In the past months, we have all learned a little something about role models. Just as heroes don’t have to wear capes and have X-ray vision, role models don’t have to be millionaire movie stars or sports celebrities. The people who truly make a difference often live, work and play in our neighborhoods, making our communities safer, cleaner, better places to live. It is in this spirit that Gambit Weekly is proud to present our fifth annual 40 Under 40. Each year, we seek to honor those individuals among us who are making their mark on the metro area in positive ways. As always, some of the names on this year’s list will already be familiar; others will not. All are to be commended for their contributions to life in the Crescent City.
Chao-Jun Li, 38
The research pioneered by Tulane chemistry professor Chao-Jun Li could save the planet -- literally. Li's trailblazing work uses water, instead of benzene and other toxic substances, as a solvent in chemical processes commonly used by the plastics, petrochemical and pharmaceutical industries. Li studied in his native China before moving to Canada to complete his Ph.D. at McGill University. A prestigious Canadian fellowship paid for Li's post-doctorate study at Stanford University. There, Li became immersed in the concept of simplifying chemical processes using water, mimicking conditions that occur in nature, and submitted a paper to the renowned Chemical Review journal. Though the 29-year-old was not considered an expert in his field, the editors were impressed enough to publish his report, which generated a major reaction among the scientific community. Li expanded his theories into a book and gravitated to Tulane, where his research won Li a prestigious Presidential Green Chemistry Challenge Award this year. Industries around the country are contacting Li to learn how they can apply his "green chemistry" methods to develop cleaner manufacturing processes. The key, he says, is simplicity. "My overall goal has been to develop catalytic reactions that can go from simple starting materials to the desired target molecules for the desired result -- but using water, just like nature does," says Li. "One of my big dreams is trying to convert petrochemicals into useful products in a clean way, so rather than just burn them, we can make them a very high-value product."
Jessie Creech, 36
Special Education Teacher
Jessie Creech had a successful career in department-store retail, but decided at age 29 that it wasn't enough. "I looked at my career and said, 'This is going well, but it's not satisfying,'" says Creech, who went back to school for a teaching degree and "fell into" special education. Co-workers at Warren Easton High School praise Creech's dedication to helping special-education students earn regular diplomas -- a commitment that won Creech a prestigious Milken National Educator Award last month. "One of the things I learned with my students," she says, "is they have special needs, but for the most part they are no different from regular-education kids." Her approach helps youths overcome learning disabilities by teaching them how to build on their strengths. "I've had students who were told in grade school that they never would get a high school diploma because of their reading skills," Creech says, "and to see them graduate is a huge reward." The Milken award and its $25,000 stipend are opening doors for Creech, a Honduras native who came to America to attend college. "With this award comes responsibilities. I'm trying to do something with it. Maybe I'll meet other people who can teach me how to write big grants, maybe I'll be able to talk to people about educational policy." Even though she and her family still feel the pinch of her lower salary, Creech calls the career change worthwhile. "When I got back into teaching, I found it hard to believe I ever did anything else," she says. "I kept asking myself, 'Why didn't I do this sooner?'"
Lt. Jeffrey J. Winn, 39
New Orleans Police Department
Four young girls who lost their mother to murder now know justice, thanks to a secretly taped confession obtained last year by undercover NOPD Lt. Jeffrey Winn. Posing as a misogynist and using his actual love of the Marine Corps as common ground, Winn gained the trust of Baton Rouge handyman Roosevelt Gipson II, who confided that, while stationed in California in 1992, he murdered 30-year-old Marilyn D. Allen. A subsequent trial resulted in Gipson's conviction and an 11-year prison term for manslaughter. The case, worked by Winn and local Naval Investigative Service agent D'Wayne Swear, will be the subject of an upcoming television documentary on the A&E network. A 16-year veteran of NOPD with more than 20 years experience in a reserve division of the Marine Corps, the Algiers native also was part of a 1993 police SWAT team that received the Medal of Valor, NOPD's highest award, for a daring commando-style raid on a drug gang "fortress" inside the Calliope housing project, in which the stunned suspects were captured without a shot fired. The little-publicized police raid marked a high-point for police relations with Calliope residents. More recently, the Washington, D.C.-based National Association of Police Organizations bestowed one of its annual Top Cops awards on Winn, the only Louisianian so honored.
Monique Moss, 31
Dancer and Choreographer
For New Orleans native Monique Moss, the culture of her hometown continues to inspire her even when she's traveling halfway across the globe. The 31-year-old dancer/choreographer discovered as much on a recent Fulbright Hays Fellowship-sponsored trip to South Africa. "I had to get over the shock of having the good fortune to go to Africa in the first place," she says. "Looking at the Zulu people, their dances and their culture, was amazing. Having lived here all my life, and seeing all the Zulu parades, I was able to compare and contrast the Zulu perception to the real thing and learn from that. It was incredible." While participating in the Fulbright program is stunning, it is one among many recent highlights that mark Moss' growth into one of the city's most sought-after choreographers. She took home the 2000 Big Easy Classical Arts Award for Best Choreography for Jezebel, a work she created for the annual Confederacy of Dances. A graduate of both the New Orleans Center for the Creative Arts (NOCCA) and Tulane University, Moss works as an instructor at NOCCA, as well as in Orleans Parish schools through the Arts Connection program, the NORD/NOBA Center for Dance, the Step Up Ensemble and Apprentice Program, and the Dance Institute's In-Motion Partner School Program. Though it's easy to rest and reflect back on such success, Moss is taking it all in stride. "It feels good," Moss says. "But I try not to think about it too much. I like just riding the wave."
