Around Louisiana


Cause to Celebrate Farmerville Gazette on the Beat

The Farmerville Gazette, published and edited by Scott Beder, is a compact, incisive beacon that shines in North Louisiana on a weekly basis. The consistently fine work of this publication was enthusiastically recognized at the convention of the Louisiana Press Association, or LPA, held in Lafayette.

The plucky little periodical took home 12 LPA awards, half of which were first place. Four of the first place awards were in the editorial competition. Read Beder’s op-ed that clarifies the inconsistencies of the texting-while-driving laws in Louisiana, and it’s easy to see why the LPA chose to honor the Gazette. Additionally, the editorial page, along with news coverage, took top prizes. The third place prize for best editorial likewise went to the Farmerville paper.

Mary Nash-Wood, a former staffer, and Beder also captured the first place award for their coverage of the Pilgrim’s Pride-Foster Farm story in the single event category; Beder once again grabbed a first place prize for best headline.

The overall excellence of the paper was also reflected in the advertising competition. Staffer Lesley Rocque snatched two first place awards for best nonretail services ad and best retailer ad; she also garnered a second place prize for staff-generated color ad (half-page) combined with two other honorable mentions honoring her work.
In addition to receiving second place for best sports story, Farmerville Gazette won third place for overall excellence.

Beder couldn’t be happier.

“I am very pleased that the hard work of our staff was recognized during this competition,” said Beder. “Our readers and customers are fortunate to have a talented and hardworking group of people working at the Gazette. These awards reflect the quality of work they do each week.”
Fork in the Road Monroe’s Big Blend

According to Hope Young of the Monroe News Star, Blend of the Bayou recently held its annual mix to raise money for the Northeast Louisiana Arts Council, or NELA. Affectionately known as “The Blend,” this culinary effort is produced by a merry band of men in pinafores who congregate to either cook or mix delectable dishes and beverages respectively. Knowing the importance of good eating, this versatile crew places equal importance on food for the soul by holding this fundraiser each year to support the precious arts scene of the Monroe area.

Margaret Lauve chairs the Blend Committee. Her work in this 13th gathering, which included a silent auction of original works from the Bayou Gallery, was greatly assisted by the coordinating talents of Gregory Hudgins and Tommy Usrey, president and CEO of the Arts Council. The silent auction was geared to expose the pronounced creative talent prevalent in the Monroe area.

Fifty cooks and 25 bartenders were on hand to refresh the crowds, while the anything-but-moribund band Code Blue & the Flatliners provided dinner music. The evening’s mixologists, among whom were Hal Moffett IV, Todd Hilburn and Tim Kane, kept everyone’s whistle wet with refreshing mint juleps and various other potables.

Among the cooks, Jose Ferrer and Tom Bryant whipped up dishes of Spanish omelet, tuna fish pie and paella, and Jim Norris contributed a variety of homemade breads. Eric Maunz and Tom Graff presented smoked dry-rub baby back riblets with accompanying sauces for dipping, while the wood-fired pizza offered by Ryan Sartor, Lee Tugwell and Ben Marshall helped feed the crowd. Chicken-fried alligator bites were the specialty of Charlie Simpson, and a savory, spicy pork roast provided by Bob Stratton and Ken Purcell filled plates with succulent slices.
News Brief Follow the Flood

Despite all eyes watching the oil spill catastrophe in the Gulf of Mexico, the devastation caused by a torrential spring weather system that flooded Nashville, Tenn., did not escape notice in the Bayou State. Monroe residents and Red Cross volunteers Wanda and Robert Hogan departed their home city for Nashville soon after the organization sent out a cry for help.

“It was an appeal,” said Anne Patten, executive director of the Northeast Louisiana Chapter of the American Red Cross, in the Monroe News Star. Describing the Hogans as seasoned workers who are highly trained, Patten said these Katrina veterans were ready to leave almost at once for Nashville.

Waiting on standby to be dispatched is the local agency’s emergency response vehicle.

For more information about the Northeast Louisiana Chapter of the Red Cross or to donate, call (318) 323-5141. 


