Launch awareness walk set in Denham Springs

An awareness walk to support the Launch Therapeutic Preschool and Therapy Center will be held Oct. 31 at the Denham Springs High School stadium.

Launch is a new nonprofit organization that offers programs for children with disabilities and their families. The local program serves children 18 and younger with disabilities by offering outpatient therapy services, social groups for children with autism, and religious education.

Executive Director Chantelle Varnado worked for 14 years in Livingston Parish public schools as well as Children’s Hospital of Richmond at Virginia Commonwealth University as a speech-language pathologist.

Activities include a 1-mile family fun walk/run, a 5K run, games and activities for children of all ages and abilities. The 5K run begins at 8 a.m., with other activities 9 a.m. to noon. Proceeds will be used to fund costs for the programs offered by Launch.

Launch Theraputic Preschool and Therapy Center is at the Immaculate Conception Church, 865 Hatchell Lane in Denham Springs. For information, visit or, or email

EBR attorney honored for child advocacy

Leslie Lacy, an attorney with the Child Advocacy Program of Louisiana Mental Health Advocacy Services, received the Catherine Lafleur Legal Advocacy for Children & Families Award at the Together We Can Conference Oct. 13-15 in Lafayette.

Lacy has spent seven years representing abused and neglected children in foster care in East Baton Rouge Parish. She advocates for her clients’ best interests, ensures their voices are heard and helps them reach safe, permanent homes.

The staff of Capital Area CASA (Court Appointed Special Advocate) Association nominated Lacy for the award. CASA recruits, trains and supervises volunteers who serve as advocates for children in foster care. Lacy often works with Capital Area CASA’s staff and volunteers to strategize and further advance her clients’ best interests.

The award was created in memory of Lafleur, an attorney and law professor who worked to protect abused and neglected children in Louisiana. She lost her battle with cancer in 2006.

SLU honors top alums, hands out other awards

Col. Stanley John Whidden, of Fairfax, Virginia, a U.S. Army physician and scientist and an expert in incident management, chemical and bioterrorism risk analysis, was recognized as Southeastern’s Alumnus of the Year at Southeastern Louisiana University’s annual Alumni Awards Evening Oct. 16.

Whidden is a double graduate of Southeastern, earning a bachelor’s degree in physiology in 1970 and master’s in biology in 1973. He later earned a doctorate in physiology at Auburn University and his doctor of medicine degree from the Autonomous University of Ciudad Juarez in Mexico.

He served in civil affairs and military operations positions in the Middle East, in Operation Just Cause in the invasion of Panama, in Operation Desert Shield in Saudi Arabia and in Operation Desert Storm in Kuwait, where he helped manage the country’s reconstruction and recovery. He has also served with U.S. Forces and the United Nations Somalia Logistics Command in Somalia.

Matthew Magnuson, of Baton Rouge, was named Young Alumnus of the Year. A 2006 graduate with a degree in computer science, Magnuson is chief technology officer for Associated Terminals. He holds several patents for helping to determine vessel draft and amount of cargo in a vessel.

Distinguished alumni from each of Southeastern’s five academic colleges were honored. They are:

Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences: David Armand, of Hammond, SLU instructor of English and author of several novels, including the “The Pugilist’s Wife,” “Harlow” and “The Gorge,” as well as a book of poetry, “Deep Woods.” He received his bachelor’s degree in English in 2004 and his master’s degree in 2006.

Business: Robert Watkins, of Robert, a 1975 graduate in accounting, is managing partner of Wegmann Dazet & Company, where he oversees the operations and finances for this public accounting firm in New Orleans. He is a Southeastern Foundation board member.

Education: Patrice Pujol, superintendent of the Ascension Parish School System and the 2015 Louisiana Superintendent of the Year. Pujol has worked in education for 38 years as a teacher, principal and in other supervisory positions. She received her bachelor’s degree in 1976 and her doctorate in educational leadership in 2013.

Nursing and Health Sciences: Samone Cammon, a 2010 graduate of Southeastern’s kinesiology and sports management program, where she was named graduate of the year. She is a marketing specialist with the Wendy’s Company in Alpharetta, Georgia.

Science and Technology: Ralph J. Daigle, of The Woodlands, Texas, a geophysical consultant for the oil industry, worked to form Petrus Energy, a privately held company involved in Gulf Coast exploration. He earned his bachelor’s degree in math with a minor in physics in 1970 after attending Southeastern on an athletic scholarship.

James E. Smith, of the Mason School of Business at the College of William and Mary, was recognized with the association’s first Excellence in Academics Award. A graduate in accounting from Southeastern, he later earned an MBA and doctoral degree. He teaches in undergraduate and graduate programs at William and Mary.

Other awards presented at the event include:

Distinguished Service Award, Terry Brown, of Ponchatoula, for an outstanding alumnus who has generously donated time and talent to the Alumni Association. The award was renamed in honor of Kathy Pittman, who has served 20 years as director of the organization and expects to retire next year.

L.E. Chandler Award, Lee Lind, director of Student Publications, for his work in assisting students in their efforts and accomplishments in extracurricular activities.

Friendship Oak Awards were presented to Kappa Alpha Order on their 35th anniversary; Alpha Sigma Tau on its 75th anniversary; Theta Phi Alpha on its 25th anniversary; Chris Bentley, associate professor of general studies and assistant to the athletic director; Stephen Smith, former vice president for administration and finance; and David Faucheaux of the College of Business for his recognition as the No. 2 ranked professor by the web site

McCray, Cannon named homecoming royalty

Si-Arah McCray, a senior consumer sciences major from Baton Rouge, and D.J. Cannon, a senior kinesiology major from Hammond, were named queen and king of Southeastern Louisiana University’s Homecoming 2015 at halftime of the Oct. 17 football game.

McCray is active in the Student United Way, Student Association of Family and Consumer Sciences and Sigma Alpha Lambda National Honor Society. She was named to the spring 2015 President’s List with a 3.8 GPA. Cannon is a member of Pi Kappa Alpha and the NAACP. He is a founding father of Southeastern’s Chapter of Pi Kappa Alpha and was selected as a 2014 Southeastern orientation leader.

Compiled by Advocate staff writer George Morris. The “Community” column runs every Tuesday and Friday in The Advocate. Items should be submitted to “Community,” Advocate eatplaylive section, P.O. Box 588, Baton Rouge, LA 70821, or emailed to Events should be submitted in a timely fashion. By submitting photos to The Advocate, you agree that they can be published in any of The Advocate’s print or digital publications.