Robert Mouton, 38
Attorney and Co-founder of A.B. Freeman School of Business Venture Capital Forum
New Orleans can't afford to be an economic one-trick pony, and local attorney Robert Mouton is doing his part. Mouton, managing partner of Locke Lidell & Sapp's New Orleans office, handles corporate and real estate transactions and has a host of start-up companies on his client list. To bring outside dollars into the city, Mouton helped inaugurate the Venture Capital Forum at Tulane University's A.B. Freeman School of Business. The forum invited local technology entrepreneurs to submit business plans to venture capital firms from outside the state. The idea was inspired by the boon that Dell Computers has brought to Austin, Texas. "I was speaking with a number of my corporate partners in Austin and Houston and ... it became apparent there was a need to promote that kind of high-technology start-up company," Mouton says. "What we tried to do was partner some of our Texas venture capital with [New Orleans] start-ups." While new companies are important, Mouton stresses that it's also imperative to help existing businesses thrive. "What drives our economy are the small and medium businesses. Business retention has got to be one of the key objectives." That and making the business environment attractive enough to keep our children here when they grow up, says the father of two. Another venture capital forum is planned for March, and Mouton hopes to see more proposals for biotechnology and other innovative businesses. "Clearly, biotechnology is and will be a very important part of the city's future from an economic perspective," he says. "A big part of Austin's success in that arena was due to Michael Dell. It really just took one individual with the right ideas and contacts and capital to make a big economic impact."
Jon Egan, 39
As native Australians are sometimes wont to do, Jon Egan decided to take a year and see the world in the early 1980s. One leg of his journey led him to New Orleans for the 1984 World's Fair, and it seems he's been going back and forth between the Crescent City and his homeland ever since. In 1992, he returned to Australia, taking the pizza delivery craze with him and introducing it into rural towns. Egan, in turn, was introduced to the wonders of Indonesian imports and upon his return to New Orleans helped to found Importicos Inc. He and wife Margaret still own and operate the Royal Street location, but recently Egan has taken a long look at his past -- and found his future. "I grew up in the wine country," Egan says, "and didn't realize how much I missed it until I started looking for a good, cheap bottle of wine." To that end, Egan has positioned himself as the national importer of Ghost Gum wines, which originate in southeastern Australia and are now available in 15 states with plans to expand to all 50 by the end of 2002. Egan looks forward to soon adding New Zealand wine Tuatara and South African wine Zulu to his portfolio and recently became a partner in the Transylvania-based Vampire Vineyards, a venture that ultimately will include an inn, nightly tours and tastings, and guided tours in and around Dracula's castle. New Orleans, wine and vampires -- a killer combination.
Gina Warner, 33
Gina Warner liked many aspects of her job working for U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, but her favorite part was helping community groups, government agencies and nonprofits acquire federal funding. "A lot of entities have no ideas of the resources available to them and what opportunities are out there," says Warner. "It's something I enjoyed doing, and there was a need for it. What I saw at Mary's office was very worthy programs in Los Angeles, Philadelphia and Miami getting funded. And I said, 'Wait a minute. We have worthy programs in Louisiana, too. We need to help these programs access these funds.'" So Warner left the Louisiana Democrat's staff in February to open her own New Orleans-based consulting business, Strategic Funding Solutions. The company helps public, private and nonprofit organizations find and obtain federal money, and assists clients with everything from locating possible sources of funding to completing the often-onerous paperwork it takes to secure a federal grant. Her most recent coup was helping the New Orleans Recreation Department secure a $437,500 grant from the National Park Service to rehabilitate five decrepit city playgrounds. "I would never encourage any nonprofit to look at the federal government for all its funding," she says, "but it helps build another important piece of the pie." A onetime elementary school teacher, non-practicing attorney and "political junkie," Warner also volunteers for Dress for Success, the Association of Women Attorneys and the Junior League, and serves on the board for the YMCA of Greater New Orleans.
Kevin McGowin, 31
A number of prominent writers -- Stephen King among them -- have explored the Internet as a site for publishing new work, but local author/poet/essayist/musician/teacher Kevin McGowin is spinning the Web like no others before him. The recipient of a first place award at the Southern Literary Festival and the winner of a 2001 Pushcart Prize, McGowin twice put himself through grueling paces this year in a pair of self-styled online writing marathons. He wrote two novels, The Benny Poda Years in February and Town Full of Hoors in October, by posting a chapter a day on the Web. "I thought a lot about Jack Kerouac, but unlike him, I wasn't being fueled by booze and speed," says McGowin, an assistant professor at Xavier University and a contributing editor to San Francisco's Oyster Boy Review. McGowin says he hasn't given up on old-fashioned paper and binding -- he's preparing print versions of Benny Poda and Hoors with Off the Cuff Books and is currently searching for a publisher for a completed collection of short stories. Stylistically, McGowin considers himself primarily a "social satirist" -- in the second chapter of Hoors, the French Quarter is bombed by Algiers -- and cites literary influences as diverse as Charles Dickens, Marguerite Duras, Henry Miller and James Purdy. Plus, he has recorded an album of original songs titled Love & Pity, which earned high acclaim from Dirty Linen magazine and from one of McGowin's musical influences: Warren Zevon. "2001 has been the most creative year of my life," McGowin acknowledges.
Kira Haubrich, 36
Tracy Kennan, 32
Adele Borie, 39
3 Ring Circus
They fly through New Orleans' art and social scenes with the greatest of ease, blending both along the way. So what's the secret of 3 Ring Circus? Kira Haubrich figured it out at, of all places, Davis Rogan's "Schoolhouse Rock" tribute performance one night. "Tracy and I were sitting around laughing, because we decided that Adele's totally the legislative branch; she's all about people, people, people," Haubrich says. "And I'm the executive branch because I'm all about leading, sticking my neck out. And Tracy's the judicial branch because she weighs and balances and keeps those things well in check." If the Contemporary Arts Center knows the importance of Art for Art's Sake, then the 3 Ring Circus ladies promote art for fun's sake, promoting and staging visual and performing arts events in unlikely spaces and making them less snooty in the process. Whether it's the Superheroes show, an open-call art show featuring 40 artists speaking to the superhero theme or the Bachelor Pad, a group show in a private house featuring opening and closing parties, 3 Ring Circus knows how to get people together with art. "It's a social activity for people to go and meet other people, but it's better than being in a bar," says Borie, who honed her skills for nearly four years helping plan events at the CAC. "It's better to go to a house or a business. There's art there to enjoy, appreciate and hopefully buy. It's less stuffy. And since there's three of us and we know a lot of people, the artists feel less intimidated because they're all friends and they bring their friends, and the whole thing grows." The Circus hopes to broaden its big top to establish its own venue while maintaining its nomadic ways, and to take New Orleans art and artists on the road to provide exposure throughout the country -- maybe even in an exchange format. Through it all, they also want to make sure the social aspect doesn't overshadow the cultural aspect of their work. "We've definitely had to address that," says Kennan, curator of public programs at the New Orleans Museum of Art. She recalls one closing party at Pinky's Beauty Bar on Magazine Street that coincided with another social function, when one artist's work was tainted by an errant beer. "So we want to vary the venues, keep some of the events tamer, and have events on different levels." Sounds like the wise words of one of three talented ringmasters.
