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Those who keep us safe: Brenda Johnson



Brenda Johnson

Faith, family and being a crossing guard are just a few passions of Brenda Johnson, a crossing guard for the City of Vicksburg. 

The Vicksburg native has been pursuing traffic directing for the past five years. 

“I am passionate about being a crossing guard,” Johnson said. “It is a dangerous job to have, but I love it.”

Her enthusiasm and passion pour out into every person she encounters at her post, and they pour just as much back into her.

“Sometimes something may be going on in my life where I may be  disappointed,” Johnson said, “but when I get out of my car and see the sweet faces of the kids and their parents taking them to school it makes my job worth it.”

Being a crossing guard, Johnson is exposed to all weather elements.

“It can be pouring down rain,” she said, “and those kids roll down the window just to speak to me, and that just brightens my day.”

Johnson said it’s not the money that keeps her going. That is why she works an additional job as a production manager for the Vicksburg Warren School District where she has been working with the Child Nutrition Department since 2007.

“My mother was involved in child nutrition, and she actually trained me to be a head cook while she was on partial retirement,” Johnson said. “From there, I was asked if I want to go to manager school, and now I am a certified production manager.”

Johnson has made it her life to be a shining light for the people she sees each and every day, and they notice.

“Just a couple weeks ago, my daughter called me and told me they had a post about me on Facebook,” Johnson said. “She sent me some of the post, and I got emotional because I had just had the worst week. People actually took the time to say sweet things about me.”

Johnson said that was one of the most heartfelt moments in her career and made her bad week disappear from her memory. 

But it’s not just the students and parents that feel her positive vibes. Community members have also expressed praise for Johnson’s work. She was called to the office of the school she was working at and there sat a basket of goodies and balloons. 

“A lady was there with an appreciation basket and said she and her coworkers talk about the smile I always have on my face while working,” Johnson said. “The lady said they will come through my post just to see my smile if they have had a bad day.”

That story, and many more just like it, bring tears of joy to Johnson’s eyes. 

Even though Johnson did not start her crossing guard career right away, it has been a passion brewing from a very young age. 

“I remember when I was 12-years-old, and I went to McIntyre School,” Johnson said. “I went to a carnival, and they had lots of different career options at the carnival. I remember seeing this crossing guard with police hats and thinking, ‘I want one of those hats,’ and I said right there I want to be a crossing guard or a traffic director.”

Years later, she got her chance.

“I was working at Vicksburg High School,” she said, “and the supervisor officer over the crossing guards was talking to one of his crossing guards and said they needed another crossing guard.

“He wasn’t talking to me, but I was eavesdropping, and when he asked her did she know anybody I burst out and said, ‘I’ll do it! I’ll be a crossing guard’.”

Johnson filled out the paperwork and her training started. Her first post was at Bowmar Elementary. 

“I built such a bond with the parents and students at Bowmar Elementary,” she said. “Then they moved me to the Mission intersection where I’ve been for two years.”

The smiling crossing guard did not start off smiling at the Mission 66 and Baldwin Ferry Road intersection. 

“I told them I didn’t want to do it,” she said. “That intersection terrified me. I just watched my supervisor do it the first day. Then I did it just a little bit and my supervisors, Bobby Jones and Eric Paymon, worked with me.”

“The next day, I got out there by myself, and it was like I had been doing it all the time. It just came naturally.”

Johnson, a mother of two and grandmother of two, says it makes her day when the students recognize her even out of her uniform.

“Everybody says what I do is phenomenal,” she said, “but I give all the glory to God.”

Johnson regularly attends Calvary Baptist Church and is a member of Greater Mt. Zion Baptist Church where she sings in the choir and with the praise team.

“I guess you can say my church and being a crossing guard are my two passions, ” she said.

“I have the most rewarding job in the world,” she added, “and I love it.”

“Those who keep us safe” is a series profiling people in Vicksburg and Warren County whose work contributes to our safety, whether on the front lines, in the back office or in positions of leadership in organizations dedicated to serving the community in times of danger and crises. Nominate someone for the series by sending an email to [email protected], letting us know why the community should know about him or her.


Jay Measells honors his fellow veterans



Flags lined Mission 66 on Veterans Day. Inset Lt. Jay Measells. (photos by Ashley Sevier and courtesy Jay Measells)

People traveling on Mission 66 in Vicksburg Wednesday may have noticed the many American flags adorning the sidewalks along the shops, salons, and medical offices that populate the busy road.

People traveling the same route the previous night may have seen the man responsible for placing them there.

The man is Dr. Jay Measells, a dentist and owner of Jay Measells DMD. But before he was Dr. Measells, he was Lt. Measells, U.S. Navy, veteran.

In fact, he credits the Navy for helping him become the successful dentist he is today.

Measells joined the military May 16, 2005, during his second year of dental school.

“Military recruiters came by from time to time with the chance to finish dental school without owing a dime in student loans,” he said. “I thought that was a great idea, and I liked the movie ‘Top Gun,’ so I signed on the dotted line.”

