Another week of fun in the Capital City is now history. I mean, you can't go wrong with a little opera, a little motherly love and honoring some of our most special women.
Twenty-seven years ago at the first St. Elizabeth Foundation Gala, co-chairwomen Terri LeBlanc and Pam Kinamore were beyond excited by the 75 attendees. Terri hasn't chaired the event in several years, and in 2002, Pam was a victim of serial killer Derrick Todd Lee. But the gala they helped birth is stronger than ever, with more than 300 milling about the L'Auberge Event Center on the night of May 12.
St. Elizabeth has named an award in Kinamore's memory. This year's recipient was Gay Town, who helped found St. Elizabeth's with husband A. Hays Town Jr. in 1988. The gala also had a bittersweet moment. Last year, three "St. Elizabeth babies" (20-year-old Katie Keogh, 22-year-old Harrison McClure and 25-year-old Michael Thomas Aucoin) were taken from their families — two in tragic accidents and one suddenly from cardiomegaly.
Fortunately, gala Chairwoman Michelle Bohan enlisted comedian "Ragin' Cajun" John Morgan, who with wife Lori adopted their children through St. Elizabeth, to conduct the night's live auction. You couldn't help but have a smile on your face with his antics.
Assisting Bohan were committee members Ashley Blanchard, Stephanie Champagne, Erin Hoffman, Mekel LeBoeuf, Katherine May, Susan Meng, Lauren Mercier, Heather Dornier Mouchon, Aimée Riggs, Kati Weaver, Marie Allen, LeBlanc and the Towns.
My final stop for the night was Opéra Louisiane's 10th Anniversary Gala Concert at the Raising Cane's River Center Theatre for the Performing Arts. The performance was well underway when I snuck in, but lucky for me, I made it in time to hear most of the guest soloists, which included Executive Director Leanne Clement, Elizabeth Beers Kataria, Hope Briggs, Daniella Mack, Chauncey Parker, Mark Walters, Dennis Jesse and Carl Tanner. It was Tanner's "Nessun dorma" finale that left me with goosebumps and tears, and most of those sitting near me, especially when the Opéra Louisiane chorus and fellow performers joined in. It was a truly magical moment, and those of us who were invited to stay behind for a VIP on-stage Champagne reception cheered everyone on.
Friday began with the dedication of McKinley Middle Academic Magnet School for the Visual & Performing Arts Theater as the Lynn Whitfield Theater of Performing Arts. Best known for her Emmy-winning portrayal of Josephine Baker and for her current role as Lady Mae in "Greenleaf" on the Oprah Winfrey Network, Whitfield was overwhelmed with the talent on display in a program that included a tribute to her career by McKinley students as well as the love she said she was feeling from the packed theater. There were hugs all around as she joined the students and Principal Sean Joffrion.
"We need to pick up McKinley Magnet School and take it to Washington, D.C., and say 'art matters!'" said Whitfield. "Baton Rouge has always been the wind at my back. … This is such a gift to be able to do something you love everyday. Continue doing the magnificent job you're doing. I can't wait to hang around here, maybe teach some classes."
Cheering from the audience were school Superintendent Warren Drake, School Board members Evelyn Ware-Jackson and Connie Bernard, Metro Councilwoman Tara Wicker and family members mom Jean Butler-Smith, sisters Kimberly Butler-Smith and Shawne Emery, brother Valerian Butler-Smith and daughter Grace Gibson.
Honoring law enforcement
My next stop was the Crowne Plaza, where the Baton Rouge Association of Women Attorneys was holding its 24th annual Lay Day Luncheon honoring local law enforcement. In a very appropriate deviation from past years, the organization bestowed departmentwide honors on the entire Baton Rouge Police Department and East Baton Rouge Sheriff's Office in the wake of summer 2016. Police Chief Carl Dabadie and Sheriff Sid Gautreaux were unable to personally accept the awards because they were in Washington, D.C., for National Law Enforcement Week events, but they were ably represented by Deputy Chief David Hamilton and Col. Lawrence McLeary. The emotional introduction and presentation was done by East Baton Rouge Parish District Attorney Hillar Moore III. Singled out for their service over the past year were police officers Robin Ducote and Argolba Lovely, who graduated from the Police Academy together.
This year's luncheon had a second agenda — to raise money to purchase high-impact bulletproof vests for local law enforcement. BRAWA President Jan Reeves proudly announced that enough money had been raised to purchase 30 of the $350 life-saving vests in conjunction with InVEST in Our Heroes.
