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Instructor, Graduate Among Those Affected by Katrina’s Fury


Judith Coleman and her cousin, Kasey L. Roedts (a Penn College student) view online photos of Katrina's destructive force.A new instructor at Pennsylvania College of Technology and an alumna of the college’s immediate predecessor are among the hundreds of thousands affected by the incalculable devastation of Hurricane Katrina.

Judith (Grey) Coleman, who graduated in 1981 with a degree in individual studies, was back on campus this week, watching and listening for any word from home − a coastal home leveled by a 25-foot storm surge.

She has not spoken with Scott Irish, her “other half,” but knows that he and her youngest sister are safe. There has been no news yet of two other sisters and a brother, all from the ravaged area of Bay St. Louis, Miss.

Coleman was in Wabash, Ind., for her job as a site manager with the traveling Vietnam Veterans Memorial exhibit, watching the storm warnings on television and touching base with relatives. The last she knew, there were no winds, and the sun was shining brightly.

“I was supposed to go home for the week, so I just thought, ‘No big deal − I’ll fly there tomorrow,” she said. “Then a man came (to thewall site) and said, ‘Mississippi was wiped off the map.’ I wouldn’t be going anywhere.”

It was an atypical moment for Coleman, who has seldom been immobile. Her years since Williamsport Area Community College have brought her widespread travels and challenges: a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a master’s in nontraditional education and training, and a doctorate in education administration; jobs at Cornell University and in family literacy, as director of the Williamsport Wise Options for Women program, with charter schools in Arizona, and as an American Red Cross director in Mississippi.

Raised in Williamsport by foster parents, she learned of her “real family” in Mississippi only six years ago. And it was to Williamsport that she has temporarily returned, reconnecting with relatives and her alma mater, even accompanying her cousin − Kasey L. Roedts, an applied human services student at Penn College − to campus Friday so she could have computer and cell-phone access.

“I logged onto the Sun-Herald (her hometown newspaper in southern Mississippi), looking at pictures to see if anything is familiar,” Coleman said. “And I placed an ad looking for Scott and Tasha (their dog), letting them know that I care about them.”

Scrolling through those online photos of the devastation, Coleman pointed out the beachfront spot where her home stood and the brown muddy path that used to be Highway 90.

“I can’t understand it,” she said. “It’s just too much to understand.” Amid sleepless nights and an overabundance of anxiety, it has been a struggle for Coleman to sit tight. She even got a tetanus shot earlier this week, in hopes of returning home. Supportive family members − including Roedts, who handily employed crisis-intervention skills being learned in her major − finally convinced Coleman to remain here in safety.

Coleman is to fly to Canton, Mass., with the memorial wall on Tuesday, then is scheduled to return here next week. Grateful to be among supportive and caring people, she has particular praise for the Vietnam Veterans Memorial Fund and those whose lives have been affected through the traveling “Wall That Heals.”

“More people than I ever imagined − people I’ve met with the wall, from across the country − have called me, opening their homes,” she said. Acknowledging her gratitude for those offers, Coleman nonetheless hopes to be back in Mississippi long before her job travels end on Dec. 5.

Judy Quinti Judy Quinti, a faculty member in fitness/lifetime sports, is “watching the Web sites, watching the TV and waiting to see how the government responds” tothe tragedy that has uprooted her daughters.

Liza and Sara − who rent apartments on either side of the French Quarter in New Orleans − heeded authorities’ warnings and evacuated Sunday morning.

Sara, along with her husband and two cats, left at 6:30 and arrived in Houston eight hours later. By the time sister Liza, a companion and two dogs left at 9:30, the ordinarily five-hour trip took 14.

Both apparently have lost everything. Sara, a veterinary technician, clearly won’t have a job for months. Liza, enrolled in the nursing program at Louisiana State University, is hoping her semester isn’t lost.

On Friday, all remained “displaced, but safe” with Sara’s in-laws, “obviously just glued to the TV.” Liza and her friend were making weekend arrangements to travel to Illinois to ease the burden on their hosts.

“As a mother, my first instinct is to think, ‘I’m getting in my truck and driving down there to take care of my girls.’ But there’s no doing that,” Quinti said. “It’s hard to imagine that the apartments in which I cooked them dinners were under how-many feet of water.”

The anxiety of watching from a distance has been somewhat eased by the outpouring of help, both from lifelong friends and her supportive new family at Penn College.

“People who know my daughters from all over the country − from Portland, Ore., to Austin, Texas, from California to Colorado − called as soon as they were able, saying, ‘Come here with us,’ ” she said. “It is great to know that the friends they’ve made, past and present, are reaching out. What their future is, we have no idea.” Short-term job prospects are uncertain, the long-range outlook even more so.

As Quinti sat in her Penn College office Friday morning, a student came by to deliver a message to a faculty member that he was being deployed to New Orleans as part of the disaster-relief effort.

“I shook his hand and told him, ‘Here’s a personal face to who you’re helping. You’re going to help my daughters.'”

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