Eddie Biggs IV, 27
When Eddie Biggs IV managed to get his foot in the door at the tender age of 15, he made the most of the opportunity, sparking a career in television that has already garnered critical acclaim and is on the verge of national syndication. At 15, Biggs landed a show with Cox Cable called Street Traxx; the local music video show enjoyed success, Biggs says, because it provided a previously nonexistent outlet to such talents as Percy Miller (now known as Master P). After graduating from the University of Louisiana-Lafayette (where he created a David Letterman-style show named Buzz Box), Biggs hustled to grab the attention of legendary NBC producer, the late Brandon Tartikoff. Tartikoff mentored him for more than a year, offering "to teach me how to produce out of the box," Biggs says. "And who was I to refuse? This was a man who essentially created a network." Perhaps the greatest lesson Biggs learned was that he didn't need to leave New Orleans for New York or Los Angeles to succeed. Most recently, Biggs has created Modern Buzz, a successful locally produced modern rock video show that earned a 2000 Billboard Video Music Award, beating out heavyweights from markets such as New York, Chicago and San Francisco. Starting in 2002, Modern Buzz will be syndicated and will reach 33 million homes through 100 nationwide affiliates. "Working in television in New Orleans is an uphill battle," Biggs says. "But I'm not moving. I'm a big-time cheerleader for this city, and I want to help bring more television back here."
Anne Rolfes, 33
Working as a forester for the Peace Corps 10 years ago, Anne Rolfes gained a fierce sympathy for underprivileged people in West Africa who are exploited by greedy oil production companies that pollute the environment. Today, she directs that same passion to helping needy communities in her native Louisiana. Rolfes, who originally hails from Lafayette, is founder and executive director of the Louisiana Bucket Brigade, a nonprofit environmental networking group. Through the Brigade, she teaches locals who reside near plants and refineries how to use "buckets," or air samplers, to test the air they are breathing, uses video cameras to document toxic spills, and writes reports on the rich history of the River Road area. She describes the Brigade as a type of Neighborhood Watch network for environmental crimes. Rolfes, who has petitioned federal and state environmental regulars to investigate and prosecute polluters in Louisiana's so-called "Chemical Corridor," earned a bachelor's degree in political science from the University of Colorado at Boulder and then spent 10 years in San Francisco and West Africa, where she worked on environmental issues in Nigeria and Togo. In Africa, she says, she saw some of the same oil companies that dot both banks of the Mississippi River in Louisiana, also polluting the continent. "A voice inside me said they are wrecking your home, too," she recalls. Returning stateside, she moved to New Orleans two years ago and has been at work on the Bucket Brigade ever since. "This is another social justice movement ... like the civil rights movement," she says.
Dr. Stephen Lemarie, 39
Dr. Rose Lemarie, 36
Robert Porter, 28
Southeast Veterinary Specialists
Husband-and-wife team Rose and Stephen Lemarie met at the Louisiana State University School of Veterinary Medicine. At the time, both were pursuing standard veterinary degrees, but after a few years in general practice they decided they wanted to raise the bar higher. Rose opted to become board-certified in surgery, while Stephen earned his board certification in dermatology. Their clinic, Southwest Veterinary Specialists, stands apart in New Orleans' veterinary community as a state-of-the-art supplement to primary care clinics. "We are not here to compete with general-practice clinics. We're a support facility," says Stephen. "We not only see patients they refer, but we are starting to talk to vets over the phone, interpreting lab work -- any way to support them. When animals have special needs, that's when they come here, and we try to fix them up and send them back to their regular vet." The Lemaries opened their clinic with the intention of providing the same quality of treatment that human specialists give to patients who suffer from a host of difficult health conditions -- orthopedic disabilities; back, respiratory and neurologic problems; spinal tumors and injuries; urinary tract obstructions; traumas; autoimmune disorders; severe skin diseases; allergies; and more. Their furry patients also get innovative recovery therapy as well, thanks to Robert Porter, who worked for the Lemaries as a veterinary technician and became interested in rehabilitation. He went to massage therapy school, and the Lemaries fretted that "we were going to lose him," Rose recalls. "And then he came to me and asked if he could do this." Porter has modified the rehab techniques that physical therapists use on humans, such as massage therapy and hydro-exercise, to succeed with animals. "It makes a world of difference in post-operative outcomes," Rose says. "There are some dogs, older arthritic patients, that I don't feel surgery would help. Robbie can help them in a non-invasive way, and he can make a world of difference in how they feel." Trying to rehabilitate a human patient can be challenging enough, but getting a hurt or frightened animal to respond can be much more difficult. That's why Porter's natural rapport with animals is invaluable. "Robbie is very innovative. It seems like every day he's dreaming up some new way to rehabilitate a dog," Stephen says. "He comes up with tricks and things to make therapy work for a specific animal." The three stress their commitment to staying on top of new innovations and treatments in veterinary medicine. "We really look for things that make animals more comfortable and make their stay here more comfortable," Rose says. "We'll do whatever it takes."
