Wow, what a fun week last week! Several groups had some really big moments, and I’m honored I got to help them all celebrate.

Opening Night

One of the week’s highlights was the Baton Rouge Symphony’s Opening Night Gala Sept. 25 and an amazing performance featuring pianist Jonathan Biss. This year’s gala, hosted by Whitney Vann and husband Robert Schneckenberger, was kicked up several notches from past years with a formal sit-down dinner with wine pairings in the Hilton Capital Center’s Heidelberg Ballroom.

Special guest for the evening was Paula Pennington de la Bretonne, who at the beginning of the concert delighted the audience by announcing that internationally renowned opera soprano Renée Fleming will return to perform with the orchestra for the May 13 Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Foundation’s Great Performers in Concert.

We tried to get Paula to let her fellow dinner guests in on the secret at the gala but she remained tight-lipped. Music director Timothy Muffitt, however, was very forthcoming though about the “world-class” artists performing with BRSO this season, themed “Explorers & Discoveries.”

CEO Cary Byrd did the honors in announcing a $1 million challenge grant from the Pennington Foundation. For every new or increased donation until the end of the year, the foundation will match it dollar for dollar up to $500,000. First to step up are members of the symphony board and its staff.

Biss’ performance of Beethoven’s “Emperor” concerto was a magnificent way to start off the season. The graceful way he moved his fingers across the keyboard was fascinating to watch. One of my dinner partners, 9-year-old Ellie Nagem, daughter of Terez and Sammy Nagem and herself a piano student, had the honor of presenting Biss with a bouquet of a dozen red roses at the end of his performance.

Biss snuck into the audience for the orchestra’s stirring performance of Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4. At times I fully expected Muffitt to levitate from the conductor’s podium, he was so powerfully conducting the orchestra.

The concert was followed by a champagne toast in the River Center Theatre lobby, where a few of us got to congratulate and thank Biss for helping make our evening absolutely blissful.

Women’s Week

Earlier that day, I had lunch with roomful of go-getters at the Women’s Council of Greater Baton Rouge’s Women’s Week luncheon at the Marriott. The luncheon kicked off nine days of more than 125 events throughout the Capital City.

Alejandra “Alex” Juan, executive director of the USS Veterans Museum and a decorated veteran herself, was the day’s featured speaker. She held us all spellbound with her life’s story, earning her a standing ovation. That determination and drive has helped her turn around the Kidd’s financial situation, reducing a $500,000 debt to $200,000 in just 12 months. One way she’s done that is by increasing attendance 500 percent since she took over the helm in 2013.

BUST Breast Cancer

An array of fashionable art bras were in the spotlight on the night of Sept. 24 for BUST Breast Cancer fashion spectacular. More than 800 guests filled the L’Auberge ballroom for the annual event, which benefits Woman’s Hospital’s breast cancer outreach program. Specifically, proceeds from this year’s event will be used to help purchase a second mobile mammography coach, which provides mammograms to underserved women throughout Louisiana.

Dr. Mindy Bowie, Adrienne Moore and Metro Councilman John Delgado had the arduous task of selecting this year’s winning bras. Janie LaPrairie’s and Katherine Ragland’s “The Phoenix & Wings,” modeled by Amber Harris, was proclaimed “Breast Overall.” Richie Adams’ “Bustier D’espoir” (Bra of Hope) got the nod as “Most Mammerable,” modeled by Patricia Calfee. Taking home the award for “Cups of Creativity” was Chris Jarreau’s “Kissing for the Cure,” modeled by Natalie Binfold. Brooke Strikeleather was proclaimed the winning model for her runway strut, “Stepping Out for Breast Cancer.”

Other artists showcasing their creations included Rachel Anderson, Lily Betancourt, T.J. Black, Kate Bradshaw, Katie Cheatham, Lauren Collingnon, Jessica Comeaux, Sally Fox Conklin, Adrienne Connelly, Paul Connelly, M.E. Cormier, Jeannine Dixon, Patrice Ellis, Grace Emden, Jessica Beauvais, Karen Firnberg, Kayleigh Foster, Becky Gottsegen, Janene Grodesky and Rodneya Hart.

Also, Kelly Haskew, Rose Landry, Demond Matsuo, Jacqui McBride, Brittany Mores, Neda Parandian, Aly Quintero, Katie Rogers, Sarah Simmons, Casey Stannard, Pam Steinsiek, Amy Strother, Kristy Kerran, Bridget Tiek, Lisa Toth, Trey Trahan, Becky Walker, Pam Westbrook and Alex Zurek.

Before the 40 models showcased this year’s entries on the runway, guests sampled the culinary delights provided by 18 Steak, Bin 77 Bistro & Wine, Brew Ha-Ha, Fleming’s Prime Steakhouse, Hanley’s Foods, Kona Grill, Louisiana Pit Perfect Caterers, Nothing Bundt Cakes, Sammy’s Catering, Sullivan’s, Tramonte’s Catering, Truly Scrumptious and Woman’s Way Café.

Check out the entries online at

WRKF anniversary

WRKF Public Radio celebrated its 35th anniversary with a luncheon Sept. 22 at the Crowne Plaza. Featured speaker for the event was the inimitable James Carville, who didn’t bite his tongue when talking about the governor’s race and the issues facing Louisiana.

“We’re a culture, not just a place,” said Carville. “Our way of life is our quality of life, and until we understand that — what culture is — we’re in jeopardy of losing it … Political leadership matters. The No. 1 issue is monuments, according to the candidates. People, we’re facing a financial crisis of major order.”

Also on the day’s agenda was the presentation of the first-ever WRKF Founders Award, which recognizes the “outstanding contribution” to the station in honor of its founders. The award was presented posthumously to Lew Carter, who from 1980 until his retirement this past April hosted the popular “Music Makers” show.

Greek Happy Hour

Sandwiched in the midst of these celebrations was the Baton Rouge Alumnae Panhellenic’s All Greek Happy Hour get-together at Blend. Local alumnae from 26 National Panhellenic Council sororities turned out to sip wine, nosh on hors d’oeuvres and socialize.

Proceeds from a raffle benefited BRAP’s Outstanding Greek Scholarship, which is presented each year to an outstanding LSU sorority member. The alumnae group with the most attendees received a donation to its alumnae’s local philanthropy.

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