Legendary Locals of Metairie

Chapter 4 - Optimists

This website contains excerpts along with some of the 172 photographs in Legendary Locals of Metairie (Arcadia Publishing, 2013) by Catherine Campanella.
Use the links here to explore a sample of the book -- or purchase it for an in-depth view.


The grass-roots organization Levees.org, founded by Sandy Rosenthal and her son Stanford (while exiled in Lafayette after Hurricane Katrina) is devoted to educating America on the facts associated with the 2005 catastrophic flooding of the New Orleans region. On August 23, 2010 the group installed a Louisiana State Historic Marker which reads “On August 29, 2005, a federal floodwall atop a levee on the 17th Street Canal, the largest and most important drainage canal for the city, gave way here causing flooding that killed hundreds. This breach was one of 50 ruptures in the Federal Flood Protection System on that day. In 2008, the US District Court placed responsibility for this floodwall's collapse squarely on the US Army Corps of Engineers; however, the agency is protected from financial liability in the Flood Control Act of 1928”.

All residents of Metairie were touched by the failure of the federal levee system. This chapter highlights just a few of the 146,000 residents who returned home, endured, and optimistically brought their community back to life. Some featured here are unidentified by name but shared the same difficulties as all.

No strangers to storms the people of Metairie have survived and thrived through years of storms, most notably the 1947 Fort Lauderdale Hurricane which left much of the area covered by six feet of water, 1965's Hurricane Betsy which brought damaging winds and moderate flooding, and main rain-born floods through the years. Katrina was different, not in its ability to defeat them but in the extent of the losses endured. Seventy-five percent of Metairie was flooded. An estimated 5 billion dollars in insured damage occurred. Twenty-nine Katrina/flood related deaths were reported.

Before Hurricane Katrina swept through Metairie the community was placed under a first-time ever mandatory evacuation on August 28, 2005. Most residents sought refuge just far enough away to return home quickly after the storm passed. After Katrina had its way with Metairie no large-scale damage had been done. This author and her family were in a Baton Rouge hotel packed with other New Orleans area residents. All rejoiced together that we had dodged a bullet.

The storm was passing through Baton Rouge the day after it swept past our homes, roads were still closed, and the evacuation order had not yet been revoked so another night in a hotel was the only option available. The evening found us out to dinner in a restaurant also packed with people from our area. A good time was being had by all – a celebration of joy and relief that we would soon be able to return home. And then the restaurant televisions began rolling footage of our inundated communities. Slowly the heady celebration turned into a hush of silence as more and more people became aware of the horror at the screens. The sound had been muted but what was heard were gasps of recognition of rooftops...”that's the school...I think that's my house...Oh, my Gawd!”.

The following morning Jefferson Parish President Aaron Broussard announced that residents could not go home – possibly for six months. So we all took off for places of semi-permanent settlement, often far from home. We landed in the home of relatives in Tennessee. Others were scattered all around the country. The kindness of families and strangers was profound as they offered to take us in, share what they had, and contribute what they could.

Some Metairie residents returned home permanently within weeks to relatively undamaged homes and businesses. Many were flooded, requiring much work. Slowly the community returned to a semblance of normal but within a few months Metairie was back in business, so to speak. Schools re-opened. Archbishop Rummel high opened its doors to students from the entire greater New Orleans area. St. Philip Neri school provided space for St. Ann students. Veterinarian Patrick Sweeney first cared for pets left behind by their owners then took in the doctors, staff, and pets from Lakeview Veterinary Hospital. Television news and weather reporters Jill Hezeau, Laura Buchtel, and Scott Walker returned to the air as did radio Oldie King Bob Walker. Who returned to o WTIX. Ellen Degeneres supported her hometown via her television show and in many other ways. T.H. Harris and EJ graduate Bunny Matthews created his, arguably, best work Nin't Wardica. The Doerr-Mutter family stored new donated home furnishings in their warehouses then delivered them in their trucks to people who had lost theirs to the floods.

Phil deGruy Phil's Grill began organizing his Burgerpalooza to benefit the Miracle League of Greater New Orleans. Mike Azzarello and his little dog Olive began visiting area healthcare facilities as volunteers in the Visiting Pet Program. The Metairie Womens Club continued to support the community as they “Think, Act, Resolve”.

Business owners who returned to continue their work include Don and Joan Radosta who re-opened their po-boy restaurant six weeks after Katrina, Steven Bel of Sal's Sno-Balls and Rufus Raider's namesake CPA/and financial adviser Rufus Cressend. Merlin Schaefer of Schaefer & Rusich Seafood, Jerry Hendrick of Short Stop Po-Boys,, Frank Sclafani of Sclafani Cooking School, Chef Anthony Spizale, and the Radostas not only endured Katrina but also the Deep Water Horizon oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico which greatly affected their livelihoods. Shaefer drove ten hour days to secure fresh safe shrimp for his customers.

Girard playground and Rummel High standouts Danial Graff, Scott Buisson, and brothers Craig and Keith Steltz continued perusing their dreams of playing football. Metairie Academy students brought hand-made gifts to project Head Start children. Leigh “Li'l Queenie” Harris and Becky Allen continued to entertain. Becky's mother Myrtis Butzman survived and thrived after the storm but died at age 97 at Harrah's Casino. Long-time residents Vince Campanella and Eddie Krass returned home and now enjoy retirement in the community they have lived in for more than half a century.



NBC anchor Brian Williams, who sat on Time Magazine's panel tasked with suggesting nominees for the 2005 Person of the Year nominated Hurricane Katrina. “It has laid bare so many cracks and fissures in our system”, he said. Fellow panelist Anderson Cooper agreed, "It was government that failed. It was people who stood up." An unnamed Metairie resident (above) walks her dog along the side of the 17th Street Canal flood-wall about 11 weeks after Katrina. The water level is over her head and in the center one can see ongoing repair-work on the breaches at the New Orleans side of the canal. Levees.org installed a Louisiana State Historic Marker there. In the ohotograph young girls scale the wall for a peak at the water. (Mario Tama.)


Other books by Catherine Campanella:

A portion of the proceeds from the sale of this book is dedicated to the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation's efforts to rebuild and maintain the historic New Canal Lighthouse.

Excerpts from New Orleans City Park  (Images of America).

Contact Catherine Campanella