Chris Thomas King
Rap/Blues Artist and Actor
Musician Chris Thomas King started off 2001 with a bang and hasn't slowed down since. In January, he made his acting debut in the Coen brothers' O Brother Where Art Thou?, starring alongside Hollywood heavyweights George Clooney and John Goodman. King also landed a song on the movie's soundtrack, which became one of the year's surprise success stories in the music industry, with sales now approaching 2 million copies. King was then tapped to participate in a national concert tour spotlighting artists from the O Brother CD, including Emmylou Harris, Alison Krauss and Ralph Stanley. As if that wasn't enough, the workhorse King (the son of Baton Rouge blues legend Tabby Thomas) found time to record and release two albums of his own this year. The first was an acoustic blues CD based on his character in O Brother, and the second, just released, is an electric blues CD entitled Act II Revelations: 2000 & Beyond, which features King revisiting the rap and blues hybrid he pioneered on his earlier album 21st Century Blues From Da Hood. And perhaps the ultimate indicator of his talent is his instrumental prowess; King played every instrument on his latest CD, including dobro, harmonica, piano, and all turntable scratching and electric programming.
David Harouni, 39
While David Harouni's striking neo-expressionist paintings have earned him national acclaim and exhibits in New York, Atlanta and San Francisco, the 39-year-old Harouni has a refreshingly candid and unpretentious assessment of his accomplishments. "I'm not in any kind of competition," he says. "My career is short, except I've had success at selling just about everything I've ever painted." Since opening up his own gallery two years ago at 829 Royal St., Harouni's creations have become a hot commodity. Celebrities such as Whoopi Goldberg, Gillian Anderson and Lenny Kravitz own Harouni paintings, and two New Orleans collectors each own more than 30 Harouni pieces. It's a dream come true for Harouni, who fled the revolution and moved from Iran to the United States in 1978. He studied classical painting at the Arts Students League in New York City, but quickly adapted his modern style. "I do landscapes and flowers occasionally, but I mostly do figurative works using oil on canvas," he says. Utilizing his talent, rapidly spreading word-of-mouth praise, a French Quarter gallery and a Web site (www.harouni.com), David Harouni is poised to turn his "short career" into a long and celebrated journey in the art world.
Wilce Gilbert III, 35
Tulane University Crime Prevention Officer
A 1986 graduate of East Jeff High School, Wilce Gilbert took criminal justice courses at Delgado Community College and hung out at the Lakefront where he got into scuffles. "But I always respected the police," he recalls. So much so that, one day in 1989, he decided to become a cop. He applied for positions at both the Orleans Parish Civil Sheriff's Office and the reserve division of the New Orleans Police Department. Both accepted him, so he took both jobs. He worked as a deputy by day and attended NOPD's police academy at night. Five years ago, Gilbert left the sheriff's office to take a job as an officer with the Tulane Police Department and is now the staff advisor for Men Against Rape, a university-sponsored male-mentoring program dedicated to reducing date rapes and other acts of sexual violence against women. The program is one of the first of its kind in the nation, was recently featured in Parade magazine and, earlier this year, received the national Jeanne Cleary Campus Safety Award. Today, Men Against Rape classes are taught on campus and at area high schools. A martial artist who for the last 13 years has donated at least 24 hours a month to the NOPD Reserves, Gilbert teaches kickboxing classes and instructs women in self-defense tactics. "I've learned that at least one minute a day, a woman fears for her safety, whether it's a stranger walking behind her ... whether it's a guy cat-calling her from a passing car," he says. But, he adds, he's convinced many woman can physically fight off a male attacker. Even though he wore a special self-defense suit for his October self-defense class, he was so sore after teaching 12 women strike techniques, that he had to leave his day job early the next day. "I took a beating," he says.
Shawn Barney, 27
Executive Vice President, Fanlink Networks
As a longtime fan of the New Orleans Saints, 27-year-old New Orleans native Shawn Barney has spent many Sundays watching the Saints in the Superdome. Now the young entrepreneur is helping bring a whole new level of customer service to fellow Saints fans in the Dome. Barney's company, Fanlink, has developed software that currently enables club-level customers to order concessions directly from their seat with wireless technology. "Fanlink emanated from a desire to enhance the entertainment experience," says Barney. For sheer convenience, Fanlink's technology is a marvel -- using your cell phone or a handheld computer, fans can order food and drink and have it delivered directly to their seats. "We serve the customer and the venue," says Barney. "We facilitate sales of the venue's products, and we want to put a good face forward to the fans for them." Barney, who has a degree in finance and previously worked for GTE's international division, used his business acumen -- and the lessons from a failed Internet venture -- to take Fanlink's software from conception to reality, with venture capital funding, in only a year. "We've had great response from the fans, SMG and the vendors," says Barney. Now he's got his sights set on taking Fanlink national; he expects at least three more stadiums to sign on to use his software by the end of 2001.
Catherine Wilbert, 38
Owner, Nutri-Sport Nutrition Superstore, and Bodybuilder
When Catherine Wilbert was 9, a male cousin introduced her to weight training. Though there were no women bodybuilders in the 1960s, Wilbert became fascinated with the sport and started lifting weights to help her compete in swimming. That began a lifelong interest in health, fitness and nutrition. Even during Wilbert's 20-year career in broadcast production, she worked as a personal trainer -- a side avocation that prompted many friends to encourage her to try competitive bodybuilding. For years, she nixed that idea. "I hit 35 and a friend said, 'It's a shame you never competed. You would have been a good bodybuilder.' And that hit a competitive nerve in me -- I said, 'Would have?' And I entered my first competition, and I won." For the next few years, Wilbert racked up local and national titles and also has served as a bodybuilding judge and commentator. Today, Wilbert has sold her video production company to enter a new career: heath and fitness expert and entrepreneur. She has opened two locations of her own nutrition and sports supplement shop, Nutri-Sport Nutrition Superstore, and is seeking patents for a line of supplements and protein products. Wilbert is also pursuing Ph.D. degrees in nutritional science and naturopathy, the study of holistic nutrition and natural medicine. She says the key to her work is educating clients about body chemistry and physiology. "With more information, you can make better decisions," Wilbert says. "If you give [clients] more information about how their body works, then they can make good choices."