It's hard to believe it's been seven years since Peggy Sweeney-McDonald created the "Meanwhile, Back at Café du Monde …" food monologue show. She invited me and several other storytellers to join her May 10 at a special anniversary performance at the LSU Museum of Art.
Peggy, as usual, kicked things off with how the show came to be; I shared my "It's Got Green Stuff" story; Jim Urdiales, chef/owner of Mestizo's Louisiana Mexican Restaurant, told us about "The Cajun Mexican"; James Fox-Smith, publisher of Country Roads Magazine and a native of Australia, gave "The Vegemite Defense"; Kara Castille, owner of Thee Heavenly Donut, shared "The Life, Love & Art of the Donut Queen"; radio personality Jim Engster talked about "Life at Louie's"; and Karen and Bill Profita disclosed how they've lost control of their annual holiday fête.
Missy Crews, a childhood friend of Peggy's and a former Miss Louisiana, deviated from her "Caution, Nostalgia Can be High in Calories" tale to crown Peggy queen of Café du Monde, complete with crown and scepter. "She's never let me live it down that I have a crown," quipped Missy. "Now she's got one, too."
The Baton Rouge Country Club was the setting for Mary Bird Perkins - Our Lady of the Lake Cancer Center's annual Volunteer Appreciation Luncheon on May 9. Special guests of honor were Bob and Bev Jones, recipients of the Anna B. Lipsey Memorial Volunteer Service Award presented by Susan and Richard Lipsey, who also hosted the luncheon. Together, the Joneses have donated some 4,670 hours — Bev for 17 years, Bob for 15 — to the center.
"Volunteers make Mary Bird Perkins the great facility it is," said Richard Lispey. "The smiles on your faces are truly healing to our patients."
"In every patient survey, our volunteers consistently get the highest marks," echoed board Chairman Brett Furr. "Without a doubt, your service makes a difference."
Volunteer Services manager Leslie Mcardle also recognized several other volunteers, including Evelyn Gautreau, 24 years; Guy Jenkins, 22 years; Helen Badeaux, 21 years; Gilbert Strueh, 337 hours; Trudy LeBoeuf, 311 hours; and the teams from Healing Place Church and LSU animal therapy group.
'Celebration of Change'
Later that afternoon, I headed downtown to the Shaw Center for the Arts' Manship Theatre and Volunteers of America Greater Baton Rouge's "Celebration of Change" event. Row captain Sherry McBeath was my host. Things got underway with a reception before guests went into the theatre for the formal portion of the event, which included a heart-wrenching video, "No One Left Behind," shot and edited by Marc Goldstein, of Creative Video Productions. Introduced by CAO Janet Pace, it tells the story of how VOA helped Scribbles & Giggles Learning Center reopen its doors in the wake of last summer's historic flood. It was one of 40 day cares impacted by the gallons of water that inundated the area. Like most area nonprofits, VOA found its staff and resources stretched to the max as it worked to fulfill its mission to "reach and uplift all people and bring them to the knowledge and active service of God."
You can check out the video at voagbr.org/our-stories#sthash.wyefUzsZ.dpuf
Women of Distinction
Now to those remarkable women, seven of whom were celebrated at Girl Scouts Louisiana East Women of Distinction luncheon, which was held at the Renaissance Hotel. The several hundred guests were welcomed by luncheon Chairwoman Mary-Patricia Wray and emcee Jacques Rodrigue, who got to present one of the awards to his wife, Mallory Page, of New Orleans, who was recently named one of the "12 Southern Artists to Buy Now" by Southern Living magazine.
Her fellow honorees were Baton Rouge Mayor-President Sharon Weston Broome; Katie Corkern, of Amite, executive director of Northshore Families Helping Families; Michelle Forte, development manager of distinguished events for the American Cancer Society; Kelli Joseph, superintendent of St. Helena Parish School District; Robyn Merrick, chief of staff for the Southern University System and the council's past board chairwoman; and the late Artie Lacour, who was instrumental in integrating the local Girl Scouts in the 1960s. "My mother was a quiet difference maker," said son Van Lacour in accepting the award.
Former veteran board member Linda Law Clark issued the appeal for support for the council. Assisting Wray and Clark on the luncheon committee were Bethany France, council CEO Jacqueline Alexander and Merrick.
In between all the party hopping, I managed a date with husband Jim to a special weeknight wine dinner at Matherne's Market. Guest of honor was Mark Beringer, the fifth-generation winemaker at Beringer Winery in Napa Valley. We were lucky enough to have him sitting at our table for the scrumptious dinner prepared by Kathy and Bill Hounshell. The wines selected by Mark and Glazer reps Jennifer Carville and John Skidmore were perfection.