Who says summers in New Orleans are slow? Two recent events had a combined total of 1,275 revelers, who glorified generations. The first was the Millennial Awards that honored young professionals and took place on a Saturday evening at the National WWII Museum. Days later, the Sisters of the Holy Family held a benefit gala, consisting of dinner, an auction and a concert, at the Hyatt Regency, New Orleans. Funds raised will go to the health care and retirement needs of the elderly Sisters, as well as to the support of the religious order’s long-standing ministries.
Making an Impact
A “Salute to Service” titled the Millennial Weekend that presented awards to young professionals making an impact in the Greater New Orleans community since Hurricane Katrina. Billed a “Social Renaissance event,” the third annual Millennial Awards began on a Friday with a pair of panel discussions in BB’s Stage Door Canteen of the National WWII Museum. On the next day, a Saturday, the restaurant competition and awards ceremony occurred in the museum’s U.S. Freedom Pavilion: The Boeing Center. More than 200 nominations resulted in the honoring of millennials in 21 diverse categories, such as health care, engineering, journalism, film, innovation, and first responders — “a nod to individuals who provided immediate relief during Hurricane Katrina.”
Three local nonprofits, Son of a Saint, Evacuteer and Liberty’s Kitchen, will benefit from the 2015 event. First NBC was the presenting sponsor.
Further features were the hosting by New Orleans Pelicans announcer and iHeart radio personality Nicole Collins and WWL-TV anchor Natalie Shepherd, along with the restaurant competition. Guests sampled dishes from such local favorites as Katie’s Restaurant, American Sector, Blue Line Sandwich Co., Munch Factory, La Casita and Dat Dog. A tip of the hat to Katie’s, the winner.
Headliners within the crowd of 700 included Mayor Mitch Landrieu, Spears Group President and CEO Cleveland Spears III (organizer of The Millennials), and Chief Administrative Officer of St. Charles Parish Buddy Boe. And, all with titles, Tod Smith, Nicki Sparrow, Timothy McConnell, David Wilson, Jonah Langenbeck, and Ansel Augustine. To mention a few.
Co-sponsoring help came from a handful of sources, a few of which gave specifically named awards. Becker Hall and Rene Louapre received the Harrah’s Casino Outstanding Millennial Change Maker Award; Jeff Gonzales was tapped for the WWL-TV Outstanding Millennial in Digital Media; Kemberly J. Washington, the First NBC Millennial in Financial Services; Lauren Kustwan, the New Orleans Will Millennial in Hospitality/Tourism; and Tonya Boyd-Cannon, the iHeart Media Outstanding Millennial in Music.
A slew of additional Outstanding Millennials received kudos. They were Cherie Melancon Franz (business), Allen Nguyen (culinary arts), Derrick Tabb (cultural ambassador), Arkebia S. Matthews (economic development), Aesha Rasheed (education), Dana Ray (engineering), Kristine Pichon (fashion), John Glustrom (film) and Roddick C. Harrison (first responder).
Also, Brandan “B-Mike” Odums (innovation), Katie Moore (journalism), Elizabeth A. Roussel (law), Kelli Walker (real estate), Anna Monhartova (social entrepreneurship) and Jyric Sims (health care). Robert X. Fogarty was hailed as Outstanding Service Person of the Decade. That category, as well as the above First Responder, were added this year to recognize the 10th anniversary of Katrina and the theme, a “Salute to Service.”
Said the above Cleveland Spears, “The Millennial Awards are about pausing to celebrate the ‘Do-Gooder’ generation that has done so much for New Orleans over the past 10 years.”
Immediately following the awards ceremony, there was a new round of mixing-it-up in a post party. The name of the band said it all: The Remixers.
The Sisters of the Holy Family staged “Heavenly Host of Stars Gala” at the Hyatt Regency, starting with a patron party and music by Quiet Storm Trio featuring Connie and Dwight Fitch and Joe Saulsbury. Dancing, mostly line, started even then with several of the Sisters joining in. The hotel was the presenting sponsor.
Next up was master of ceremonies Norman Robinson, who called the Fitches “the first couple of music in New Orleans.” He acknowledged Gayle and Tom Benson as the honorary chaircouple, although they could not be present. They were at The Greenbrier, the historic resort in West Virginia, with the Saints football team. Very much present were the two couples who chaired the event: Annette and Wayne Francingues and Carmie and Mike Winters.