Cause to Celebrate Powwow in Marksville

This past May, Marksville was alive with the reverent sound of tribal chants and gourd dances as the splendor and color of the Tunica-Biloxi tribe met for its 15th annual powwow.

American Indian craftsman, dancers and artisans from across America converged  in open celebration of the beauty of their remarkable culture. Designed to expose and keep alive the invaluable national treasure of American Indian heritage, the powwow was also a family reunion of sorts.

“Getting to put the powwow together gives [the Tunica-Biloxi tribe] an annual point to get together … it’s quite a sight to behold,” said Jean Luc Pierite, according to David Dinsmore of the Town Talk.

Interwoven amid all this cultural beauty was the performance of Bill Miller, whose mastery of the haunting American Indian flute seems to have captured the lonely voice of the wind and the ancient soulful cry of his ancestors. This brilliant singer-songwriter has won multiple American Indian music awards in addition to two Grammys.

The event, co-hosted by the Paragon Casino Resort, began each day with a grand entry ceremony wherein dancers who represented different tribes and their traditions paraded into the grounds to driving American Indian rhythms, resplendent in native garb.

Dancers Cuicani in Xochitl represented the Aztec tribe of South America. The Tunica-Biloxi Singers and Legend Keepers provided music and lore.

The week preceding the powwow, “mini powwows” were conducted with an open invitation for schoolchildren.  Dancing demonstrations, as well as history and religion, drum music and arts and crafts mini-seminars were held.  The Otter Trail Singers, who hailed from Ardmore, Okla., and the Alamoosic Lake Singers from Maine carried out the drum music demonstrations, representative of both northern and southern regions.

Not only did students get the opportunity to join in tribal dances but Tom “Strong Buffalo” Varnado also was on hand to teach them how to use American Indian tools and toys.

“It’s important to pass on this culture and let people know we’re here,” said Pierite. “It’s especially important for Indian kids and non-Indian kids to learn about it.”
News Brief United We Read

According to Spc. Amy Barber’s recent report that appeared in the Cenla Focus, soldiers belonging to the Louisiana National Guard’s 256th Infantry Brigade Combat Team, 13th Sustainment Command (Expeditionary) recently turned recording artists of a sort with the assistance of the United Services Organization, which has consistently done its best to ease the life of soldiers and families separated by war. The USO has now joined with the United Through Reading program held at Camp Buehring, Kuwait. Military men and women select a favorite book to read aloud for a personal recording. The DVD is sent home accompanied by the actual book and a love note. The program in turn encourages the recipients to gather together and read the book while watching the DVD.

It’s a comforting way to experience the “presence” of the deployed loved one together. This loving little surprise bundle is mailed out to families at no cost to soldiers.

Pineville native Sgt. 1st class Gwen J. Haliburton was thrilled to discover among the books offered for reading her daughter Delana’s favorite, Chicka Chicka Boom Boom.

USO employee Malcolm Mason considers the program a valuable morale booster: “The bottom line is all about opportunities at the USO to boost the morale of troops in having a positive experience at this particular point in their life and sending it homebound,” said Mason.
Profile Pineville Project

When an English teacher recently gave Anna Todd, a Pineville High School senior, the assignment of picking a project to work on about which she was “impassioned,” Todd didn’t have to think twice.

She immediately channeled her energies into a project about St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital with a sense of gratitude and dedication — six years ago, her beloved cousin, Evan Sanders, was a patient at St. Jude’s. Todd marveled at the difference the Memphis, Tenn., hospital made in their lives throughout the ordeal of Evan’s treatment.

The young woman set a goal to earn $5,000 to donate to St. Jude’s. Todd knew she had set an almost impossibly large goal for herself, but admirably resourceful, she held a garage sale, personally organized a local golf tournament and held a community car wash. She was so busy attempting to earn the $5,000 that when she finally found time to count her earnings, she found that she had more than double the amount –– $11,000.

The teen was invited by St. Jude’s to personally present the very oversize check proudly endorsed with her name.

With a grateful heart, she acknowledges the role St. Jude’s played in saving Evan, who was able to share the stage with her when they both graduated from Pineville High last May.

