Sunday Profile: Katrina survivor rebuilt life in Glenwood Springs
Deana Hermanson was used to the routine while growing up in the west bank burg of Marrero across the Mississippi River from New Orleans.
The hurricane evacuation alert comes, the family gathers up all the important papers, computers, keepsakes, pets, some food and few other belongings and heads inland.
“You quickly learn what’s important to take with you and what’s not, because you never know for sure if you’re going back,” Hermanson said. “When you grow up there, you get tired of evacuating. But you have a routine.”
When the warning came in the days leading up to Aug. 29, 2005, there was some questioning, she recalled.
This particular storm, after making initial landfall on Florida’s Atlantic coast and building in intensity to a Category 5 hurricane over the warm waters of the Gulf of Mexico, had weakened to a Category 3 just before reaching southeast Louisiana.
“We were really wondering whether to stay or go,” said Hermanson, formerly Deana Rambo. She was 29 and a single mother of two children, ages 8 and 11, at the time.
“We talked about it and my dad said, ‘Yeah, let’s go,’” she said.
So, they carried out the routine and headed to her grandparents’ house in the town of Amite north of the city, along with three other families.
“Every other time we were able to go back right away,” Hermanson said.
Not this time.
Hurricane Katrina ended up being one of the most intense, devastating and deadliest hurricanes in U.S. history, flooding much of New Orleans when the levies holding back Lake Pontchartrain failed.
“It was horrible watching it on TV, with all the flooding and people on their roofs, and the looting and burning,” Hermanson said.
As a single head of her household following a divorce and ultimately the death of her ex-husband in 2001, she was among the first groups of residents allowed under marshal law to go in and inspect her property.
By comparison, she said it wasn’t nearly as bad as in some of the heavily flooded areas. Her part of the city was mostly impacted by high winds and damage caused by falling trees and debris.
Her mother and stepfather’s house south of the city in Port Sulphur, on the other hand, bore the brunt of the 36-foot storm surge.
“It literally picked up the house and moved it two blocks over,” Hermanson said, adding her mother was out of state at the time.
Despite the prospects that Hermanson herself could rebuild and stay put, after a few very emotional days, and with the new school year about to start and no schools in functional order, she, her daughter, Tyler, and son, Ryan, decided it was time to wave goodbye to the Big Easy.
NEW MOUNTAIN HOME
Ten years later, Hermanson has rebuilt her life in Glenwood Springs. She remarried to Rolf Hermanson in 2007, and together they have a daughter, Sage, who is 6 and just starting first grade.
Tyler, 21, finished high school in Glenwood Springs and is now a junior at the University of Nevada Las Vegas studying business. Ryan, 18, is a senior at Glenwood Springs High.
Soon after her arrival in Glenwood, Hermanson landed a job at ANB Bank as a part-time receptionist. In just a decade’s time, she has climbed the ladder to become vice president of commercial banking, overseeing operations at six banks.
Earlier this year, she was honored as the Glenwood Springs Chamber Resort Association’s ATHENA Young Professional Award recipient.
“Balancing her family life with her community service life, not to mention her professional life can’t be easy,” one of her award nominators wrote. “But she seems to have accomplished the near-impossible.”
A former brother-in-law who used to live in Glenwood Springs encouraged Hermanson to come here in the aftermath of Katrina. But that was her only connection to the community.
“I had been here to visit, and I really liked it,” she said. “We got on a plane with no money and no house to go back to, and were here by Labor Day.”
Eventually, they gathered what they could from their old home and made what ended up being a permanent move to Glenwood.
They lived with her ex-brother-in-law’s family for a short time, and then with a local woman who was kind enough to take them in until they found their own place. Catholic Charities helped connect Hermanson with some other assistance, including Federal Emergency Management funds that were designated for people displaced by Katrina.
“By then, I had only met a few people, but the kids had started school and were making friends and they really seemed to fit in and were happy,” she said. “We knew we couldn’t just go back, so we stayed.”
Not long after she started at the bank, her higher-ups asked if she’d be interested in training to be a branch manager.
“I was so fortunate to get a job where people saw my potential, believed in me and gave me an opportunity,” Hermanson said. “When I moved here, I never in a million years thought I would re-marry and have another kid.”
She met Rolf the following year at a Chamber Business After Hours mixer hosted by Glenwood Insurance, and they soon began dating.
Hermanson’s first couple of years in Glenwood Springs weren’t without their own drama, though.
On Mother’s Day 2006, Rolf was running the Mother’s Day Mile and Deana and the kids were at Two Rivers Park when a friend offered to take Ryan for a float in his private raft on the Roaring Fork River.
After putting in at Westbank, the raft caught a log near the Cardiff Bridge and Ryan was thrown into the frigid water.
A little ways downstream, then 13-year-old Chelsea Bennett was playing with her dog, Zion, by the river when she saw Ryan struggling in the water, held up only by his life jacket.
Zion jumped into the river and swam toward Ryan, who was able to grab onto the dog and get back to shore safely. The story was included a People Magazine article about pet heroes, and was picked up by other media.
“How ironic, isn’t it?” Hermanson said in an interview with the Post Independent after the incident. “We come here to get away from floodwaters, and he nearly drowns in the river.”
A year after that, the family bought a house and moved to Canyon Creek west of Glenwood. Not even a month later, they were evacuated from that home because of a wildfire that had burned over the ridgeline to the west.
“My daughter asked, why do we always have to leave our house?” Hermanson recalls today. “At least with the hurricane you see it coming and have a couple of days to prepare and leave. But a fire happens so fast.”
Rolf, who also now works for ANB in Carbondale, proposed to Deana at the 2007 Chamber Ball, held at the Hotel Colorado, and they were married that August.
“It’s an interesting blend,” she said. “I’m from New Orleans, where we’re loud and like to talk a lot. His family is from Minnesota, and they’re totally different.”
Her life in southern Louisiana was very family-oriented, with big parties and crawfish boils with lots of food.
“That’s all I knew for a long time, I guess,” Hermanson said. “In a way I miss it, yes, but then I don’t.”
They traveled back to New Orleans for Mardi Gras last year.
“It was fun, but the city is different than it was 10 years ago,” she said.
She keeps an engraved necklace with 08.29.05 on it, “to always remind me of where I am from and how far I have come,” Hermanson said.
But the trauma of Katrina lingers.
“The first year or two after Katrina, they would run all of these documentaries on TV and I would sit and cry watching it,” she said. “Finally I stopped watching them, because I knew it would upset me.”
But the 10th anniversary of that cursed occasion “is a nice reminder of how I got to where I am today, physically, mentally and emotionally,” she said. “As crazy as the past 10 years have been, I wouldn’t change anything.”
As a Glenwood Springs transplant, Hermanson is active with the Glenwood Springs Chamber, Good Shepherd Lutheran Church and the Glenwood Springs Kiwanis Club, where she served as only the second female president in the local club’s history and currently sits on its board of directors.
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