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Those who keep us safe: Sam Brocato



(photo courtesy Sam Brocato)

For 25 years, Sam Brocato has provided fire and rescue services for residents of Vicksburg with the Vicksburg Fire Department.

“I knew coming into this job I wasn’t going to get rich, but I was rich and filled with the knowledge of knowing I am helping the community I love, and that’s what makes me feel accomplished,” Brocato said.

Twenty-five years has created long-lasting memories and even longer friendships.

“I hired on with a good group of people in 1995,” he said. “They hired 17 of us in that class.”

Brocato said nine of the 17 that were in his hiring class are still with the department, including Chief Craig Danzyck. Others have retired or moved to a different departments.

When asked what his favorite part was of serving on the fire department, Brocato said his co-workers have had the greatest impact on his 25 years.

“They are always there for you, especially during a hard time,” he said. “If you’re missing a play for your children or even a ceremony, working with your team is like having a whole other family to rely on.”

Earlier this year, Brocato lost his mom and during his time of grief, his co-workers stepped up and have been there for him.

“They really helped and listened,” he said.

Brocato is not a Vicksburg native. He started his career as a sheriff’s deputy for the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Office in Metairie, Louisiana, from 1985 to 1992. It was there he discovered his desire to be in the fire service.

“I got to watch the firefighters and rescue units work,” he said. “They saved people’s lives, and I said, ‘That’s what I want to do.’”

Brocato was promoted to a captain with the Vicksburg Fire Department in 2015.

Over his 25 years as a firefighter, Brocato has been a part of many life-saving calls, but the one that he finds most memorable happened four years ago.

In 2016, four male high school students from Porter’s Chapel Academy lost control of their vehicle and struck a tree. All four of the young men were severely injured.

“It was a hot and humid summer day, but the fire department was there for them,” he said.

Brocato said he likes to think he was a helping hand in saving their lives. Today, he said, he sees the boys around town along with others whom he has had an integral part in saving.

“When I see people I helped, it’s just a joy to see them knowing I helped them,” he said. “They don’t call me their hero, but they are thankful for me.”

Like many first responders, Brocato doesn’t consider himself a hero, either.

“We are trained to do a job,” he said. “For me, I’m fulfilling my life calling. It just feeds your soul knowing you’re making a difference for somebody else.”


Bringing Christmas to children around the world



First Baptist volunteers packing shoeboxes last year (photo courtesy First Baptist Church of Vicksburg)

It won’t be long before we are inundated with Christmas lights twinkling in stores, carols on the radio and television commercials hawking the latest “it” toys destined to turn up on many children’s Christmas lists.

For many underprivileged children around the world, though, there is no reason to wait up on Christmas Eve. There are no jingling bells or red-nosed reindeer.

Members of First Baptist Church of Vicksburg have worked to share joy and hope to needy children in troubled countries like El Salvador and India for the last 25 years. They have partnered with a ministry of Samaritan’s Purse called Operation Christmas Child. Samaritan’s Purse is a Christian relief and evangelism ministry led by Franklin Graham.

Operation Christmas Child’s mission is to fill shoeboxes with toys, school supplies, hygiene items and other small trinkets to be delivered to children who would not otherwise experience the joy of receiving gifts on Christmas morning.

The project begins with FBC committee members asking people to make donations.

“Many parents use this project to teach their kids about giving,” said Lynda Oswalt, a longtime volunteer. “We often have teachers who are looking for service projects for their classes, and the students get to be involved.”

The filled shoeboxes are taken to First Baptist Church which serves as the drop-off location for all of Warren County.

“Every box is checked for appropriate items before being taken to the distribution center in Atlanta,” Oswalt said.

The number of shoeboxes collected is in the thousands, so the ministry depends on volunteers to inspect and prepare each one for shipping. Work stops for a few minutes every hour and everyone prays for the children who will end up receiving them.

Cartons of shoeboxes ready for shipment. (photo courtesy First Baptist Church of Vicksburg)

The organization delivers shoeboxes in more than 100 countries worldwide where churches hand out the gifts at festive outreach events where the Gospel is clearly presented. Some boxes are distributed to orphanages, hospitals and places that house children at risk to share the hope of Christ.

The ultimate goal of Operation Christmas Child is to introduce the story of Christ’s love to as many people as possible.

In 2012, Oswalt, Hester Pitts and Becky Yelverton traveled to Peru and witnessed the transformation of communities for themselves.

