If you’ve ever seen the star-studded 1989 film “Steel Magnolias,” you may already have a good idea of what the community of Natchitoches, Louisiana, is like with its antebellum homes and historic storefronts as Natchitoches hosted the filming of the beloved movie starring Shirley MacLaine, Dolly Parton, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis, Julia Roberts and other Hollywood royalty.
Michael Murphy, who has spent more than 50 years as an insurance agent in the community, not only remembers the filming well and the attention it brought to Natchitoches, but he also represented the family whose real-life events inspired the writing of “Steel Magnolias” as a play and then screenplay.
“Of course, Hollywood makes us look hokey,” he said. “We’re not hokey.”
But Natchitoches does have a rich history, as reflected in the film. In fact, it is the oldest permanent settlement within the territory that would become the Louisiana Purchase. A rich history and Hollywood glamor, though, cannot solve the housing problems of a community where one-quarter of families live below the poverty line.
“We have a real big need,” said Murphy, who has been involved with Habitat for Humanity for 30 years before he and fellow longtime Habitat friend Glenrose Pitt decided to bring the grass-roots Fuller Center to town. “About 40 percent of our people are poor, but we’ve got about 15 percent who are doing very well.”
Murphy not only hopes to bring the poor and wealthy together in this effort but also the old and young.
“We need to get the young people going because I’m getting too old to keep building houses,” he said with a laugh. “Of course, Jimmy Carter keeps going, so I guess I can keep going as long as he does or maybe longer. I think if we can get the young people involved and interested and contributing and have them take the reins and run with it, we can be here forever.”
“It has been a real joy working with Michael Murphy and Glenrose Pitt (treasurer) over the past two years as they have carefully charted a new course for their seasoned housing ministry,” Fuller Center Director of U.S. Field Operations Kirk Lyman-Barner said. “When Glenrose first contacted me, she kindly corrected my pronunciation (na’-ka-tosh) and proceeded to tell me about the wonderful things her group accomplished over the years. I’m looking forward to visiting their beautiful and caring community.”