Additional mastheaders were congregational leader Sister M. Greta Jupiter, SSF; Sister Leona Bruner, SSF, assistant leader; Treasurer General Sister Alicia Costa, SSF; development director Barbara Maynard; auctioneer Mark Romig; and various committee chairwomen in Gretta Burns and Jane Nalty (food), Dr. Gail Armant and Carmie Winters (auction), Marcia St. Martin (publicity and help with the food), Jackie Hughes (printing), Tracie Boutte (decorations) with help from Jane Nalty, Connie Fitch (entertainment), and Clarice Thomas Kirkland (reservations) with help from Annette Francingues and Jackie Hughes. Top toques Leah Chase and John Besh were the Celebrity Chefs.
Early on, guests headed to the various food stations that were situated along three of the walls in the huge Empire Ballroom. Thirty fine dining establishments, catering firms and bakeries in New Orleans donated the dinner fare.
The live auction got the 575 attendees zeroing in on what was touted by Mark Romig, who was called “the best auctioneer on the planet” by Norman Robinson. A football autographed by Sean Payton, a Saints football package and dinner for 10 at the Sisters of the Holy Family Mother House with to-and-fro limousine service got the big bids coming. Meanwhile, a silent auction was seeing a lot of action.
In keeping with the bash’s “Heavenly” title, the room was decorated in a celestial theme with midnight blue, pin-tucked tablecloths, rhinestone stars and faceted jewels adorning the cloths, and centerpieces of white roses with alstroemeria blooms. The arrangements were placed in clear glass vases that were girdled with a band of brilliants.
A special presentation was made to Dr. Norman Francis, the nation’s longest-serving university president, who was recognized for his 47-year tenure with Xavier University. Dr. Francis was educated by the Sisters of the Holy Family at St. Paul School in Lafayette. Like Henriette Delille, who founded the Sisters of the Holy Family in 1842, Dr. Francis was described as someone who “exemplifies the characteristics of faith, courage and determination.” He was given the title “Son of Henriette Delille” and a sculpture of the founder.
Two more special citings were made: to the Bensons and to Michael Smith, Hyatt Regency general manager.
Applauding all the merit — and later, the music — were Alden and Rhesa McDonald, Dr. Virginia “Ginger” Gould and David Speights, Dr. Ed and Janice Foulks, Cliff and Cecilia Robert, Milena and David Duplantier, Bobby and Karen Major, Ruby Age, Florence Andre, Diane Sims Tillman, Sheriff Marlin Gusman, and Paul Flower with spouse Donna, whose niece Lilla Wright just swapped vows with Wilkins Kearney eight days ago.
Then came the “heavenly” concert, which was led off by Sharon Martin (“a petite frame, but a powerful voice,” was how Norman Robinson described her) and Wanda Rouzan, accompanied by the Chris Severin band. Announced Wanda before her number, “I’ve been singing for the Sisters since I was knee-high to a Coke bottle.” Then came pianist Davell Crawford, who thrilled the assembly with “Iko, Iko” and “Blue Monday.” People were line-dancing up a storm.
Intermission was brief with emcee Robinson announcing, “If you are not having a good time with the Sisters of the Holy Family, you better check your pulse and call the undertaker.”
The cynosure was Vanessa Williams, whose mother, Helen, was seated in the audience at a prominent table. Leon Colon on piano and backup vocalist Shelley Thomas accompanied the blue-gowned Vanessa Williams and the seven songs she sang. “Save the Best” concluded her performance, which merited a standing ovation.
Not only was she hailed as a singer, but as a loyal supporter of the Sisters. Vanessa produced and starred in the movie “The Courage to Love,” a 2000 television history film about Henriette Delille. Vanessa, too, was given a statue reminiscent of the order’s founder.
The Young Pinstripe Brass Band wrapped up the gala program, as folks rushed forward to get photos with a gracious Vanessa Williams.
Beaming nearby was Sister Greta Jupiter, who remarked, “The evening was spectacular with a ‘Broadway touch.’ I am grateful to everyone who came out to support us in this cause.”