Monica Mingo is a woman with many passions, a huge heart for her community, and a lot of surprises.
The Louisiana native loves restoring family heirlooms and adores her transplanted hometown of Gautier. She considers herself an extroverted introvert with empathetic tendencies, probably because she’s a survivor on countless fronts. And she wholeheartedly believes in giving back to a community that has been her biggest supporter.
“Times are hard for a lot of people,” Mingo said. “We can’t pretend we don’t see this. It is not always money that people need, sometimes it’s elbow grease or something your skills and experience can help with. Sometimes someone may need legal advice and can’t afford a lawyer.Sometimes some organizations can help but have stretched budgets so why wouldn’t you be able to ask your neighbor? We have to give back so the next generations come up with the sense of community and know that we’re all we got because we’re all we need.”
Mingo and her husband moved from Maryland to Mississippi and settled in Gautier where she opened That Gumbo Life on Gautier Vancleave Road.
“I wouldn’t be able to do any of the things I do without my husband’s support and guidance,” she said. “We don’t have one of those marriages where we just agree with each other to get the other to stop talking. We disagree often and we grow from each other constantly because of those disagreements. In our home, we might disagree one minute and the very next minute, make each other a bowl of ice cream.”
And Mingo has just as much love for her team at That Gumbo Life and works hard each day at being a good supervisor.
“We are all a motley crew and yet, we found each other,” she said, laughing. “I am proud that I am the type of employer I always wanted my entire life. I am fair but firm and I lead with kindness.”
So what exactly is That Gumbo Life?
“Our favorite things to do surround helping a family restore their heirlooms,” she said. “Your grandmother’s armoire, your mother’s dining room table and chairs. The Black Forest clock that once sat on the mantle and chimed during holiday gatherings. We love researching these items and restoring them to their original glory. We also fully refinish more modern items specializing in the refinishing of mid-century modern furniture.”
Other services include creating custom wood and upholstered furniture as well as furniture repair, restoration, color matching, and painting. Mingo and her crew take a lot of pride in the work they do and always get to know their clients on a personal level.
“A client’s father built a little footstool and it has been in their family for over 40 years,” she said. “She and her husband now own it and they brought it in to have it reupholstered. When she picked it up, she stopped in her tracks and her hand flew up to her mouth in shock and delight.She almost teared up at the transformation of her beloved family heirloom and she can’t wait to show her siblings. We get this reaction often because we don’t cut any corners doing what we do. From art restoration on, we do it in a way that respects and honors the piece and it feels so good knowing that our clients love what we do.”
Mingo carries that sense of honor and respect out into her community and is part of an informal group, the Good People Network.
“We show up for each other and we help spread the good news about each other,” she said. “Community is coming together for a common goal and enjoying the time we get to spend doing so. We have helped many people quietly and a few not so quietly. It is the quiet times I’m most proud of.”
But there was a time in Mingo’s life when she didn’t have the positive outlook she has now, and because she’s a survivor, she wants others to know her story so they can find a little hope in their own lives. Mingo is a survivor of breast cancer, infertility, and child abuse at the hands of her father.
“There were lots of periods in my life where I couldn’t get past the negatives of all that happened to me and made me wonder why I had to suffer so much pain and heartbreak,” she said, adding that her father killed her mother and then himself in her childhood home.
“He beat all of us often and yet, he was so smart and fun when he wasn’t hurting us,” she said. “I think that was the worst of all. The times when he was good. Because you had glimpses of what life could be like.”
She’s still learning to deal with the rapid onset of triggered depression.
“I have learned to put in the work to find my way back to happy,” she said. “Being happy for many is something we have to work at and I try and give it my all. Even then, some days it is a struggle, but I have joy. My background is why I can feel empathy for anyone going through something and why I always have time to help.”
And when she does feel triggered by her past struggles, she concentrates on raising her nephew.
“He’s such a kind, smart, and funny young man and we love watching him evolve into who he is meant to be,” she said. “I have my suspicions he might be a veterinarian because he is so good with our three dogs: Zulu, Marie Laveau, and Rookie.”
Mingo and her husband choose to live, work and raise their nephew in Gautier because of all the amazingly talented people who call Nature’s Playground home.
“And I want people to know about Gautier, Mississippi,” she said. “If I won the lottery, I would dedicate a huge chunk of it to making Gautier the swankiest city on the Gulf Coast. I believe in us just that much. We are lovely and amazing and you should visit.”
All photos are courtesy of Monica Mingo.