Looking back now, he believes it was the greatest decision of his life.

Measells was stationed at Marine Corps Base Camp Lejeune in Jacksonville, North Carolina.

“While there, I had the chance to work with some of the most talented dentists in every specialty,” he said, “and all the while I was treating the selfless and heroic men and women that comprise one branch of the greatest military in the world.”

Measells served during Operation Enduring Freedom, the global war on terrorism the U.S. launched Oct. 7, 2001, in response to the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“During that time many of the active duty personnel were deployed multiple times. Some came home injured mentally, physically or both,” he said. “And then there were those who didn’t come home at all.”

Measells said he did little in comparison to many of the brave men and women who served, but he feels honored to have walked beside so many heroes.

Veterans Day, Nov. 11, reminds him of his favorite Bible verse, John 15:13. “Greater love hath no man than this, than to lay down his life for his friends”

As for the flags lining Mission 66, Measells said, “It’s just my small way to honor those who have, at one point, written a blank check to this country for an amount up to life.”

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Overton Randolph keeps the fire trucks rolling



vicksburg fire
Overton Randolph is conducting the annual fire pump tests last week. (photo by David Day)

You wake up and smell smoke. You quickly walk through the house but can’t find the source, so you grab the kids and call 911. After a few minutes, you can hear the sirens in the distance, but they don’t seem to be getting any closer; the fire truck is broken down.

Overton Randolph’s job is to ensure that such a scenario never happens in Vicksburg. As the mechanic for the Vicksburg Fire Department, his role is to make certain that all in-service fire apparatus are maintained, keeping them in safe operating condition and ready for immediate response.

One of the things he does to keep the fleet operating is pressure testing the pumpers on the trucks.

Overton Randolph prepares to test Engine 8

Last week, Randolph performed annual pressure testing on each truck in the VFD’s fleet. Every truck was tested, including some with the ability to deliver up to 2,000 gallons of water per minute.

The oldest truck in the fleet, Reserve 2, failed its test early in the week. Randolph was able to make repairs, and now the truck actually delivers higher water pressure than it did in its test last year.

Chief Dancyk points out the pressure specs for Engine 8

Randolph has been with the Vicksburg Fire Department for 10 years. He attended Vicksburg High School and is now happily engaged.

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Those who keep us safe: Jeff Merritt



Jeff Merritt (photo courtesy VPD)

With 27 years in law enforcement, Jeff Merritt comes from a long line of law enforcement officers.

“I had family that worked in Wildlife and Fishery for the state of Louisiana and the local Tensas Parish Sheriff’s Department,” Merrit said. “I’ve just always been around law enforcement.”

Merritt was born in Natchez, but was raised in the tiny town of St. Joseph, Louisiana, in Tensas Parish.

The family traits ran deep in Merritt in his choice to enter law enforcement. He graduated from the University of Louisiana at Monroe, formerly Northeast Louisiana University, with a degree in criminal justice.

“When I graduated, I was doing little odd jobs around Monroe,” Merritt said. “My dad actually came across an ad in the Tensas Parish Newspaper that the Vicksburg Police Department was hiring. I applied and was hired.”

The department hired Merritt in 1993 and appointed him to the Narcotics Division in 1997 where he currently serves as lieutenant. His nearly three-decade career has revolved around one goal.

“I strive to get drugs off the streets,” Merritt said. “I know people think you arrest somebody today, somebody takes their place tomorrow, but you just feel like you’re making it a little better for society each arrest you make.”

One big arrest in Merritt’s career happened in 2015. A group of officers were recognized by the State of Mississippi for a yearlong drug investigation that involved the Vicksburg Police Department and the Drug Enforcement Agency.

The investigation, which resulted in 23 arrests, netted Merritt the Top Cop award that year, but he stressed that his job can never be done alone.

“You can’t do this by yourself,” he said. “Everything I do, I do with a team. I can’t think of any drug arrest I’ve made that has not had other officers there with me. It’s a team effort, and you’re with your team pretty much more than you are with your family.”

Being away from family in a stressful job could cause some conflict, but Merritt seems to handle the stress well.

“It really doesn’t bother me,” he said. “I really don’t get stressed at work. The hours we work can interfere with family time, and you can miss out on a lot of things, but stress wise, I don’t think it causes me to be too stressed.”

Merritt went into detail how the hours of his jobs are very unpredictable.

“This past week we worked Monday and Tuesday 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., and then the rest of the week we worked 7 p.m. to 4 a.m.,” he said.

Merritt has one adult daughter and is engaged. He said his fiance knows and accepts the crazy hours.

He said you have to have passion to be in law enforcement.

“You have to do it because it’s something you really want to do,” he said. “It’s not for the money, and with everything going on across the country these days you have to want to do it and do it the right way.”

Merritt has been nominated more than any other first responder in this story series. His passion and “by the book” mentality has separated him from the rest.

“I just try to do my job and treat everybody the same,” Merritt said. “To me it’s a job. It’s not personal. I do my job. I do it right. I do it fair, and I’m honest to everyone.” 

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