WAC & UH OPPONENTS
COURTESY OF LOUISIANA TECH
Recent hurricanes brought LaTech's Freddie Franklin and his father closer together.
LaTech player’s family united by hurricane
Freddie Franklin’s parents live in a campus dorm and are setting up roots
RUSTON, La. » About two blocks from Joe Aillet Stadium on the Louisiana Tech campus stands a rather unremarkable eight-story brick building. It's not fancy by any standards, but it looks like a solid, stable structure.
The old Caruthers dormitory was supposed to be torn down this year, but it's a good thing it wasn't. It is now home to 600 evacuees from hurricanes Katrina and Rita, many of them relatives of LaTech football players from New Orleans and other parts of the Gulf Coast blasted by the storms last month.
All 600 have stories of survival and, some, of revival. Many don't want to talk about it, like the three men sitting out front smoking cigarettes.
The men don't look like they belong on a college campus. They are middle-aged and hard.
One, with an old, deep scar near his lip, won't say anything, except that he can't share his name or his story because he's "wanted." The others laugh, but not in a joyous way.
"Next time bring a bottle," another says. "You'll get plenty of stories."
A security guard at the Holiday Inn in Monroe, one of many hotels in Louisiana housing some of the 1.2 million storm evacuees, says the ratio is "50-50" between evacuees earnestly trying to get their lives back together and others who seemingly have no desire to do so. But he didn't take into account people like Rev. Fred Franklin, father of LaTech football player Freddie Franklin, and the man known as "The Mayor of Caruthers." Franklin, 38, is one of those trying to make things better for others while dealing with his own problems brought on by the storms.
"He's a real good guy. He tries to help people as much as he can. Mentally, emotionally. Even financially," said truck driver Ken Jefferson, a Katrina evacuee whose recently purchased home in Saint Bernard parish was destroyed by the storm.
Franklin's home was also wiped out. He was on the verge of starting his own business transporting disabled people to medical appointments when Katrina hit his rented house in New Orleans. He lost his home and his business. And nearly his wife.
On the eve of the storm, Joanette Franklin was called to come to work on her day off. She was a prison guard. She didn't think about not reporting.
"I had no second thoughts about it. I still don't. No. It was my job," Joanette says. "And that's where the Lord wanted me to be."
She told her husband, "I got the phone call. I gotta go to the jail. Take the children and get out of here."
After the storm hit and the levees broke, Joanette was stranded with 442 inmates and 24 other officers for four days at the prison. She was finally rescued, after four days of keeping the inmates at bay by alternating sleep with the other guards for 15 minutes at a time, after two days of nothing to drink and only small scraps of bread to eat and share with the inmates. She didn't know if she would starve to death or be killed by the prisoners.
Her husband and two daughters, who had made it to Ruston, had no idea what had happened to her. LaTech coach Jack Bicknell canceled two practices to give players time to locate family and friends in New Orleans.
When Joanette got out, rescued and taken to Baton Rouge, she recharged her cell phone, and the first message was from Freddie.
"He put Coach on the phone and he said, 'Mrs. Franklin, don't say anything. I'm sending him to get you,' " she says. "It's supposed to be the mother taking care of the son. Not the son taking care of the mother."
Upon her arrival at Caruthers, Joanette was almost immediately hired as a security guard. Her husband remains busy "managing" Caruthers. He says his background as a pastor foisted him into a leadership role.
"For the first few days, I just kind of watched what was going on. There seemed to be a lack of leadership, so I started to do what I could do," Franklin says.
With help from the university, Franklin turned the common areas of various floors of Caruthers into a children's play area, a teen recreation room, and a study hall.
"We try to make it so people aren't idle, so they have something to do," Franklin says.
Despite Joanette's trauma and the loss of what her husband says was "a comfortable life" in New Orleans, where they were born and raised, all of the Franklins look at the hurricane that brought them to Ruston as a blessing.
"Yes, indeed," says Freddie. "The simple fact that they're all here now helps me focus. They gave me a solid foundation as parents, now it's my turn to try to be there for them -- especially in my mother's situation. Everything happens for a reason."
Here's a reason the family has faith in fate: Freddie, a star at G.W. Carver in New Orleans, turned down a scholarship offer from Nebraska so he could go to LaTech and be closer to home.
No one's saying the situation for LaTech and the evacuees is perfect -- it isn't anywhere in Louisiana. There are many people like Ken Jefferson, who volunteers to deliver mail in the building "to stay busy." And there are others who look like they are in a daze and don't want to do anything.
The Tulane football team is using LaTech's facilities because of Katrina. The situation has worked for the most part, but Tulane players were involved in a fight at a campus party recently.
"I can't speak to that," Freddie Franklin says. "But the (Tulane players) I've met have been nothing but great."
Fred, the father, admits to being a "city guy," and he misses "being able to go here and there" in New Orleans. But he doesn't plan on ever going back, even if the city is re-constructed.
On Friday, he looked at a house in Ruston. He doesn't have any savings, but with loans and government assistance and both him and Joanette working, Fred thinks the Franklins can move forward.
"We sat down and talked about it, and we said, 'Why not?' The kids are getting rooted here," Fred Franklin III says. "I believe God wanted me here. I never thought our port would be Ruston."