Southerners enjoy western hospitality at Katrina dinner |

Southerners enjoy western hospitality at Katrina dinner

Post Independent/Kelley Cox

RIFLE ” Sonny Madeley took care of his drilling rig coworkers on Thanksgiving Day, delivering them deep-fried turkey.

It was a gift of Southern hospitality from someone whose family got to enjoy some mountain generosity a day later. On Friday evening, Madeley and his family joined other victims of Hurricane Katrina in a community potluck dinner put on by Catholic Charities and United Way at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Rifle.

The event was as much about meeting as eating. People such as the Madeley family got to know others who had weathered the storm with them, as well as longer-term residents of the place they now call home.

Garfield County is definitely now home for the Madeleys. They had planned to move here even before Katrina hit, after Madeley began coordinating directional drilling for a contractor on some Williams Production natural gas drilling rigs near Parachute.

Now, said Madeley, “I don’t intend on driving another nail in south Mississippi.”

His children and wife Sherry are living with him in his fifth-wheel trailer in Battlement Mesa. They plan to look for more permanent quarters here while repairing and selling their home outside Bay Saint Louis, Miss. Some 6 miles from open water, their home was swamped by a tidal surge of water 8 feet deep. Many tree trunks snapped on their three-acre property there.

“After the storm it looked like woodcutters came in and partially cleared the land,” Madeley said.

Sherrie Schilleci, of Metairie near New Orleans, tells the exact opposite story.

“I always tell people, I didn’t have any trees but I do now,” she said.

Other people’s trees had ended up in her yard, she explained.

Schilleci’s home fared well during the storm, but she’s renting it to a friend. Schilleci came to the Roaring Fork Valley because she has a sister here, and decided to stay because of the better job opportunities. She is living in Carbondale but looking for a place in Basalt, where her son Taylor is attending Basalt Middle School .

She came to Friday’s dinner with Taylor and with a sister, Stephanie Schilleci, who is visiting her while their parents’ home is being repaired back in the New Orleans area. Stephanie said she appreciated Friday’s feast, especially compared to the meals-ready-to-eat, or MREs, that were handed out after the storm.

“This is so unbelievable that people are so generous like this,” she said.

Dante White of Gulfport, Miss., also appreciated Friday’s dinner, and the chance for her sons Bobby, 6, and Beckett, 4, to meet some others who had been through Katrina.

“We’re just here to try to connect with some other people. I just think it’s so good for my little boys,” she said, as her sons giggled and chased each other around the dining hall before dinner was served.

The Whites are staying with her father, George Lloyd of Glenwood Springs, while Dante’s husband Michael works on getting their home repaired. Her mother, Elaine Lloyd, lived in Sopris Village, but died unexpectedly after the hurricane, so the family has been through a lot in recent months.

White said her sons’ school back in Gulfport also was destroyed.

“There’s just no describing it. Everything they know is gone,” she said.

Some 30 people attended Friday’s dinner, with many of them having similar tales of destruction and loss. Jill Ziemann of Catholic Charities said that agency has heard these stories time and again in working with some 15 to 20 families that have moved to the area. But she thinks it helps if they can talk about their experiences with others who have gone through similar ones.

“You need to tell your story to get through it,” Ziemann said.

As the evening progressed Friday, people learned of others who were from the same communities. They brought corn grits and other Southern dishes to remind them of their former homes. And they joked about bracing themselves for a Colorado winter.

Divine-Grace, who is from Cameroon in Africa and now lives in Carbondale after coming to work in the ski industry in Aspen last winter, volunteers for the Red Cross and attended Friday’s dinner.

“I thought, I’d like to come meet people from far and near,” he said.

During dinner, Coloradans heard tale after tale of hardships endured and overcome. White and her husband own an amphibious vehicle and ran a business showing people around Gulfport by land and sea. But she said many of the antebellum mansions that were on their tours have been wiped out.

She described walking on rubble piled as high as rooftops, trying to check on friends’ houses.

“It looked like pictures of Hiroshima. There is no other way to describe it,” she said.

Madeley said his jet ski and its trailer were lifted by floodwaters over a 6-foot fence and deposited a half mile away. Most of the belongings in their home were destroyed, and yet some potpourri sitting on a table remained unharmed. It took a while for the family to figure out that the table had floated, keeping the potpourri dry.

Madeley’s wife, Sherry, told event organizers that people are still living in tents in her former neighborhood. Yet the amount of attention being paid to Katrina and its aftermath is gradually diminishing.

“You guys just acknowledging it after this amount of time really means a lot,” she said.

Contact Dennis Webb: 945-8515, ext. 516

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