“We delivered 1,600 boxes to children and were able to tell them all about Christ’s love for us. Many of them accepted Jesus as their personal Lord and Savior,” Oswalt said about the experience. “I can’t explain what that felt like. My heart was just beyond touched.”

To ensure this year’s shoeboxes reach their destinations on time, First Baptist will hold a dedication service Sunday, Nov. 15. Volunteers are still needed to help collect, inspect and pack the boxes.

Volunteers are also needed to fill the boxes with appropriate items. Some of these include toys such as small cars, balls, dolls, stuffed animals, harmonicas and yo-yo’s; school supplies such as pens, pencils, crayons, coloring books and writing pads; hygiene items such as toothbrushes, soap, combs and washcloths; and other items such as ball caps, socks, T-shirts, toy jewelry and books. Prohibited items include anything used, toy guns or other weapons, perishable food items, toothpaste, hard candy, medicines and liquids.

Volunteers and donors are encouraged to enclose a note to the child and a photograph of themselves or their families.

Oswalt said being a part of such a ministry fills her heart with joy. “Last year, 11 million boxes were collected nationwide, and Warren County was responsible for 5,531 of those,” she said. “That’s 11 million children ministered to and given the chance to know God. I can’t imagine receiving a better Christmas gift.”

If you are interested in donating or volunteering, please call Hester Pitts at 601-415-7334 or Lynda Oswalt at 601-629-7822.

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Teen United project to benefit Warren County Children’s Shelter



October Youth leader Jane Hopson (photo courtesy of United Way of West Central Misssissippi)

Teen United of the United Way of West Central Mississippi has chosen the Warren County Children’s Shelter as its community service project for October.

The shelter is a nationally registered National Safe Place that takes in abused, neglected, runaway, and homeless children and youth. The shelter offers a safe, home-like refuge for children and youth in need, according to its website.

“I am very excited about the project they’re putting together,” said Michelle Connelly, executive director of the United Way chapter.

Youth leader Jane Hopson announced the project on Facebook and invited other teens in the community to join.

“We are focusing on shining the light on mental health,” Hopson said.

The project will include making posters with motivational and uplifting quotes. She is asking for everyone to make two posters to be hung in the rooms of the children that are in shelter.

“Our goal is to fill up the whole wall at the Children’s Shelter,” Hopson said.

Hopson is also asking teens to make envelopes labeled “Pieces of Positivity”  with special messages inside to give to each child as they enter the shelter.

A date has not been set yet for the project but Hopson will announce it soon. Teens interested in joining the effort can inbox the United Way Instagram page.

Teen United is made up of teens from every high school in the Vicksburg area. Each month, they choose a different organization to help and a different youth leader. In September, they gathered hygiene products and delivered them to the Veterans Administration in Jackson.

Hopson is the youth leader for the month of October.  Watch her announcement below.

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Remembering Charlie Faulk: the best boss I ever had



Charlie Faulk (photo courtesy Gordon Cotton)

Friday, Oct. 16, was or is (depending on when you read this) National Boss’s Day, and it caused me to reflect on some bosses I’ve had but especially on the best one.

From the time I was a little boy, I knew that Charlie Faulk was special. Country folk, before the days of paved roads, rural phones, electric lights or indoor plumbing, were mighty proud of one of their own who made something of himself.

Charlie Faulk fit that mold.

He was born near Redbone, Mississippi, to Charles and Alice Hullum Faulk and grew up between Glass and Yokena, went to school at Jeff Davis and Jett, went to church at Wayside, and in 1935 traveled the gravel road that became U.S. Highway 61 to Vicksburg.

He found his niche at the Vicksburg Evening Post and for more than half a century — 55 years, I think — he was on the newsbeat in Vicksburg, much of that time as managing editor. You might say he swapped his overalls for a coat and tie, but Charlie Mitchell said it best: “He never forgot his country connections and those growing up years where he learned the values that guided him through life — hard work, honesty, fairness and compassion. He sometimes reflected on those earlier years with a nostalgic longing for a simpler life, yet he would not have traded his career for any other. At the end of a half a century as a newsman, he reflected that it had been ‘America at the grassroots. The greatest 50 years of all time, in the greatest profession of all time. I call it life in the fast lane. Life on the wide screen. Three dimensional.’”

One of his greatest traits was his love of (and sometimes patience with) people. He respected each as an individual, not a statistic, though those he met ranged from presidents and governors to factory workers and sharecroppers.

