Just when it looked like it would never stop raining, Mother Nature smiled on the Emerge Center’s fifth annual gala May 11, allowing guests for Emerge-A-Go-Go to make it into the Shaw Center for the Arts without having to use an umbrella.
The place was overflowing with people decked out in all manner of attire from the 1960s. There were lots of go-go girls in white boots, some “Mad Men” fashions and even a Jackie Kennedy pillbox chapeau or two. In the three music lounge venues, techno, jazz and rock blasted before we settled into the Manship Theatre for The Beatles vs. The Stones Musical Showdown.
The Fab Four kicked off the first half of the show, inviting us to sing along to “Hard Day’s Night,” “Can’t Buy Me Love,” “Drive My Car,” “Eight Days a Week” and more. After lobbing a few good-natured jabs, they turned the stage over to Mick and the boys. They thrilled us with “Jumpin’ Jack Flash,” “Brown Sugar” and “Symphony for the Devil.” The show ended with both tribute bands on stage together performing hits like “Hey Jude,” “Day Tripper” and “Satisfaction.”
Stephen Waguespack, sporting a hilarious wig, presided over a live auction and paddle pledge that generated more than $60,000 for the center, which serves children with autism as well as those with speech and hearing issues.
The night, presented by the Irene W. & C.B. Pennington Foundation, proved the perfect send-off for retiring Executive Director Melissa Juneau, who is leaving after 12 years of extraordinary leadership. Not only do those served by Emerge know how great she is, so do the folks at Zurich North America, who presented her with the Zurich Classic Community Impact Award during festivities of this year’s tournament in New Orleans.
May 10 brought another day of heavy rain, but once again, things eased up just in time for the cocktail party honoring this year’s Best Dressed at Blend. The evening was hosted by last year’s Best Dressed class — Kurt Ainsworth, Prescott Bailey, Brooke Bickley, Dr. Kenny Civello, Ryan Clark, Paula Davis, Dr. Wendy Do, Richie Edmonds, Al Landry, David Lanoix, Shannon Barksdale Mahon, Ty McMains, Jody Montelaro, Erin Mosely, Kristy Parks, Mike Polito, Jeanne Robert, Shannon Blackstone Smith, Kim Truesdale and Ashley Uter, who along with their predecessors have raised more than $1.5 million for the American Cancer Society.
This year’s honorees are Dr. Rebecca Boudreaux, Kerri Lynn Brantley, Gwen Engquist, Ashley Fontenot, Danna Hodges, Adrienne Hollie, Jeanne McNeil, Shaunna Oliver, Karen Profita, Rebecca Valluzzo, Brad Cresse, Dr. Brad Culotta, Ian Dallimore, Michael Hackley, Melvin Hardnett, Garrett Hiebert, Scott Mabry, Dr. Samir Patel, Ben Ross and Dr. Steven Spedale. They’ll be in the spotlight at the Best Dress Ball, set for Aug. 10 at the Raising Cane’s River Center.
Life of a Single Mom
A very soggy May 9 began at Life of a Single Mom Ministries’ seventh annual Impact Luncheon at the Crowne Plaza.
Former single moms Jill Rigby Garner, Jamie Tindle and Collette Brock shared their stories and tips as part of a panel discussion led by Kelly Pepper, who also served as the event’s emcee. Board members Kellie Duhon and Lisa Oliver presented this year’s Sister Award to Julie Finical, owner of Style Encore, for her efforts in helping TLSMM fulfill its mission to seeing that “no single mom walks alone.”
My second May 9 stop was for Crime Stoppers fourth annual Law Enforcement Appreciation Awards Luncheon at the Renaissance Hotel. It brought together law enforcement officials from across the greater Baton Rouge area to shine a spotlight on those who have gone above and beyond in their duty “to serve and protect.”
