Oh what a night! The 13th annual Dancing for Big Buddy on April 27 at LSU’s Pete Maravich Assembly Center was spectacular.
This year’s production, which also celebrated the 40th anniversary of the Big Buddy Program, was co-chaired by Monique Scott-Spaulding and Leonard Augustus. Along with Executive Director Gaylynne Mack, they presented plaques to a group instrumental in the founding of Big Buddy: founder Jim Geiser, son Steve Geiser, Sissy and Ralph Stephens and Mary and Joel West.
I was back on the judge’s podium this year with Kathy Victorian and John Spain. We had the challenging task of determining who won which medal, with the audience choosing the top winners.
This year’s group of Star Dancers and their professionals outdid themselves, putting on quite a show. And, as they do every year, the Little Buddies stole the show with their disco/hip-hop routine choreographed by Lisa White, Donna Blanchard and Donté Phillips with the Powell-Moise School of Dance.
Now, drumroll please. Chosen as the Female Audience Winner and the judges’ Most Fluid dancer was Sarah Fautheree and partner River Peterson. Sarah also tallied up the most online votes, raising more than $12,000.
Scott Taylor took home the trophy for Male Audience Winner and our award for Most Surprising dancer for the routine he and Jerisse Bolton Gratham performed. Rumor has it the Walk-On's executive and Jerrise may be performing in Miami for an upcoming company event.
Trula and Chris Remson, one of two couples dancing this year, were dubbed the Sassiest Dancers for their bossa nova, choreographed by Augustus. They took the trophy for Top Overall Fundraiser, bringing in almost $35,000 for Big Buddy.
This year’s winner of the Classic Hits 103.3 Text-to-Vote Fans’ Choice Award went to Branden Barker. His routine with Joanna Chustz earned him the judges’ Smoothest Moves award, even though we questioned his costume, or should I say the lack thereof?
Cate Heroman took us down memory lane as she performed every dance in the classic “Land of a Thousand Dances” with partner Van Vo, earning her the medal for Most Energy. WBRZ’s Brandi B. Harris earned her Best Diva honor after she rocked the PMAC with her Augustus-choreographed Beyoncé impression, backed up by Claire Broyles, Aimee Russo-Mounger, Lollie Aulet and Louis Cartillo.
Junior League President-elect Namisha Patel-Vasanji and husband Vishal donned inspiring costumes for their Bollywood performance, also choreographed by Augustus, and took home the title of Hottest Couple. Lauren Fowler and partner Reginald Jackson closed out the first half with an inspirational lyrical dance that earned her the medal for Most Dramatic performance.
Other honors went to Brad Grundmeyer and partner Danielle Romaguera for Best Technique; Tina Holland and partner Avery Tate as Most Gracious; Aaron Lambert and partner Britt Dawson as Most Dangerous; Sherry Mockler and partner Adam Gilbert for Flirtiest Dance; Larry Munson and Broyles for Hottest routine; and Rae Vasquez and partner Dwight Bell for Highest Energy. Michael Valluzzo and Megan Pratt took home Best Showmanship honors.
In keeping with tradition, the celebration continued afterward at Mansurs on the Boulevard, and no one wanted to go home. I eventually did — about 1 a.m.
The morning of April 28 had me up and running to the brunch first lady Donna Edwards hosted at the Governor’s Mansion for the LSU Golden Girls, both present and past. It was pointed out by organizer and alum Kim Dodd during the formal welcome that this was a first in the group’s 60-year history.
A highlight of the event was getting to pose for photos with the first lady. One very special photo included Phi Mu members, the sorority of which she is an alum. She challenged the young women to "be the light for others" and to cherish the "strength of sisterhood" that being a member of the Golden Girls brings.
Evening at Windrush
April 26 took me to the tranquil oasis that is Rural Life Museum for its annual Evening at Windrush garden party. Frances and Johnny Monroe again opened their home, which is located across from Windrush, the childhood home of the Burdens who donated the 400 acres to LSU many years ago, for a VIP cocktail reception fêteing Honorary Overseers Kay and Bob Hawthorne.