He could detect when someone had a spark for journalism. He said the spark had to be there before one could start a fire. He encouraged anyone who had a bent toward a career in the news business.

He gave me my first break in a published piece for which I was paid when I was about 16. It was a story in The Progressive Farmer magazine about the Jeff Davis Community Center. He willingly took time to come to the country and with his bunglesome old Speed Graphic Camera, took photos to illustrate my story — all without charge, I might add.

He started me on my career at the typewriter by encouraging me to go to junior college in Summit where I could work part time at the Sunmit Sun, and “where you’ll learn more in one summer from Mary Cain than you will at Ole Miss all year,” he told me.

Many years later, after I’d held various jobs in the newspaper world, he called and asked if I could run the Saturday night desk that put out the Sunday paper until he could get someone. That was in October 1965.

Ten years later he got someone else for the job when I was offered the post as director and curator of the Old Court House Museum.

I’ll never forget his reaction. I had not sought the job, but it was offered to me, and Charlie said if I was going to leave the Post, he didn’t know of any other place he’d rather see me go than to the museum.

My relationship continued with the newspaper as I wrote a Sunday column, usually about local history, for more than 30 years.

Working for a daily paper means hours both long and sometimes weird, because news doesn’t happen on an 8-to-5 schedule. No newsman wants mistakes in the newspapers — that’s what proofreaders are for — but sometimes bloopers will slip past. If they are not serious, what do you do? You laugh along with your readers.

I remember a few that made Charlie laugh, such as the story of the Italian ambassador who spoke to a local club about “the high cost of’ loving in Rome” — or maybe it wasn’t a mistake!

One booboo was in an obituary for someone being buried at St. Paul Catholic Church. An “r” was printed instead of an “f” in the “Mass or the resurrection.” Faulk said he wasn’t going to miss that funeral, and he was taking his camera.

It was late on a Saturday night when Charlie put a headline on a story saying that Fred Jacoby had died. On Sunday morning at Charlie approached the First Presbyterian Church, who was standing on the porch waving the paper but Fred Jacoby! He had retired, not died. Fortunately, Mr. Jacoby thought it was funny.

Charlie told me once that readers would forgive you for almost anything except getting their names wrong.

Some items in print were funny but not mistakes. He relished the story from Tensas Parish — the headline read “Man Drowns In Waterproof Lake.” (In case you don’t know, Waterproof is the name of a town).

He was also good at his own quips. One Friday afternoon a fellow reporter, Dot Steen, was lecturing me on the benefits of marriage, one being that “Married men live longer,” to which Charlie replied, “No. It just seems that way.”

At his desk he gave needed attention to stories that today’s TV anchors call “breaking,” such as the Clear Creek Bridge collapse in 1939 where a number of people drowned. Or perhaps it was a political rally at city park or the annual chicken and spaghetti supper at Jett High School.

For several years, he wrote a Sunday feature, “Neighborly Yours,” where he borrowed events from the past — some serious, some humorous, most personal. He often wrote of people who never sought recognition but should be celebrated. He might write seriously of the cyclone at Yokena or of Mr. Massie who “Grew Hay, Minded His Own Business” or of Jim Houston, “A Man Who Transcended Racial Lines.”

He could take a mundane event such as how his Uncle Romey waved or how Grandpa Faulk shaved, or the story of how he disappointed his mother on Mother’s Day and create a story that captivated his readers.

To me, his best was about a little boy at Christmas, waiting and watching for Santa, but finally falling asleep only to be awakened when Santa’s whiskers brushed against his face. Some said it was only the cat’s tail, but the child knew better because the next morning there was the red wagon he had wished for. The little boy was Charlie Faulk.

Charlie received his share of accolades, but he never took time to bask in the glory. It was his work that primarily won the Pulitzer Prize for The Vicksburg Evening Post, but he treasured most the honors that came from the readers, for he was a wordsmith, and they loved his way with words.

With the typewriter and a camera, he captured in print and on film images of life in the South, especially Warren County.

He usually had a smile on his face which reflected his warm and friendly personality and also a delightful sense of humor. He was always kind and understanding. He was the kind of boss everyone on the staff was eager to please.

Shortly before his death on March 30, 1990, he talked to me about life and the quality of life. Just being alive didn’t make life worth living.

Charlie Faulk certainly made my life better, and I’ll always love him for it.

I never had a better boss.

Gordon Cotton is the curator emeritus of the Old Court House Museum. He is the author of several books and is a renowned historian.

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