To offer assistance to St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital, visit


News Brief Vigilance in Vermilion

According to Chris Rosa reporting in, Office of Emergency Preparedness Assistant Director Tim Creswell was up in arms over the oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Rising to take his place in the coastal-wide gauntlet to prevent the oozy slime from ruining Louisiana’s pristine ecosystem, Creswell updated Vermilion Parish’s police jury on the progress.

Creswell reported the results of a meeting with Gov. Bobby Jindal wherein he was assured that Vermillion Parish would play a large role in protecting its coast.

“He was adamant that local officials be involved in the process,” Creswell said. “The Coast Guard will do nothing the parishes do not approve. We completed a list of what should be done if the oil comes here.  … This is not my first oil spill. If it comes, you can’t stop it all.”

Nevertheless determined to stop as much of the spill as possible, Creswell met with officials from Iberia and St. Mary parishes to discuss placement of booms to most effectively stymie the spreading slick. Using a map to demonstrate, Creswell identified the location of the first booms on the east side of Marsh Island.

Cause to Celebrate get on your bikes, and ride!

Early in May of this year, Vermilion Parish was a fitting stop for 55 cyclists participating in the American Red Cross Tour de Rouge. 

This 535-mile trek that lasted for six days began in Houston, wound its way through Abbeville and along the Louisiana Gulf Coast and ended in the Big Easy. Its purpose was to garner the assistance of seriously fitness-minded folks while raising money for the American Red Cross.

The American Red Cross Tour du Rouge participants were required to raise money to cover their expenses. Once in Abbeville, after traveling through Beaumont, Texas, the bikers fueled up with some fine eats from Comeaux’s Cafe and then breakfast the next morning at Caffe Maria. In the sweet May air of a Louisiana still not embroiled in the heat of summer, the group wound its way to Avery Island, Morgan City and finally cooled off in the Big Easy.

It was the intent of the American Red Cross to use this route as a thank you by immersing fundraisers in the unique culture, music and food of each South Louisiana city on their sojourn, perhaps shaking hands with some of the abundant wildlife they met on the way.

Louisiana-Grown Oil Slick Introspection

Perhaps you come to a time when you experience your own personal oil slick — something I went through recently  when careless workmen trashed my home and I had to relocate to another one. I only know that in the midst of this move of mine, discarding and/or packing nine years’ accumulation of books, papers, clothes — oh God, everything — the place I really wish to be is on the Louisiana coast among the otters, egrets, roseate spoonbills and pelicans. Their home was endangered by this oil spill.  Surveying my own personal debris at the moment, I wished to be clad in Wellingtons and rubber gloves, a bottle of Dawn in my hand. I had the strongest desire to bathe those little oil-coated animals that might drift in with their pristine, Eden-like beauty smudged by someone’s carelessness. I’m devastated to hear of the animals damaged by oil, and I want to help them however I can. I would be glad just to be on watch for them as that nice lady with the big glasses from Delaware shows me the proper way to handle them. There’s something about caring for a little animal that links you to all creation.


Baton Rouge/Plantation Country

News Brief Deputized

Newly elected New Orleans Mayor Mitch Landrieu’s vision of a deputy mayors system, modeled on similar chains of command in New York and Chicago, is coming to fruition. According to the Baton Rouge Advocate, joining Landrieu’s team of six deputy mayors is Donaldsonville resident and Ascension Parish Chief Administrative Officer Cedric Grant. Grant is no stranger to New Orleans mayoral administrations, having served there as CAO and deputy CAO. He once worked as deputy secretary of the state highway department under Gov. Kathleen Blanco. From 2004 to 2008, Grant managed road and highways projects for Parsons Corp. in Atlanta. 

Grant has been Ascension Parish President Tommy Martinez’s go-to guy, especially in the crusade to establish a regional sewage treatment system on the east bank of the parish. Following Hurricane Gustav, he worked extensively in the recovery grant program as well as working on developing a more viable business model for Gonzales’ Lamar-Dixon Expo Center.

Grant’s work in the Landrieu administration will cover facilities, community development and infrastructure; he will also coordinate with public works departments and capital projects to facilitate rebuilding and upkeep of roads and buildings. 