A cadre of dapper gentlemen were sporting their seersucker suits on this gorgeous spring evening, chaired by Lauren and Steele Buckholtz. I so enjoyed visiting with them as well as with Brandon Parlange, Edmund Giering, Elaine and Randy Ellis, Judy and Frank Foil, Ann Wilkinson, John Bateman, Marilyn and Mackie Price, Linda Lightfoot, Madelyn Carroll, Bitsy McInnis and Executive Director David Floyd.
The thunderstorms eased just in time April 25 for the Baton Rouge Association of Black Journalists’ seventh annual Scholarship Luncheon at the City Club, where three pioneers in the industry were honored. Speaker for the event was Sevetri Wilson, CEO of Resilia and a leader in communications, public policy and technology.
“Hitting rock bottom always teaches you more than reaching mountain tops,” she told luncheongoers. “And, when you reach the top, you have to reach back and pull someone else up beside you.”
Honored were Mark Grant, of CBS; Shauna Sanford, communications director for Gov. John Bel Edwards; and Joe McCoy, of WBRZ.
Sanford recalled working with McCoy when both were at WAFB. “He told me I needed to toughen up," she said, "and I have.”
McCoy, a videographer, is part of WBRZ's Emmy Award-winning investigative team. “We’ve done some stuff,” he quipped as he looked at his sidekick, reporter Chris Nakamoto.
Emmy-winner Grant is the only black director at the network. “That’s not a badge of honor,” he said. “I want to open the door for others … Love what you do and be the best at it.”
This agency has been on the front lines in the battle against substance abuse for many, many years. Now it won't just help clients get sober, it will also give them the tools to re-enter society and stay sober. That was one of two big announcements made at the O’Brien House annual meeting and graduation reception on April 25.
The second announcement, made for former board Chairman Vance Gibbs, was the establishment of a matching donation challenge in memory of the late Leroy Colter, an avid supporter of O’Brien House for many years. An anonymous donor has pledged to match up to $30,000 for a total of $60,000, which is needed to complete renovations to the campus. Specifically, the dining room, which serves more than 55,000 meals a year, will become the Leroy J. Colter Dining Room. If you’d like to help with this effort, go to obrienhouse.org.
The next stop on April 25 was the Old State Capitol, for the kickoff of the celebration of the 25th anniversary of the massive renovation that rescued the historic building. Attendees got to see the before and after via a video presentation following the presentation of this year’s Lionhearted Awards, which recognize outstanding and longstanding service to this National Historic Landmark.
This year’s honorees included Betty and Harvey Schwartzberg, who recruited members to establish the Friends of the Old State Capitol; Bridger Eglin, who served as the first chairman of the Old State Capitol Foundation; and the late Anne Price, who in 1980 in her Advocate column, “Capitalites,” wrote that “grand building had suffered misuse, ill use and nonuse and was mired in political ooze.”
Among those to celebrate were several staff members who worked for Secretary of State Fox McKeithen, whose office was responsible for saving the building. They included Bob Courtney, Sailor Jackson, Mary Louise Prudhomme, Nancy Chiasson, Doveal Essex and Mary Durusau, who now serves as museum director.
Partygoers also included Deborah Todd, Jackie and Leo Honeycutt, Jean and Les Gatz, Chris Farr, Harriett Babin Miller, Jackie Creghan, Carol and Ken Gikas, Liz Hampton, Sylvia Duke, Raymond Jetson, Sylvia Winder and current Secretary of State Kyle Ardoin and wife Letti.
Red Stick Social
The last stop of the day was a VIP party celebrating the opening of Red Stick Social, a cool location in the old Entergy building on Government Street near the railroad tracks. Owner Robert Lay kept a lot of the five-story building’s character, giving it an industrial vibe. Phat Hat played for the party, and the word is bands are supposed to play almost every night. The venue includes a restaurant, bowling alleys, bars, a fabulous rooftop for chilling and numerous large TVs streaming your favorite sports teams.
I enjoyed catching up with Leanne Weill, who I haven’t seen in ages, as well as her protégé Melinda Long, co-worker Lou Hudson Coulter and stepdaughter Carolyn Coulter, and Chris Trahan. Go check out this new venue.