Johnette Downing, 39
Composer/Performer of Children's Music
Johnette Downing laughs when asked to explain the difference between performing music for adults and for children. "The honesty," she says. "You always know where you stand with children." Judging from the exuberant responses during the musician's set this year at Jazz Fest -- her 12th year on the fairgrounds -- she doesn't have anything to worry about. Downing, a published children's author who also teaches music part-time at Isidore Newman school, turns her shows into imaginative costume-dance-music affairs based on themes such as Halloween, animals, books and food. Her original compositions have received rave reviews from some grown-up critics like The Los Angeles Times, and she's netted numerous national honors, including Parents' Choice awards for her CDs From the Gumbo Pot and Wild & Woolly Wiggle Songs. (This year, Wild & Woolly also won a prestigious Parent's Guide award.) Downing tours across the country and says she's inspired by legendary kids' musician Ella Jenkins as well as the family dance traditions of south Louisiana, some of which she's tapped for songs that will appear on her upcoming CD, due out later this year. The daughter of a violin- and tuba-playing father and piano- and saxophone-playing mother, Downing has performed in bands of all stripes -- including the swing band the Front Porch Swingers -- but admits she's most happy with her current work. Why? "The children, of course," she replies.
Jeffrey Magee, 37
Scientific explorer Jeffrey Charles Magee is on a mission to halt the brain drain, those biophysical quirks that make humans forget, trigger epilepsy, and exacerbate Alzheimer's Disease, depression and sleep problems. The assistant professor of cell biology and anatomy at the Louisiana State University Health Sciences Center is a neuroscientist and electrophysiologist who studies brain function at its most basic point: the neuron, or brain cell. Magee and his team are examining parts of the brain cells that no one has seen before, which could lead to treatments for diseases that originate in the brain. "We work at a very fundamental level in that we try to find how memory is stored in the normal brain," says Magee, who shares his successes with wife, Rhonda; 8-year-old son Jude; 5-year-old daughter Natalie, and 3-year-old son Paul. "That allows us to tap into areas where there are problems ... Alzheimer's, sleep deprivation, epilepsy." The value of his research into how neurons process and store information has been recognized by publications such as Science, Neuroscience, Nature and other journals. Earlier this year, Magee -- considered by his peers to be one of the world's preeminent young neuroscientists -- was honored with the prestigious C.J. Herrick Award, which recognizes young researchers who not only have made important contributions to the field but also show promise of future accomplishments. "The research has expanded our ideas, our understanding of how our brains work," says Magee, adding that the knowledge could help scientists "fix" proteins that cause brain problems. "We are doing imaging to study parts of the cell no one has been able to see before. When we learn more about the brain, we learn more about ourselves."
Jeanne Jaubert, 30
Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra Cellist; Founder and Artistic Director of Happensdance
There are two sides to Jeanne Jaubert. One is a cutting-edge modern dancer, given to "guerilla performances" and a high level of improvisation; the other is a classically trained cellist, attuned to the precision and practices of a symphony orchestra. All in all, not your everyday combination. "It seems totally normal to me," she says, "but I get that reaction a lot." Growing up near Houston, Jaubert danced first, taking lessons ever since her preschool days; cello lessons were added when she was in sixth grade and completed when she received her Doctor of Musical Arts degree from Rutgers University. Joining the ranks of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO) four seasons ago, Jaubert was not ready to leave dance behind, and so she founded Happensdance. The 12-member modern dance troupe has performed at the NOCCA Riverfront campus and the Contemporary Arts Center but also has appeared at more non-traditional locations such as the Zeitgeist Multi-Disciplinary Arts Center, Cafe Brasil and various outdoor locations. Most recently, Jaubert and her troupe teamed up with the New Orleans Opera Association, choreographing and performing the dance segments in Charles Gounod's Faust. While the LPO is off-season, Jaubert travels, collecting material and experience; she spent this past summer in Montreal with the internationally acclaimed dance company O Vertigo! and has worked previously with a trapeze artist in Florida.
Darren K. Crumpton, 32
Associate Sales Director, the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans
In the three years since he moved to New Orleans, Darren Crumpton has become an ambassador for his adopted city, bringing in more than $10 million in future tourism business for the Ritz-Carlton New Orleans. Because he often works in tandem with other local hotels, convention sites and businesses, the economic impact will be much greater, he says. "My immediate directive is to produce revenue and keep us all employed here at the Ritz-Carlton, but it goes hand-in-hand with promoting the city," says Crumpton. "We're selling the destination as part of selling the hotel, and part of my belief in this property (the Ritz-Carlton) is my belief in the city." Crumpton, a native of South Carolina, has embraced New Orleans and on his off-time likes to take advantage of the climate and natural wonders through his interests in bicycling, kayaking and running. He also likes to explore and share the city's culture, food and history. "You walk out the door of the Ritz-Carlton, and you're walking into a living museum," he says. The hotel, however, is not just for out-of-towners, and the management has incorporated attractions to draw in locals, including exclusive engagements with musician Jeremy Davenport, a full-service spa, Victor's restaurant and a soon-to-open boutique shopping center. "It's very important to us to have that local following," Crumpton says. "When we come into an area -- a city destination -- we work hand-in-hand with the city in hosting some of the most important social events. We want to be one of the main social centers in the city -- especially in New Orleans, which has a very social calendar."
Dr. Lee Dyer, 37
Ecologist, Entomologist, Conservationist
Though Dr. Lee Dyer's career has taken him through many sectors of scientific research and academia, there's no doubt what he's best known for -- caterpillars. The man who created the Web site www.caterpillars.org has documented countless new species of caterpillars, working in rain forests in Costa Rica and Ecuador with grant funding from Tulane University, EarthWatch Institute and the National Science Foundation. Passionate about caterpillars since his days as a graduate student, Dyer cites the study of caterpillars and parasatoids (parasites that ultimately kill their host "like that thing in the movie Alien") as being crucial to understanding rain forest culture and advancing agriculture. While Dyer enjoys his work as an assistant professor at Tulane, he clearly thrives on the field research that takes him to the jungles of Central America. "I spend way too much time at the computer, so it's nice when I actually get out," Dyer says. "The greatest thing is being out in the rain forest. It's a huge charge." The EarthWatch Institute grants allow Dyer to coordinate efforts of field volunteers, mostly lawyers, doctors and business executives who've never been to a rain forest before, Dyer says. True to his role as a teacher, Dyer cherishes the time spent with the volunteers in the rain forest. "I love seeing the amazement, sometimes the bewilderment, in their eyes," he says. "Then, there's often my own bewilderment when I discover something I've never seen before. It's always exciting."