“We will have a hard time replacing someone with Cedric’s experience and knowledge,” said Martinez. “I know he will do a good job in New Orleans, and I am proud that he got this job.”

Fork in the Road Boutin’s on Bluebonnet

Boutin’s Restaurant offers lively entertainment accompanied by servings of delicious Cajun food. You could begin your meal with an appetizer, soup and salad and not have to progress on to the equally delicious entrees, so filling and enjoyable are the preliminary dishes. Crawfish won tons, delightfully puffy little treats, are filled with crawfish wrapped in a won ton skin, nestling amid Parmesan and pepper jack cheeses, accompanied by the green heat of jalapeño cooled down by plum-ginger sauce. While you’re waiting for your bowl of étouffée, bisque or gumbo, you might want to nibble on Poche’s Andouille –– a spicy and delicious slowly grilled pork that demands to be savored.

Crabmeat-stuffed mushrooms that are deep-fried after being coddled in bread crumbs are a wonderful segue to the corn and crab bisque. This sweet blend of Louisiana crabmeat melds perfectly with the flavor of creamy corn.

Highly recommended either with or before your soup course is the Zydeco Salad, a mélange of romaine and iceberg lettuces, Roma tomatoes, carrots, spring mix, eggs and croutons all topped with the flavorful glory of blackened catfish and chicken and grilled shrimp and andouille.

Boutin’s Restaurant, 8322 Bluebonnet Road, Baton Rouge, (225) 819-9862.

Greater New Orleans

Profile Photographic Pencils
Placing a drawing pencil in ninth-grader Meredith Graf’s hands is like shooting a photograph. Just finishing her freshman year at Louise S. McGehee School in New Orleans, Graf has already received national accolades for her artwork –– and with little wonder.  Her pencil drawing of former President George W. Bush captures every careworn line on his face and the expression in his eyes, showing an artistic insight well beyond her years. After Katrina, Graf gifted Bush with a sketch of his hands, a symbolic gesture of the outreach of help he extended to the stricken city. In honor of her artwork, Graf was invited to the White House. 

This gifted award-winning young artist, who works in a variety of art media, was recently asked by the Endangered Species Coalition to design the trophy that will be given to its 2010 art contest winner.  To commemorate Endangered Species Day this past May, young artists were encouraged to submit their work in a contest. 

According to Leda Huta, executive director of the Endangered Species Coalition, Graf was a perfect choice to design the trophy.

“She is a gifted artist … we are proud to have her represent the ideals of preservation and conservation that are at the heart of the contest,” said Huta. 

In 2004, Graf produced an oil painting of the Louisiana flag that included then-Rep. Bobby Jindal’s name and the parishes in his district that won first place in the Louisiana Junior Duck Stamp competition. Jindal accepted the painting in person at her school.

Worth Watching (in Retrospect) Sauvé’s Crevasse 

Ten years ago, I was about to move to a home on the 17th Street Canal, but these plans “annoyingly” fell through, and I was diverted to a home on the Mississippi River levee in River Ridge instead.   The spot on the 17th Street Canal levee where I was to live turned out to be the site of the breach caused by Katrina.

God was with me. The angels were guiding me. However you want to view it, I dodged a major bullet.

In that transitory period of twilight one recent evening, I was walking the base of the levee where I now live, suddenly overwhelmed with curiosity about the history of the area –– so I dived into a little research. 

River Ridge was once the site of many sugar plantations, one of which belonged to Pierre Sauvé and lay 17 miles from New Orleans.  In early May 1849, the high waters of the Mississippi broke the levee on his land.  In what became known as Sauvé’s Crevasse, the Mississippi rampantly spilled through the irreparable break until June 20 when two engineers managed to staunch it. 

This was the last Mississippi River flood to hit New Orleans: By May 15, the waters reached Rampart Street and spilled into what is now Uptown and the Central Business District of New Orleans. The flood reached as far as Oak Street.  Floodwaters reached a height of 12 feet, and 12,000 residents were displaced from or stranded in their homes.  The depth and areas flooded by the waters of Sauvé’s Crevasse exceeded the devastation wrought by Katrina. 

Soon after the water finally receded, New Orleans was hit by a cholera epidemic.