Sunrise of Cascade celebrates New Orleans with hurricane-displaced family

Publish Date:

Wednesday, March 13, 2013


News Organization:

Michigan Live

Source URL:

It has been nearly eight years since the levee at Lake Pontchartrain gave way, but at least one family that was displaced by Hurricane Katrina is still here in West Michigan and they are loving it – snow and all.

Benny and Clara Hardouin made their home in New Orleans until the hurricane, but now are proud residents of Kentwood.

Benny was a lifelong New Orleans resident and his wife came from Cuba to escape the Castro regime. Their New Orleans home was built on high ground, just two blocks from Lake Pontchartrain, and they were used to the storms. When a hurricane was predicted, they would either ride out the storm or, as in the case of Katrina, take enough clothes for a couple of days and head for a hotel in Alabama.

This time was different. While in Alabama they learned that they would not be able to return to their home for a long time. So when they got a call from their son Ben Hardouin, who had moved his family to Michigan just a year earlier, they traveled north.

But they did not come alone. Three of Benny's aunts, who had lived together for decades in a New Orleans home, came too. The aunts were all in their 80s at the time. Benny and Clara stayed with their son's family in Forest Hills and the sisters moved to a long-term hotel.

"The people of Grand Rapids immediately welcomed us. The neighbors came with plates of food. They treated us like family from the get go," said Hardouin.

In March of 2009 all three aunts - Marcelle, Bella and Lorraine - moved to Sunrise Senior Living, a retirement care facility in Cascade. The Hardouin sisters made a big impression during their stay and last week, less than a month after the death of the last sister, Sunrise celebrated New Orleans-style in their honor. Benny, Clara, their son Ben and wife Susan, with their two children, who attend Forest Hills Knapp Forest School, joined in for the day.

eggs byou.jpg Egg Bayou Jan Holst  

Chef David Willer "outdid himself" with a "spectacular" spread of traditional New Orleans' foods, said Benny. Among the offerings were Crepes Fitzgerald, seafood gumbo, jambalaya, eggs bayou, and beef tenderloin au poivre style.

singleton.jpg Will Singleton brought his New Orleans jazz talent to Cascade for the event. Jan Holst  

Will Singleton, who is originally from New Orleans and has played with a number of bands, not only played for the guests, he had the Hardouin family and friends dancing through the party area much like a Mardi Gras parade. While the Hardouin sisters were at Sunrise, Singleton had been a regular guest and the residents and staff have really enjoyed the lively music and fun he provides, said Deb Rost, executive director of Sunrise.

"They ( aunts) were so happy here and everyone was so good to them," said Benny Hardouin.

Clara, who now has been forced to leave her home twice, agreed. "The good people in Grand Rapids opened their hearts," she said. "They gave us a new home and it (Sunrise) was the right place for the aunts to end up."

West Michigan suited the Hardouin family. "I never thought that I would live up north. I used to laugh about people up there freezing and wondered why they did it, but now I enjoy the seasons – snow and all," said Benny.

The Hardouins, who have been married 43 years, lost everything in the hurricane. Returning to their destroyed home and seeing what was left was difficult, "We never got flooded before; the worst we ever returned to was a broken window and some cleanup," said Benny Hardouin. "TVs, furniture, refrigerators and stuff can be replaced but we lost my record collection, photos of the kids – cassettes and movies of them growing up – our wedding album. There are things you can't get back."

The three sisters never returned and Benny and Clara are grateful that they did not have to see their damaged home. "I took pictures, but never showed them to them," said Benny.

"New Orleans is a great place to live," he said. "The food and music are outstanding. You can have an afternoon of fun just watching people in the streets." Their friends at Sunrise, who took care of their elderly aunts brought a little of that fun back for an afternoon, they said.

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