Euna August, 27
Executive Director, Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies
Euna August had always been interested in health, but realized during her pre-med studies at Louisiana State University that she didn't want to be a doctor. "As a physician, I would only be able to treat sickness rather than the root of the problem," says August. A master's degree program in public health from Tulane University, plus a stint with the state Department of Public Health, allowed August to tackle problems from the ground up. She gravitated toward reproductive health and sexuality, particularly among African-American women and teens. Through the state public health office, August began working with the New Orleans-based nonprofit Institute of Women and Ethnic Studies (IWES), a think tank dedicated to improving the health and quality of life for African-American women and youth. August started as a program director and was promoted to executive director last spring. Among IWES' programs are the GHANA Project (Global HIV Adolescent Network for Awareness) and Pillow Talk, both aimed at educating adolescents about HIV and AIDS. The institute also oversees two youth-produced projects that address teen issues: the Our Voice newspaper and Teen Expressions cable-access show. "I think one of the big things with our youth work is being able to see the impact that it has had on their lives," August says. "We can look at statistics and say 'these rates have decreased,' but the real positive thing is to be able to look back and see all the people you touched. It's nice to see some of these students emerging as role models in our community."
Sarah Eva Krancic, 22
When Sarah Eva Krancic's great-grandparents entered an elder care facility, she began to notice how visits from young adults brought a smile to the residents' faces. Inspired by this simple idea, Sarah developed "To Keep Strong Hearts and Strong Hands," a photo essay project she hopes will help to give a voice to a generation that often gets ignored. This program flourished with the help of a $25,000 Josephine Louise Fellowship, which she was awarded upon her graduation from Tulane University and allowed her to spend a year traveling across the country and documenting her visits with the elderly. In each city, Krancic spent time with residents of elder care facilities, interviewing and photographing them. Their portraits and inspiring words became part of a show in the Carroll Gallery upon her return to New Orleans. Through these images, Krancic hopes younger generations will learn to appreciate and spend time with their elders. "[The show] makes people think about their own experiences and touches them on a personal level," she says. Currently, Krancic is working on a video of the gallery show to send to other galleries, as well as back to the facilities she visited so that the residents can see her work.
Wardell R. Bourgeois, 34
Eastern New Orleans Businessman
Amid dour national economic forecasts, Wardell Bourgeois, a native of eastern New Orleans, has created 22 jobs from three businesses in just four years -- and he's looking to "grow" more. A proud alum of both St. Augustine High and Dillard University, Bourgeois was immediately hired by Beneficial Management Corp., a mortgage lender and Fortune 500 company based in Dallas. He moved with the job to Texas, but eventually transferred back to New Orleans four years ago, amid accolades for earning $3 million for the company. He soon started his own company, Bourgeois & Associates Mortgage, which now has offices on both banks of the river. The downside of returning to New Orleans, however, soon became obvious when he gained 40 pounds, he says. To lose weight, he started Finales Fitness Center and opened a Smoothie King franchise. A certified nutrition consultant, Bourgeois is planning to expand, with a coffee shop now in the works and a second Smoothie King on the way. A cheerleader of economic development efforts Eastern New Orleans, Bourgeois says the momentum is on his side. "It has always been my contention that when you are on the bottom, you can only go up. Success breeds success. I have a stake in the city."
Virginia Miller, 34
Partner, The Beuerman Miller Group
For Virginia Miller, communication is key. As a partner of public relations firm The Beuerman Miller Group, Miller's work focuses on crisis management work and corporate communications and public relations. What this means is that she travels the world -- Hong Kong, Norway, Greece, Great Britain -- counseling international shipping clients traveling in U.S. waters. Along with partner Greg Beuerman, Miller helps her clients keep up with constantly changing regulations, deal with potential water-based tragedies, such as oil spills and terrorist activities, and set up effective communications with government entities, environmental groups and members of the media. In 2000, her work with the Westchester Spill, the largest domestic oil spill since the Exxon Valdez, earned her recognition by the United States Coast Guard for Meritorious Service -- the first such award ever granted to a civilian public relations practitioner. Through Miller's hard work and dedication, Beuerman Miller represents more Fortune 500 clients than any other Louisiana-based public relations company. "New Orleans is -- and can be -- a magnet for business nationwide and internationally," Miller says. The New Orleans transplant is also active in her community, devoting time and energy to the Lighthouse for the Blind. Last year, Miller spearheaded Blind Awareness Day, which encouraged local celebrities to conduct their daily activities without the use of their sight and she is slated to soon serve as the organization's chairman of the board.
Richard Read, 33
Flynn De Marco, 34
Running With Scissors
For a rag-tag group of camp players expanding the boundaries of pop culture-inspired theater, Running With Scissors co-founders Flynn De Marco and Richard Read may have received the ultimate compliment from none other than Times-Picayune society columnist Nell Nolan. De Marco was filling in as the stage manager for Nolan's latest work, Monologues and Music, when she approached him. "She told us that we were filling in that void between high-end theater and the more experimental theater," says De Marco. Sure enough, De Marco says he could sense that New Orleans was ready for something different when he moved here after 10 years of theater in San Francisco and was befriended by Read. Since then, the dynamic duo has recruited a bunch of relative theater greenhorns and spat out whacked-out, cross-pollinated productions of Texas Chainsaw 90210, The Scooby Witch Project and Gilligan's Island Survivor. In between all that came two different cabaret productions (Mystere and Kiki Le Bon Bon) and a fascinating take on Charles Ludlum's Camille at the A.R.K. space, with De Marco turning in a stunningly layered performance in the lead role. That set up what became the buzz production of the year, a 12-week run of Hedwig and the Angry Inch, in which De Marco took John Cameron Mitchell's defiantly bitchy Hedwig and made it his own. "Hedheads" from as far away as England bought multiple tickets and showered praise on De Marco's tour-de-force performance that featured 10 throat-wrenching tunes in between his amped-up monologues. Despite their versatility, 33-year-old Read generally plays organizer to 34-year-old De Marco's creative director. Still, the strength of Running With Scissors lies in its ensemble that features golden-throated Dorian Rush, Jason Toupes, Jim Jeske, Shim Shamette Veronica Oliver, character actor Bob Edes and costume designer Amanda Madden. "We'd be nowhere without them," says Read, director of grants and technology at NOCCA. "Only some of them have theater experience ... they're really just a bunch of hams." After such a Heddy run, the troupe is eyeing a variety of upcoming projects, one of which might be a campy (of course) send-up of the lesser-known Clint Eastwood gothic flick, The Beguiled. It'll probably be wild.
