"Smile!" Dr. Pat Joachim said as she snapped a picture of a couple in front of the 500-year-old Friendship Oak. The ancient tree is still standing, providing a majestic backdrop for memories.
"This is the one question that people always ask: 'Did the tree survive?'" said Dr. Joachim, USM Associate Provost. "The strength of this tree really reminds me of the strength of the University of Southern Mississippi, because we have survived storms."
Ten buildings on the USM campus in Long Beach did not survive Katrina's pounding. And so far, only four flooded buildings have been cleaned and repaired. Dr. Joachim admits it's a slow process.
"We have FEMA issues. We have insurance issues," said Dr. Joachim. "This is a public institution, and everything goes through the Bureau of Buildings and the IHL."
And the university can't do anything with four buildings: Administration, Hardy Hall, Lloyd Hall and the Cox building. That's because questions remain about their historical significance. But there's optimism for future development and growth.
"This campus will continue to be developed," said Dr. Joachim. "There are many, many programs that will be offered here."
The recovery at Gulf Park involves more than just bringing back buildings and classrooms. The campus still needs to restore its phone system, Internet, and water and sewer service. Despite visual reminders that the campus is still off-limits, USM leaders say it will always be a vital part of the history and landscape of South Mississippi.
"We'll come back," said Dr. Joachim. "Just as this oak tree has come back, Southern Miss will come back just as strong."
While the Long Beach campus will remain open, the state College Board is still looking for an additional 150 acres of land to expand.
By: Trang Pham-Bui