Two of my favorite spring events took place on the same night, April 27, which meant I had to miss one of them. Fortunately, co-worker Karen Martin was headed to the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation’s 12th annual Denim & Diamonds Gala and agreed to take photos for me. That left me free to experience Big Buddy’s seventh annual “Dancing for Big Buddy” extravaganza.

‘Dancing for Big Buddy’

This year’s Star Dancers and their partners cha-cha’d, hustled, rumbaed, tangoed and waltzed to the delight of a 1,000-plus audience at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center. When all was said and done, Shelly Beall’s and partner Leonard Augustus’ sizzling Bollywood routine earned her the female audience choice and Most Daring dance awards, and Ob Soonthornsima and partner Erin Gilbert brought down the house with their “Gangnam Style” routine and earned him the male audience choice and Most Surprising routine awards. Judges Lynne Spears (yes, Britney’s mom), Advocate columnist Smiley Anders, WJBO’s Richard Condon and Baton Rouge Area Foundation Vice President John Spain even donned their sunglasses and danced along.

Ralph Stephens, who donned a skeleton body suit for his rumba with Johanna Collier, took home the prize for most online votes and another for Best Costume. Wayne Talbot’s Latin fusion routine with Renée Chatelain earned him the award for most text votes as well as the prize for Most Suave dance.

Other prizes, presented by event co-chairmen Rock Rockenbaugh and Reid Bateman, went to Michelle Pricer, attired in her drum major outfit and accompanied by the Dunham School drum line, and partner Van Vo, Most Dazzling; Rosa Flores and partner LéBrian Patrick, Spiciest; Jim Urdiales and partner Kristen Byrd, Sassiest; Nanette McCann and partner Peter Wischusen, Most Fun (and several judges asking to be sent to this Baton Rouge Magnet High School principal’s office); Dr. Ann Zedlitz and partner Augustus, Best Technique (“For the life of me, I don’t know why we need Obamacare with medicine like that,” said Spain); and Kelli and Dr. Doug Mendoza, Best Couple.

Also, LSU women’s basketball coach Nikki Caldwell and partner Patrick, Fastest Feet and the comment, “Pistol Pete may have built this building but tonight you own it,” from Spain; John Tyler and partner Byrd, Highest Energy; Heather Kleinpeter Savoy and partners Ric Carpenter and Brandon Wisner, Most Showmanship; and Scott Kaiser and partner Courtney Black, Most Graceful.

Also entertaining us were the Little Buddy Dancers, attired in costumes made by the McKinley High School Fashion Club. Their routine, choreographed by Donna Blanchard and Lisa White with Powell-Moise School of Dance, earned them an enthusiastic standing ovation.

On a more serious side, Chase Bank Baton Rouge President Robert Schneckenburger presented Executive Director Gaylynne Mack with a check for $40,000, while former Baton Rouge Police Chief Jeff LeDuff made a financial appeal on behalf of Big Buddy. “Big Buddy is a safety net. It catches kids before they fall through the cracks,” he said. “As they say, pay now of pay later … I assure you donating to Big Buddy is a lot cheaper.”

WBRZ news anchors Sylvia Weatherspoon and John Pastorek once again served as emcees for the evening.

‘Derby After Dark’

While everyone was all gussied up for “Dancing for Big Buddy,” jeans and cowboy boots were the main uniform at this year’s Denim & Diamonds Gala, “Derby After Dark.” Carolyn and Dan Heard turned over their stables for the evening, which included a tempting silent auction and fabulous live auction.

Bringing in the most dough were a ski vacation in Crested Butte, Colo., which went for around $10,000, and the adorable yellow male Labrador retriever puppy that went for $8,000.

Handling auctioneer duties were Denny Bass and Charles Landry. Kelly Hurtado was the evening’s emcee.

Barry Kilpatrick and Ben Marmande, both with IberiaBank, were gala co-chairmen. Serving on the committee were Susan Love, Gina Ellison, Kristy Andries, Karen Bass, Jeff Tessier, Walter Price, Andrea Randall, Kameron Aaron, Leigh Davis, Meredith Eicher, Alexandra Falcon and Tamara Palmer.

School House Rock

City Year held its annual School House Rock end-of-the-year celebration April 25 at the Hilton Capitol Center. The evening honored corps members who dedicated a year of full-time service to help keep students on track to graduate. As guests walked down the main corridor leading to the Riverview Ballroom, several of those City Year corps members welcomed them with a pep rally-style routine.

Honored at this year’s event for their continued support to education were United States Sen. Mary Landrieu and Lane Grigsby, founder and CEO of Cajun Industries.