John Harris, 30
It's in the cozy-corner ambience of the cafe that sits in one of those antique shop stretches of Magazine Street, and also in the French and Italian bistro fare that has made Lilette one of the hottest new restaurants of 2001. You can see it in the deep clay-red walls dotted with gilt-framed mirrors, as well as in the Boudin Noir, a pint-size roll of murky-moist sausage that goes great solo or with a dab of Creole mustard, and the grilled veal Paillard with heirloom tomatoes, arugula and mascarpone toasts. Before the year even ended, New Orleans magazine went ahead and named Harris its Chef of the Year, while Times-Picayune food critic Brett Anderson and Gambit's own Sara Roahen have positively gushed over Lilette's sudden impact. After stints as Bayona's sous chef, Gautreau's executive chef, immersion trips to France (at Bayona Chef Susan Spicer's urging) and a stint at Gerard's Downtown, John Harris was already a grizzled vet whose time had come. "This is all I've ever done," says Harris, who's been in the kitchen since age 17. "It's the only job I've ever had." And yet, for such a hot shot, Harris guides diners with a steady hand, preferring to feed more with taste than flash. "I don't run like 10 specials a day ... with 15 different ingredients," says Harris, who's also gotten buzz notices in Southern Living and Bon Appetit. "I try to make what I do as consistent as possible."
Brad Brewster, 35
Internet and Multi-Media Entrepreneur
"I got into this field quite by accident," admits Brad Brewster, the founder of Bent Media, one of the nation's leading Internet and multi-media companies. As a fine arts student at UNO in the late 1980s, the 35-year-old New Orleans native was first drawn to the tools of the digital age by the university's Electronic Imaging Laboratory, where artists were encouraged to "mess around" with interactive equipment years beyond its time. "This was definitely fringe," Brewster says. "Little did we know that we were learning the tools that could be used for profit later." In 1992, Brewster started Bent Media to "create engaging interactive experiences," with the first project being "Discover Tulane," a multimedia tour of the campus put on floppy disc and mailed to prospective students across the country. The disc was an instant success, winning national awards and receiving notice on NBC's Today Show and USA Today. This initial success landed large contracts with notable clients such as Josten's Yearbook Company and Electronic Data Systems (EDS), right about the time of the Internet boom. Bent Media expanded into Web business in 1995, with their first big hit being Tabasco.com, whose online store helped double the company's catalog sales. Bent Media has since gained such Fortune 500 clients as Kikkoman and Oreck and, three years running, has been named one of Internet World's "Top 100 Internet Companies in the Country." A recent project took Bent Media back to their roots in interactive multi-media with the Louisiana Children's Museum's "Team Turtle," a high-tech touring bus that visits area schools. "Bent Media is lucky, in that the recent dot-bomb fiasco has not really affected us," Brewster says of his 13-person company. "E-commerce and interactive media in general have a very healthy outlook -- no matter what shape the economy is in. It's just too cost effective and far reaching of a medium to be stopped or side-tracked."
Fifi Laughlin, 38
Designer, Art Dealer, Interior Decorator
Fifi Laughlin believes in giving customers beautiful fine art with function, and her first stab at creating artful, one-of-a-kind lamps has won accolades from her peers and turned a bright idea into a full-time business. Laughlin had been a fine arts dealer and managing partner of Mario Villa's gallery in Chicago for a few years before she, husband Sean and son Sean returned to New Orleans a few years ago. Working with Villa instilled in Laughlin a strong appreciation of functional art and working as an interior decorator made her realize there was a vacuum in the market when it came to lamp designs. "There are not many attractive, interesting-looking, high-quality lamps that are new," says Laughlin, who calls on the artists at Studio Inferno to hand-blow stems for her lamps, which have sand-cast bases. Her lamps, with jewel-toned glass stems that glow when the light is turned on, have caught on with the public and interior designers alike. Recently, the Fashion Group Foundation honored Laughlin at its annual Alpha Awards, giving her a trio of its highest honors for home furnishing accessories, furniture design collection and the 2001 New Talent Award. Because of her background in selling art, Laughlin says she's been able to focus on all aspects of her new lamp business, from production to placement. She now is working on wall sconces, which should be ready in time for the holidays, and a chandelier design that should be on the market within a year.
Tyra Hughes-Brisco, 37
Actress, Writer, Poet, Comedian
Luckily for Tyra Hughes-Brisco, she doesn't have to decide where to channel her incredible creative energies -- she's got talent to share. A 2001 graduate of Dillard University with degrees in theater arts and creative writing, the 37-year-old mother of three balanced an already hectic schedule with a full-time postal job at night and responsibilities as an Air Force reservist, all while developing a name for herself as an actress, poet, writer and comedian. Her stage work has taken her to Atlanta and Los Angeles, as Hughes-Brisco flexes her acting muscles in both comedies and dramas. In April 2000, the National Association for Speech and Dramatic Arts honored her with a first place award for dramatic performance, the same award previously won by Samuel L. Jackson. At home, Hughes-Brisco lends her acting talent to area schools, serving as a volunteer drama director for many schools and as the creator of the Starshapers Children's Theater Company. Hughes-Brisco, whose original poetry has also won a national award, has performed as the featured poet in several New Orleans poetry houses, the famed Ha! Ha! in Hollywood and the Soul Cafe in New York City. Hughes-Brisco also studied improvisational comedy in the hallowed halls of Chicago's Second City Theater Company and recently stood in the national spotlight of BET's Comicview series. With her future wide-open, Hughes-Brisco refuses to limit herself to one genre, one focus. "I like all of it because it all allows me to perform," she says. "I enjoy reaching people, and I make sure to incorporate positive messages. No matter what I'm doing -- whether it's acting, writing or poetry -- I try to convey my message."
