Oasis of Hope


Twelve days after Hurricane Florence made landfall, Susan Hermanson backed a trailer to the edge of the murky floodwater covering NC 53 near Burgaw and loaded four stranded horses aboard. No one was happier to see her than Nikki Herridge, whose 15-year-old quarter horse, Zip, was among the trapped animals.
 
“Susan was waiting at the bridge on Highway 53 with a horse trailer and open arms,” Herridge said. “In that moment, we knew we were on the way to safety.”Horses in floodwaters
 
By the time Hermanson arrived, the horses had been trapped by floodwaters for more than a week. Veterinarian Ginger Reagan, who has mentored several UNCW pre-veterinary students, managed to reach them by boat to provide basic medical care and IV fluids. Before the vet could treat the horses at her facility, they had to be scrubbed from head to hooves to remove floodwater contaminants. Hermanson and her daughter, Katie Ivancevich, a UNCW sophomore, assisted with the bathing.
 
With Category 4 winds initially forecast for Hurricane Florence, Hermanson, a UNCW accounting professor, and her husband, Ritner Goff, a farrier, evacuated their own 12 horses to western North Carolina at considerable personal cost. They had also agreed to take in a neighbor’s two horses during the storm on their 70-acre farm. Goff remained behind with his son to care for the guest horses while Hermanson, her daughters and her husband’s apprentice rode out the hurricane in Statesville.

Watching from afar as news cameras showed the destruction and severe flooding Florence brought to southeastern North Carolina, Hermanson said she and her daughters didn’t want to return from the Piedmont empty-handed.
 
She connected with Jennifer Hugg ’07, ’09M, one of her former master’s degree students, in Charlotte. The two filled a 12-foot U-Haul with water; horse, dog and cat food; diapers; and other supplies for hurricane victims and their pets. Hermanson drove that trailer back to the Cape Fear region and delivered the contents to local shelters.
 
Hermanson insists she was just being neighborly. “I was just trying to give back,” she said. “We were blessed.” By “blessed,” she means that her home did not flood and is livable. “I have friends who lost everything,” Hermanson explained. Roadsides near her family’s property were piled high with debris from flood-damaged homes and outbuildings.Susan Hermanson
 
Despite jumping into action to make sure neighbors’ horses were safe, Hermanson no longer rides. A January automobile accident left her with severe head injuries that required the accounting professor to relearn simple math. Her doctor ordered her not to get on a horse for at least two and a half more years.
 
That’s not an easy prescription to follow for Hermanson, who began riding as a second-grader, but she can still enjoy the pastime through her younger daughter, Amanda, who has special needs and is benefiting from riding therapy, and her older daughter Katie, who is an avid rider.
 
Hermanson is thankful that she could be available for her friends and neighbors. “It got to the point where we were the high ground,” she said. “Roads were closed all around us due to high water, but we were a little oasis of dry land.”

--Tricia Vance