HOME AGAIN! The Grand Dame of Dauphine Street
Posted June 4, 2008 | Contact firstname.lastname@example.org or 202-588-6141
Born in 1917 in the little pink house on Dauphine Street, Mildred Bennett was a neighborhood treasure, chef, church usher and family matriarch who taught generations of Bennetts to embrace life and stay away from trouble.
"'I love you plenty, plenty,' Grandma used to tell us, 'but don't be goin' with no bad boys,'" said Alton Clivens, a women's basketball coach at Loyola University. "Now I'm 30 and still alive in this city, thank you Grandma," he added in his eulogy at Mrs. Bennett's funeral November 11, 2007.
Walter Gallas of the Trust's New Orleans office also spoke at the service, and a photo of Mrs. Bennett with First Lady Laura Bush at a Trust symposium in 2006 was displayed above the guest book. It took longer than expected but HOME AGAIN! and Mrs. Bennett's devoted children and grandchildren got her back home, where she died peacefully in the little house that had been her lifelong home until Hurricane Katrina flooded the neighborhood.
"It was like she just hung on so she could pass in her own house," said granddaughter Donna Duplantier, a Justice Department manager who evacuated her grandmother to Ennis, Texas, and later to her own house in Algiers, Louisiana, where she stayed until Dauphine Street was just right.
Just right meant rebuilding the entire rear of the house, including a new kitchen, bath and utility room on the same level as the other rooms for easy wheelchair access. "HOME AGAIN! also replaced the roof, repaired the weatherboards, windows and porch and installed a wheelchair ramp," said Kevin Mercadel, who manages HOME AGAIN! for the National Trust. "We put in all new electrical, plumbing, heating and air conditioning, replaced the walls and damaged flooring, restored the mantels, installed new cabinetry and did an entire paint job."
Once the family received their Road Home money, they assumed responsibility for the final phases, including adding a deck. "But the family was involved throughout the whole process, ensuring that Mrs. Bennett's new, old house would be familiar and much improved," added Mercadel.
Mrs. Bennett's daughter, Alma, and her wheelchair-bound husband, Clifford Williams, will continue to live in the shotgun house, which was built in 1884 as a wedding present for Mrs. Bennett's grandmother, Rose Randall, by her father, a Plaquemine Parish plantation owner. Grandson Alton Remble, whose storm-damaged house two blocks away is still being renovated, is temporarily living in his grandmother's home as well. Mrs. Bennett's son, Robert Smith, and three generations of his family live next door in a double shotgun, which was also restored thanks to HOME AGAIN!, the Preservation Resource Center of New Orleans' (PRC) Rebuilding Together, the Hearst Corporation, and the state's Historic Building Recovery Grant program, which the Trust lobbied for at the federal level.
"Because of you Grandma, we the 63 grandchildren stand tall, and Dauphine Street is in our blood," said one of Mrs. Bennett's beautiful great-granddaughters at the funeral. These are just the sort of fine people the Trust and PRC had in mind when they initiated HOME AGAIN!. It's a bonus that bringing back Dauphine Street is making life better for so many.
More on Mrs. Bennett: The Bennett Family Home Update
Preservation in Print, a publication of PRC, contains more information about Mrs. Bennett and the recovery effort in New Orleans.
The National Trust for Historic Preservation, a privately funded nonprofit organization, works to save America’s historic places.