Guests were welcomed by Crime Stoppers Executive Director Sid Newman, who then introduced the day’s speaker, Brandon Fremin with the U.S. Attorney’s Office. Emcee Matt Williams, of WAFB, which airs weekly Crime Stoppers segments, introduced this year’s award winners. They included Savannah Jones, with the East Baton Rouge Parish Sheriff’s Office, and Holly Sheets, U.S. Attorney’s Office — Partnership Award; Harry Griffin, Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office; Jeff Beatty, Livingston Parish Sheriff’s Office; Logan Collins, Baton Rouge Police Department; and the State Attorney General’s Office Fugitive Task Force — Award of Excellence; Memry Tucker with Sonic, which sponsored the luncheon, Citizen Award; and WAFB and General Manager Ronna Corrente — Media Award.
EBR Sheriff’s Office Maj. Todd Morris received this year’s Top Law Enforcement Officer award for his determined efforts to close the case of slain Brusly teacher Sylviane Finck Lozada, eventually arresting her estranged husband, Oscar Lozada, and returning daughter Angelina to Sylviane Lozada’s family.
EBR Police Chief Murphy Paul presented the Fallen Officer Josie Wells Award to Catty Totty, widow of Cpl. Shane Totty, who was killed in a motorcycle crash during a funeral escort earlier this year. The emotional moment was followed by a standing ovation.
The rain returned on the afternoon of May 9, but downtown we went to the Old Governor’s Mansion for the VIP reception prior to this year’s 29th annual Louisiana Legends Gala, hosted by Friends of Louisiana Public Broadcasting at the Old State Capitol. The honorees included Todd Graves, founder and CEO of Raising Cane's; Denise Lewis Patrick, children’s book writer and editor; Roy O. Martin III, president/CEO of RoyOMartin; Newton Thomas, founder of the Newtron Group, leader in industrial electric and instrumentation; and Rebecca Vizard, renowned textile artist.
Welcoming guests were LPB CEO Beth Courtney and Friends board Chairwoman Rae Vasquez. Emcee for the evening was John Denison, who had quite the flight from his home in Florida to get to Baton Rouge for the celebration.
Shield of Hope
Getting from downtown to the L’Auberge Event Center for the Salvation Army Shield of Hope Gala on May 9 was not for the faint of heart. Those who navigated the city’s flooded streets in order to make it definitely deserve kudos, and the inspirational and humorous testimony from actor/author/producer David A.R. White made it all worthwhile.
White is the producer of the “God’s Not Dead,” the No. 1 live action independent movie of 2014, which was partially shot in the Baton Rouge area, and founder of Pure Flix Entertainment. He shared the ups and downs of his career, including a stint on the CBS hit sitcom “Evening Shade” starring Burt Reynolds.
“Believe in your God-given abilities,” White told the crowd. “With God you can achieve your dreams … you must have a personal relationship with Jesus.”
Maj. Donald Tekautz and wife, Lt. Julie Tekautz, presented a special award to Mathew Holmes for his above-and-beyond assistance in making sure Salvation Army kids had Christmas presents. Brian Fourroux and emcee Greg Meriwether, of WAFB, conducted the night’s live auction, which included dinner for 12 prepared by chef Jay Ducote, which was doubled to bring in $8,500.
Celebration for Change
The soggy week started May 7 at Volunteers of America’s annual Celebration for Change at the Manship Theatre. The lobby was packed at a pre-event reception, and I enjoyed meeting interim Executive Director Elizabeth Rojas and Barbara Panszandki, of Louisville, who was visiting from the national office.
I also caught up with board members Todd Schexnayder, who’s passing on the chairmanship to Sherry McBeath, Georgia Ford, Johnny and Kathy Masey, Betty Backstrom, Todd Sterling, Marc Goldstein, Geri Hobdy, Jennifer Waghalter, Lois Smith, Karen and Bill Profita and former CEO Jane Shank.
And, I got to meet precious Kaci Billings, inspiration behind the Louisiana Legislature’s Kaci Billings Act of 2016, which requires birth mothers to receive educational materials before discharge on Shaken Baby Syndrome. Her story was shared by adoptive parents Mike Billings and Pamela Rogers in a moving video.