioned in what many called paradise
– sixty-seven acres of oak-laden grounds in Long Beach, Miss.
At the southern edge of campus, overlooking
the Gulf of Mexico, lives a magnificent live oak tree believed to
be more than 500 years old. This is the Friendship Oak.
The Friendship Oak has served this campus well.
Faculty have held classes in the platform that rests in the security
of its limbs. Weddings have been held under its canopy. Tour buses
stop daily to witness its massive strength and beauty.
On August 29, 2005, Hurricane Katrina unleashed
her fury on the Mississippi Gulf Coast. Through the violent winds
and water that ravaged this peaceful campus, the Friendship Oak
I am amazed at its strength. As a child growing
up in this quiet neighborhood, I climbed its limbs; I marveled at
As reports came in on the tremendous storm
damage, I wondered about Gulf Park and my friend. Three days after
Katrina I am able to make my way to the campus.
Many buildings are heavily damaged. Many no
longer exist. The three multistory buildings that face the Gulf
of Mexico tell the story of Katrina’s fury. These structures,
built in the early 1900s, are badly beaten. The first floor of each
has been washed through and through. Offices, records, and history
have all been destroyed.
Piles of debris make my journey difficult.
Yet, as I turn the corner I see my old friend standing tall and
proud, looking naked in the scorching south Mississippi sun. Its
bark is warm, and as I rub my hands across a limb, I am overwhelmed
Friendship Oak has survived. So much is gone,
yet my old friend remains.
Its endurance is symbolic of this community.
We are tattered and torn, but we will thrive again. We have strength
that will overcome this catastrophe.
Eventually, new leaves will adorn this magnificent
giant oak tree just as a new economy will grow in this community.
Friends will again visit to witness the beauty of the Friendship
Oak just as friends will again visit the Mississippi Gulf Coast
to witness our strength, determination and beauty.