Guests also heard personal stories from corps members Kate Sheeder, Volunteer Louisiana team; DéVante Wiley and Jonathan Morris, Capital Area United Way team; Laura Boles and Eboni Preston, Albemarle Foundation team; and Jourden Martin, Entergy Louisiana team, about the impact of their service on their students as well as their own lives.

Also speaking were Broadmoor Middle School eighth-grader Demond Brown, state Superintendent of Education John White, East Baton Rouge Parish School Superintendent Bernard Taylor, City Year Executive Director Laura Hamm, City Year Regional Vice President Stephen Spaloss, board President Laura Poché and presenting sponsor Todd Graves of Raising Cane’s.


Stop No. 2 this night was the Arthritis Association’s ART-ini Shake Rattle, Taste & Show at Boudreaux’s. Not only does this event include a very competitive martini competition but live and silent auctions, live music, jewelry from designer Ana Andricain’s Jewels of Havana and appetizers provided by Boudreaux’s.

Last year’s martini winner, Mansurs on the Boulevard, created a special Jag-tini for the evening to showcase corporate sponsor Paretti Jaguar. It also repeated as this year’s first-place winner with its “Afternoon Delight” martini. Most Original martini went to Capital City Grill, which also won People’s Choice, and Most Creative to Kona Grill.

Also competing for this year’s martini bragging rights were Beausoleil, Bistro Byronz, Ruffino’s and Stroube’s. Judges were Madeleine Ahlgren, Lisa Boudreaux, Michael Breard, Laura Brignac, Holly Clegg, David Manship and Danny Ritter.

Shine Your Light

My last stop of the evening was the Shine Your Light for the Poorest of the Poor Gala at the Renaissance Hotel, which raised funds to help construct the Rev. Glenn Meaux’s Village of Hope mission in Kobonal, Haiti, which was devastated in the 2010 earthquake. The list of event chairmen read like a who’s who: Kevin Couhig, Matt Edwards, Beth and Norman Ferachi, Linda and Tom Flynn, Frances and former Speaker of the Louisiana House Bubba Henry, emcee Leo Honeycutt, retired Supreme Court Justice Kitty Kimball and husband Clyde, Noelle and former state Rep. Sam LeBlanc, Ann Halphen and Bill Schulenberg, Marcy and former Secretary of the Department of Natural Resources Frank Simoneaux and Nancy Vinci.

LeBlanc, Henry, Kimball and Simoneaux weren’t the only former politicians in the audience either. They were joined by former Gov. Edwin Edwards, former Lt. Gov. Bobby Freeman and former Insurance Commissioner Jim Brown. “If I had all of the fertilizer we shoveled when we were politicians …,” quipped LeBlanc as he introduced them all.

Edwards and wife Trina put up lunch with them for their new reality TV show in the evening’s live auction. It went for $1,200. Chef John Folse, who prepared the evening’s meal, brought in $8,000 apiece for two dinners for 20 — one in Baton Rouge and one in Lafayette, and Gladys Brown got a $17,500 diamond tennis bracelet for $7,000. My dinner companion, Charlie Cole, and wife Cathy earned another nice chunk of change for Meaux’s mission by offering a one-week stay at their cottage in France’s Brittany region.

Culinary Arts …

A lively live auction and tempting silent auction were part of the festivities at the Grief Recovery Center’s Culinary Arts for Healing Hearts April 23 at Chef John Folse’s White Oak Plantation. Winning the culinary competition, as voted on by the several hundred attendees, were DeAngelo’s of Central, Best Dish Overall for its White Chocolate Bread Pudding; Big Al’s Jazz It Up!, Best Appetizer for his Jazz It Up! Meatballs; Don’s Seafood & Steakhouse, Best Entrée, for its Crab Au Gratin; and Nothing Bundt Cakes, Best Dessert for its bundt cake samples.

Other participating restaurants and caterers included Chris’ Specialty Meats, Family Traditions Catering, Heirloom Cuisine, Kleinpeter Dairy, L’Auberge Casino & Hotel, Lauryn’s Fine Catering, Paul Foret, Supper Solutions, White Oak Plantation, Woman’s Hospital and Zolia Bistro.

Halos for Hope

Pam Picou Chenevert is a master at marshalling her friends for a good cause. As the development director of Hope Academy, she’s created Halos for Hope to raise money for this school which caters to students who may have been unsuccessful or marginalized in other settings. Those unique students include those with ADHD, autism, Asperger’s syndrome, dyslexia, Down syndrome and learning disabilities, as well as those who are gifted and who benefit from a low pupil/teacher ratio.

Several Halos got together for lunch April 23 to turn in the money they’d raised so far, and to talk about additional fundraising efforts. For more information on Hope Academy, call (225) 293-0141 or visit the website,

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