Melvin Rodrigue, 29
Chief Operating Officer, Galatoire's
In 1997, the venerable French Quarter restaurant Galatoire's embarked on two of the biggest changes it would make in its 96-year history. Galatoire's would undergo a massive renovation -- including re-opening an upstairs dining room that had been closed since World War II -- and would recruit a young general manager, Melvin Rodrigue, away from his position as food and beverage manager of the Westin Hotel to oversee the undertaking. Rodrigue, the first non-family member to hold the post, was a longtime restaurant employee who trained early in his career with the Brennan family. He approached the position with the credo that "the kitchen is the heart of the operation." Rodrigue planned a careful restoration in four stages. "We spread the renovation over nearly two years to avoid closing and did it," says Rodrigue, who also expanded Galatoire's wine cellar from 3,000 to 8,000 bottles. "It's been unbelievably successful since it's been finished -- more successful than I ever imagined it would be." Since the renovation, such success has included Gourmet magazine naming Galatoire's "Best Restaurant in New Orleans" and No. 24 on its ranking of "50 Best Restaurants in the United States" for 2001 -- the only Louisiana restaurant on the list. Rodrigue credits Galatoire's high marks to its insistence upon maintaining time-honored traditions. "I think people right now are coming back around to the fact that food is about quality, which is what the Galatoire family has always represented," says Rodrigue, married and the father of three. "It's very simply done; it's two or three ingredients on the plate, and it's done well."
Chris Nail, 32
Owner, C & M Music Centers
For Chris Nail, it's hard to imagine a job better than one that allows him to blend his passion into a career. And a booming business isn't bad, either. The 32-year-old drummer currently enjoys both, as owner of the C & M Music Center stores sprouting up across south Louisiana. In 1996, Nail left four years of retail work at Werlein's "to do for myself what I had been doing for other people." C & M Music Center began, as Nail describes it, "in a modest Kenner strip mall" in 1996, with incredible growth since then at a pace of roughly a new store every year. In 1997, C & M moved into Gretna, in 1998 to Baton Rouge, Houma in 1999, Mandeville in 2000, and the Lafayette store opened in August 2001. Back in 1999, Nail also expanded his Kenner location into 8,000 square feet of "slick space." Nail's journey began with "a high school band that went good," as the thrash-metal sound of Exhorder carried the group on to Baton Rouge. While a student at LSU, Nail played in the school's jazz band as well as The Golden Band from Tiger Land marching band, all while earning a degree in business and spending weeks at a time on the road touring. His years toiling as a musician serve as Nail's greatest education. "It's rare that people do exactly what they want to do in life," Nail says. "I'm a drummer, and I built up plenty of credentials in playing, but that's a really hard career to maintain. I learned that you have to make it happen for yourself, by working harder than the next person."
Marisol Canedo, 39
Director of International Trade and Business Development, MetroVision
Marisol Canedo knows she's fortunate in that she can enjoy the fruits of her labor on two homefronts. A lifelong New Orleanian of Ecuadorian heritage, Canedo is MetroVision's director of international trade and business development, and in that position has seen many long-term projects come to fruition in recent months that stand to give great economic boost to Louisiana as well as to Central and South America. Fittingly enough for Canedo, these projects stem from her devotion to helping others. Looking to help rebuild a region destroyed by Hurricane Mitch, Canedo coordinated an effort with Louisiana universities to rebuild the economy of Honduras. This Louisiana presence led to Canedo's orchestration of a trade mission from MetroVision to Nicaragua. This goodwill encouraged the government of Nicaragua to grant the authority to Louisiana company DELASA to operate a port called Puerto Cabezas on the country's Atlantic coast. Canedo is also credited with a helping hand in New Orleans' hosting duties for the 2000 meeting of the Board of Governors of the Inter-American Development Bank, further proof of her devotion to restoring New Orleans to the title "Gateway to the Americas." "This gives me a special reward as a Latin American," Canedo says. "It's great to see relationship-building come through trade missions. Similarities exist between the two cultures of Louisiana and Central America that people don't realize exist, and that's why the two are a perfect fit." Canedos, however, is not complacent in her victories. "These projects should serve as a role model that could go much further. There's a nice success story here, and seeing everybody's work come together is great, but there's much more we're working on. Here, the day is never dull."
Lindsay Ross, 31
Managing Director, New Orleans Film Society
In Lindsay Ross, the New Orleans Film Society (NOFS) found the perfect complement for creative director John Desplas. In this, Ross' first full year as managing director, the festival enjoyed its most successful series in years. The "Big House" sold out six screenings in October's festival, compared to one last year. It's a testament to Ross' months of efforts that promote the NOFS throughout the year. "Having been at the CAC and watching it grow from a grassroots organization run by artists to a thriving regional and national entity, I saw how we partnered with other nonprofits," says Ross, who has partnered with everyone from the Tennessee Williams/New Orleans Literary Festival to the Jefferson Performing Arts Society. There are other deft Ross touches, honed from her decade at the Contemporary Arts Center, which she left for the NOFS last year after making her mark as the CAC's special events coordinator. Under Ross, the festival offices have relocated, moving from a CBD location alongside the Arts Council of New Orleans to a Warehouse District office above the Jonathan Ferrara Gallery on Carondelet Street. "Lindsay's best quality is she's bright and indefatigable and unflappable, and it's hard to get that together in one package," says veteran Film Society board member Ellen Johnson. "She can just keep her cool and walk through the burning buildings, as it were, and never get bent out of shape. Anything is possible."