Ladies of Place DuBourg will not be forgotten

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 12, 1999

By DEBORAH CORRAO and LEONARD GRAY / L’Observateur / May 12, 1999

Many a Mother’s Day will come and go before the memories fade. Theladies of Place DuBourg and other residents of the community who lost their lives in Sunday’s tragic bus accident will not soon be forgotten.

It would be hard to find someone in the community not touched by the life of at least one of the victims.

Ann Torres worked in the cafeteria of St. Joan of Arc School in LaPlace. Monday morning a prayer service was held at the school to memorialize Torres.

Sister Germaine Roussel, principal at St. Joan of Arc, said Sunday’stragedy touched even the smallest students at the school, like the 3-year- old who tried to comfort another cafeteria worker.

“One of your friends died,” he told the worker, according to Sister Germaine, “but that’s OK because she’s with Jesus.”Others at St. Joan of Arc lost grandparents.The accident also claimed the life of eight of the residents of Place DuBourg retirement home. Two residents were injured.While death is not a stranger to the elderly residents left behind, the immensity Sunday’s sudden loss has them groping for answers.

Martha Hymel, who lives on the fourth floor of the home, lost three of her closest friends.

Sometimes she went gambling with the other ladies. As fate would haveit, she was spending Mother’s Day with her family when she heard the news.

She had spoken with one of the victims, Rita Gaillard, that morning.

“I asked Rita if she was going gambling,” Hymel recalled. “I told her towin it all and she said, ‘I’ll try.'”The night before the trip, Elma Tassin, who survived the accident with injuries, called to ask Hymel for a favor.

“Call me in the morning,” Tassin said, excitedly, “in case my alarm doesn’t go off.”Hymel called the next morning but Tassin was already up making preparations for the trip.

Dolly Sposito had been having some health problems for a few weeks but nothing would stop her from making the trip to Casino Magic.

“Dolly said she would go in a wheelchair if she had to,” said Hymel. “Shewouldn’t miss it for the world.”But no one was more special to Martha Hymel than her friend, Marion “Mae” Mancuso.

“Mae would take the shirt off her back and give it to you,” Hymel said tearfully, clutching her friend, Marguerite Chabaud, for support. “That’sthe kind of person she was.”And, she added, “Mae just loved my little grandchildren.”The ladies of Place DuBourg who lost their lives seem to have made their mark on others in the community who attended the memorial mass there Monday morning.

Cheryl Oliveri’s father lived at Place duBourg before he died three months ago. The ladies at the retirement home were his pals.”When he died, those ladies were my strength,” Oliveri said.

Now she clings to another resident, Joni Chauvin, in grief, looking for a way to come to grips with mutual comfort and support.

Delton Arceneaux and his wife Sue sometimes attended mass at Place DuBourg on Saturday afternoons.

“I wasn’t really close to any of them,” Delton Arceneaux said. “I justloved them all.”Through the grief and mourning, the residents who were left behind will come to rely on each other for solace and their God for comfort and assurance.

“The people at Place DuBourg are very prayerful,” said Sister Germaine.

“They are very supportive of each other.”Christine Palmisano, manager of Place DuBourg, said the ladies who lost their lives in the accident were wonderful.

“They loved going on these little trips,” she said. “Now they’ll never makeanother. It’s just so tragic. It’s tragic and it’s past incredible.”Palmisano said she learned of the accident itself about 10 a.m. Sunday, butit wasn’t until an employee called her at home that she knew for certain the accident included several of her residents. “I just had that sickfeeling,” she said.

Sidney Morvant, a Place DuBourg resident, commented, “I have kind of a guilt feeling that I didn’t go on the bus.”That feeling echoed much of the desperate and quiet sadness which enveloped the retirement home, most of whom assembled for the special Monday morning Mass under the prying eyes of television cameras.

At Place DuBourg, Monsignor Thomas Rodi of the New Orleans Archdiocese said Mass for those friends of the deceased, most of whom were residents of the retirement home.

Joining Mgsr. Rodi were the Rev. John Marsh of Sacred Heart CatholicChurch in Norco, who himself lost an aunt and uncle in the wreck, and the Rev. Benjamin Piovan of Ascension of Our Lord.Msgr. Rodi noted for those friends of the bus passengers, “Not even deathis more powerful than the love of God. Their bodies have died, tragically,but we are more than our bodies.”He spoke of those good Samaritans who stopped to help, and commented, “God made night, so we can see the stars.”At the St. John Parish Council on Aging, executive director BarbaraGralapp fended away reporters from her clients and said most were simply too stunned to deal with it or were not really aware of who had died, as news dribbled out slowly.

At the television in the commons room, rocking chairs sat empty. Thenormally-bustling lunchtime crowd was sparse and subdued.

On Tuesday morning, flowers were pouring in at Place DuBourg, while people quietly assembled to talk in subdued tones to one another.

“We’re still in shock,” Palmisano said.

“It’s tragic, and it’s past incredible,” Palmisano continued. “Tears. A lotof tears.”

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