DONALDSONVILLE — When Becky Katz first walked through the doors of the Donaldsonville Area Chamber, she couldn’t have imagined becoming a staple of the business community. But that was 34 years ago.
Now, business owners in Donaldsonville and surrounding areas know Katz for her dedication to Donaldsonville, its residents and tourists who visit the area.
“She’s always been the visible face of the chamber,” said Pam Gregoire, who first met Katz when she started volunteering for the organization five years ago.
As she prepares to leave her role as the chamber’s executive director, Katz said her retirement, which is effective Feb. 28, is bittersweet.
“I fell in love with Donaldsonville every day by seeing the things I took for granted through the eyes of tourists,” Katz said.
“Before I knew it, it was 34 years (later),” Katz said from the chamber office Feb. 10. “It’s been wonderful.”
As she talked about events that spanned more than three decades, tears formed in Katz’s eyes. She’s seen everything from businesses opening and closing to movies filmed in the city.
“You’re doing something different for the community every day,” Katz said.
Katz said meeting new people and forging new friendships were part of the allure of the chamber.
Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office Public Information Officer and third-term chamber President Allison Hudson still remembers when she first met Katz as a young reporter in Donaldsonville.
“She was one of the first people I met,” Hudson recalled. “Becky helped me get acquainted with the area and introduce me to the chamber and what it could do for the community and me.”
“At that time, newspapers were declining,” Hudson said. “By Becky introducing me to the business community, I was able to bring readership back up. She introduced me to a new (positive) mindset.”
Katz, who was born in Opelousas, moved to Donaldsonville when she was 7 years old, when her father, a contractor and carpenter, moved his family to the small town to build homes in the area.
“When my father brought us here, the only house was a shotgun house and the bathroom was outside,” Katz recalled. “My mother cried and cried.”
She attended Ascension Catholic and went on to become a hairstylist, a skill she never used professionally.
When she was hired at the Donaldsonville Area Chamber of Commerce in 1981, Katz said she coordinated events, including the Christmas parade, the organization’s appreciation dinner and the Sunshine Festival. Even her children would “stuff envelopes,” promoting chamber events when they weren’t in school, Katz said.
In the late 1980s, chamber officials, including Katz, realized the organization had to become more than just a social coordinator of Donaldsonville. Now, Katz said, chamber membership continues to climb, and businesses in the area, such as CF Industries, are expanding, although most of the “mom and pop” shops have closed.
Katz credits support from businesses as well as Mayor Leroy J. Sullivan, who she said works to improve the city of Donaldsonville, and Sheriff Jeff Wiley.
“I really didn’t think I’d see the day when Donaldsonville would have two hotels and three on the way,” Katz said.
While her last day is Feb. 28, Katz said she’ll be available to help her successor — whomever the chamber chooses — once she’s gone. She’s currently crafting a “how to” manual to help her successor but said she hopes her replacement will bring new ideas to the position.
“People say you’re the face of the chamber but I tell them I’m not,” Katz said. “I’m just the person that got paid to do the job. But it becomes a part of you.”
“It’s time to take a breath and enjoy life,” Katz said, adding that she wants more time to spend with her grandchildren.
“They’re going to miss seeing that smiling face, that beautiful woman that represents the community so well,” Gregoire said.