Driving Miss Sadie: Katrina refugees in Rockwood go home

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By Terri Likens, Editor

Bruce and Diana Knobloch had their flights booked for their August trip to New Orleans for the annual Satchmo Festival honoring Louis Armstrong.
But their August trip to the Crescent City took a turn of its own before they could get up in the air.
It started with a late July phone call to the Roane County United Way office where Diana is director.
The call was from “Miss Sadie” Butler, a 94-year-old who, with her son, Joe, landed in Rockwood as one of the last fugitives evacuated from Hurricane Katrina.
“I kind of got the critical information out of her,” Diana said.
After five years at the Rockwood Village Apartments, the Butlers had managed to land a subsidized apartment in New Oleans — the place Miss Sadie had spent most of her life and the place she hoped to die.
She had called the United Way office seeking help getting back there with their belongings.
“It was, I think, an unusual request,” Diana said. “I wondered if we could take them.”
She did a little checking on the Butlers’ story and  then talked to Bruce. He had spent a year in New Orleans after Katrina working as a Federal Emergency Management Agency worker,
“He didn’t think hard about it,” Diana said. “He said, ‘I don’t know why we couldn’t do that.’”
She also contacted New Orleans public housing, where officials said they had an apartment ready for them
The next week was a flurry of activity.
The Knoblochs canceled their flights with Southwest Airlines — they knew they would be able to use their tickets later.
Several days before they left, Bruce went to the Butlers’ apartment to assess their moving needs.
“They didn’t have too many possessions, really,” Diana said.
The Knoblochs rented a moving trailer.
“Paulette here in our office reminded me that some money had been donated to help Katrina evacuaees that might land in our area,” she added. “That helped to pay for the trailer rental and some of our expenses going down.”
More people got involved. The Knoblochs’ church, Harriman United Methodist, rallied around them when the congregation heard what they were doing.
“They took up a collection,” Diana said. “They said you’ve got to go grocery shopping.”
And on Aug. 4, the Knoblochs, the Butlers and their trailer headed south on the 10-hour drive to the Big Easy.
“Miss Sadie, she was ready to go home,” Diana said.
They had help on the Roane County end getting the Butlers possessions loaded, but they also had help with unloading in New Orleans.
Diana said she had e-mailed United Way of Greater New Orleans with a request for help and within 15 minutes, a representative from a partner agency was on the phone.
“He and two other staffers would be on hand to help unload,” she said.
The Butlers’ apartment was in the Redemptorist Apartments, a former convent and rectory that had been converted into public housing.
“We didn’t just take them and drop them off and say ‘OK,’” Diana said. “We got them moved in.”
With the money collected by their church, they took Miss Sadie and Joe shopping for groceries and other items needed after any kind of cross-country move.
They also took them to the Louisiana Department of Motor Vehicles  office for IDs they would be needing and ran other errands with them.
 “I really, firmly believe the Lord tapped me on the shoulder, and said ‘I have something for you to do,’ because everything fell into place,” Diana said.  “It was the right thing to do.”
“When there’s a need, Roane County rises to the ocassion,” she added.
Miss Sadie never doubted she would land back at home.
“She was excited,” Diana said. “All the way down, she said, ‘I knew God would make a way.’”
Although the Knoblochs have  had a long-standing appreciation for New Orleans,  it’s a little more personal to them now.
And Diana has come away with a stronger appreciation for the  network provided by United Way.
“To see United Way at work —  part of the interconnected system like that — that was really a cool thing,” she said.
And she and Bruce still made it to the Satchmo Festival, where  if Armstrong had been alive to hear there story, he might have used a line from one of his more famous songs: “And I think to myself, what a wonderful world.”