It’s a Family Affair

Heart KC

Togetherness suits Diggs family just fine.

By Peggy Bair

The Diggs family in Leavenworth, KS is looking for the silver lining in the lockdown that has put their six family members inside one roof for several weeks. The closeknit military family of six staying in together during the pandemic likely has good reason to be grateful for their close ties. 

“This has really forced us to take a pause and spend quality time with one another,” Georgette and James said in their correspondence with Heart KC recently. “Between our jobs, our businesses, and three kids in high school doing sports clubs and activities, our lives were very hectic.” 

Besides Georgette and James, there are daughters Jamie and Kristy Diggs and nieces Daysia and Maliyah Reneau sheltering in place in their home during the Kansas stay-at-home orders. 

Jamie, Kristy, Georgette, James Diggs with nieces Daysia and Maliyah Reneau

“We have a pretty resilient family,” Georgette said. “We have been through multiple military deployments causing separation. We have had a major death in the family which led to Daysia and Maliyah coming to live with us in 2017 and us becoming their legal guardians,” she added.

Georgette and James were both Army officers attending CAS3 when they met back in October,  1995 at Fort Leavenworth. They married the next year and after James completed the Air Command and Staff Course in Alabama, the couple moved to Hampton, VA in 2000. Georgette attended graduate school at Hampton University where she earned her masters in nursing as a family nurse practitioner in 2002. The couple moved to Heidelberg Germany in 2004, where they were stationed for four years. James retired in 2008 – and the family moved to Leavenworth, KS, Georgette’s duty station at that time. After 3 more years, Georgette also decided to retire from the Army and they settled in Leavenworth.

James had just opened a business in 2010 called Play, Bounce & Jump – a huge auditorium of climbing and bouncing play features, with party spaces and games for children. James owned and operated that business for eight years before selling it to pursue his longtime passion of running a jazz club. They opened the 424 Lounge at 424 Cherokee in Leavenworth.

The club featured live Jazz (and other genres) on Friday and Saturday nights, , Karaoke on Thursday night and a true lounge atmosphere with varied styles of seating, high bar tables and coffee shop style couches – and of course a stage for music.

Food menu items featured popular favorites of “Meaty Wings” in seven different seasoned flavors, classics like chicken or hamburger with fries, wraps, seafood, fish and chips and salads. 

The drink menu included a lineup of solid 50’s era classics such as Old Fashioned, Manhattan, Martini, Strawberry Daiquiri, Moscow Mule, American Mule, Tequlia Sunrise, Bahama Mama, Long Island Ice Tea, and Margarita, classic beers and wines. 

It was clearly seen on one visit by Heart KC earlier in 2020 that several regulars had already claimed their favorite spots throughout the softly lit atmosphere as they chatted with friends. James played maestro behind the bar (the sound system was also controlled at the bar) and attentive waitresses made rounds to customers for food and drinks. A jazz band from Kansas City played well into the night from the stage at the front. The low voices of patrons mingled between the percussion and bass beats sprinkled with soft notes from the keyboard.

That was the night of February 29, 2020. A distant thought was that some commotion about a virus was spreading around in Wuhan, China. Some cases had popped up at a nursing home up in Washington state – some 1800 miles away. Otherwise, it was a quiet, pleasant night.

Within two weeks, though, gatherings at first of more than 50, then not more than 10 were prohibited by the county health department, then the state. Schools were ordered to suspend classes. By March 30, Gov. Laura Kelly decreed a Kansas statewide stay-at-home order.

Georgette was able to work from home, typically with telework, she said, in her job as a nurse. But the 424 Lounge had to be temporarily shuttered. The young women at the Diggs household converted their schooling to online classes.

Education for the children has been a long time family focus, though, Georgette said, and the stay-at-home order hasn’t changed that focus – but maybe created a plus. 

 “Being at home while the girls are doing online school allows us to help them right away instead of late evenings when we are all tired,” she said. 

The family stays active by going outside and walking together. They also have weights in the house and use various workout apps to stay in shape. James is the cook in the family, making breakfast, lunch and dinner at home. 

The Diggs have another daughter living in Canada who works for Pfizer. They had just moved her there from New York City before the pandemic hit. They also have a son who is in St. Louis with his fiancé. “He is a Lieutenant in the Army Reserve,” said Georgette, “and works for the government and is working on his masters in social work. His soon-to-be wife is doing her residency in psychology at Barne Jewish Hospital. We spend a lot more time communicating with all of our children now that everyone has slowed down due to stay-at-home orders.”

On April 24, the 424 Lounge advertised a special dinner on Facebook and prepared 700 wings in 2 hours to celebrate 424 Lounge. Afterwards, “Exhausted. Lol,” Georgette wrote. It was just a one-time thing – something they might try occasionally as they navigate through the daily updates of health news and executive orders.

The family had been looking forward in June to the wedding of their son. It was set for June 19, 2020 – in Jamaica. At the moment, it’s obviously on hold, though. Southwest has cancelled the tickets, Georgette said, so they are just waiting to see what happens the first of June. In the meantime, they FaceTime with their son and his fiancé since they cannot visit each other across the three hour divide.

James is the family chef, Georgette said, and he’s been experimenting in the kitchen with new dishes. Today was shrimp bisque. “Wasn’t as thick as he wanted but probably because he was missing a few ingredients,” Georgette said. Not like a person can just run out to the store quickly these days.

As for finding new ways to exercise, these things have come some purposefully and some by circumstance. Unable to get consistently get someone to mow the lawn, Georgette said they bought a lawn mower and she started mowing their own lawn. She said brought that brought back memories from her childhood since she was the grass cutter in the family back then.

A new fitness challenge, though, was that the family took up bicycle riding, which, looks easier than it actually turned out to be even for this fitness conscious family. “The Leavenworth hills are putting us to shame!” Georgette said.

All content on Heart KC, writing, design and photography is protected by copyright and may not be reproduced in part or in whole without expressed written permission from the author, Peggy Bair ©2020. All rights reserved. The content may be shared via a link back to the Heart KC blog website when the link is shared on social media. Please support local journalism and local journalists.

Peggy Bair is a longtime area journalist credentialed with the American Society of Media Photographers Kansas City branch. She holds a journalism degree from UMKC and has written and photographed for six different newspapers over a 24 year career as a journalist and an award-winning photojournalist with the National Press Photographers Association. Her work has appeared also in USA Today, People Magazine and worldwide via Associated Press.

“I value every one of my story subjects for the honor of sharing them with the world. I believe every person is here for a reason and every person has a lesson to teach and a story to tell” – Peggy Bair

Social distancing is practiced and wearing a mask as well as photographing with a long lens are best practices employed at this time. A 300mm lens was used for this assignment. Subjects in the story practiced safe social distancing even though they may appear in some photographs to be closer together. This is due to an illusion of compression that results from using a very long lens like a 300mm.