Hall of Distinction
In recognition of its 60th anniversary, the University of New Orleans honored a select group, some posthumously, by inducting them into the Hall of Distinction. They have had a profound effect on the university and the Crescent City. The inductees were celebrated at the Hall of Distinction black tie gala presented by Hancock Whitney at the NOPSI Hotel.
Said John Nicklow, UNO president, “Inclusion in the Hall of Distinction reflects the respect and admiration held by the University of New Orleans for these individuals, both living and deceased.” He continued, saying they had “shaped our institution and the city to which we are inextricably linked” and “serve as an inspiration to both our current and future students.”
Take a bow, inductees!
Leading off the list alphabetically was Stephen E. Ambrose, 1936-2002, a former UNO history professor, author and co-founder of the museum that has become The National WWII Museum. Then came Tom (1927-2018) and Gayle Benson, owners of the New Orleans Saints, New Orleans Pelicans, GMB Racing Stables and Dixie Beer; Raymond J. Brandt, president and CEO of the Ray Brandt Automotive Group; Thomas Kitchen, former president and CEO of Stewart Enterprises Inc. and former president of Avondale Industries Inc., who earned both a bachelor’s degree and an MBA from UNO and is the 1997 recipient of the Homer Hitt Distinguished Alumni Award as a distinguished alumnus; and Robert W. Merrick, chairman and CEO of Latter & Blum Inc. and a holder of an honorary doctorate from UNO. As of 2018, Merrick and Latter & Blum are responsible for more than $2 million in charitable donations to the university.
James R. Moffett, chairman emeritus of Freeport-McMoRan Inc., who answers to Jim Bob, received an honorary doctorate from UNO in 1993. As of this year, his personal giving and his philanthropic efforts through Freeport-McMoRan to UNO exceed $5.8 million.
Co-founder of the institution originally known as The National D-Day Museum with UNO historian, the above Stephen Ambrose, Gordon H. “Nick” Mueller is now the president and CEO emeritus of The National WWII Museum. Before stepping into his second career in the museum world, Mueller spent 33 years as a professor of European history at UNO.
The remaining three honorees were Gary N. Solomon Sr., a 1979 UNO graduate, the 2002 recipient of the above Homer Hitt Award, and current chairman and CEO of Crescent Bank & Trust; Patrick F. Taylor (1937-2004), president, chairman and CEO of Taylor Energy Co. and creator of the Taylor Opportunity Program for Students (TOPS); and Alexander P. Tureaud Sr. (1899-1972), civil rights activist and New Orleans attorney for the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund.
President Nicklow opened the program with words of welcome, prior to the recognition of the honorees by Norman Robinson, master of ceremonies. Accepting the awards, in the absence of several inductees, were Carole Tureaud, on behalf of her late father; John Amato, on behalf of Moffett; Mark Romig, on behalf of Gayle Benson; and Dr. James Caillier, on behalf of the late Patrick Taylor. In-attendance spouses of the honorees were Connie Kitchen, Martha Solomon, Beth Mueller, Jessica Brandt and Sheryl Merrick.
Midway through the encomiums, dinner was served. Guests delighted in a menu of poached pear salad, Pimms Cup sno-ball, braised boneless beef short rib paired with a French seafood crepe, and a dessert of satsuma Napoleon, mascarpone, strawberry salad and chocolate truffle. Additional features were flowers by Ambrose Garden, audio visuals by Royal Productions and the trappings of the beautiful new NOPSI hotel. Among the Silver & Blue Sponsors were Louise H. Moffett, Crystal Moffett Lourd and Bubba Moffett.
After closing remarks by President Nicklow, who was accompanied by spouse Dr. Stacy Nicklow, The New Orleans Jazz Orchestra entertained.
Among the UNO notables were Susan and Bill Hess, Bobby Savoie, Henry and Karen Coaxum, Bill and Joanne Chauvin, David and Jeanne Gallo, Arnold Kirschman, Quentin and Kenya Messer, Julie and Larry Stokes and Gary and Carolyn Lorio.
A plethora of upbeat remarks came from the inductees, who wished UNO good luck and “forever” prosperity; pledged continued support; and noted robust energy. Tom Kitchen summed up what the evening was all about. “I would say that metropolitan New Orleans does not work without the University of New Orleans. It’s that simple. Its impact is that profound on the city.”
The Wizardry of ‘OZ
Magic to any party giver’s ears: “Sold out a week in advance.” And that was the case with the inaugural WWOZ Groove Gala at Tableau & Le Petit Theatre, which was billed “Not your average gala!” “We wanted it to be the opposite of a regular gala,” said station general manager Beth Arroyo Utterback prior to the bash. “People can come dressed like they would for Jazz Fest and we’re not having auctions.” Food and good music filled the bill.
Guardians of the Groove united to benefit WWOZ, New Orleans’ Jazz & Heritage Station. Gourmet eats and drinks were provided by Dickie Brennan Restaurants — as he made party rounds, Dickie was duly thanked and complimented — and the slated music makers were Irma Thomas (who had fun with her new title of “Doctor,” having received an honorary doctorate from Tulane), Amanda Shaw, Dr. Michael White Quartet (with the four players clad in suits, white dress shirts and ties), Treme Brass Band, Doreen Ketchens, Joe Krown, Gregory Agid Trio and Michael O’Hara. Norman Robinson stepped in masterfully as the host.
The entire restaurant was transformed into an indoor Jazz Fest with a Mango Freeze quaff quarter, multilevel music (the courtyard and the theater), and decorations of vinyl 45s fashioned into chandeliers, fun and funky WWOZ flags and other musical motifs, souvenir sunglasses, and colorful table toppings in orange, fuchsia and plum. The Groove Gala inaugural poster by Isabelle Jacopin was selling fast. Other artists represented were Nan Parati and Roan Smith.
At 8 p.m., after the reception, the Treme Brass Band second-lined throughout the restaurant, leading the patron pack into Le Petit Theatre, where Shaw, White and Thomas performed. There was also a brief video about WWOZ’s service and projects. After the much-applauded main stage show, the momentum was back to Tableau for a dessert party with R&B music provided by WWOZ show host Neil Pellegrin.
The event’s chairing force, called Band Leaders, included WWOZ board member Rachel Shields and Julie Wise Oreck, along with a Brennan cohort in Dickie, sister Lauren Brennan Brower and Steve Pettus. Deb Harkins, who chairs the WWOZ board, was joined by husband Corky. Others from the board were J Pegues with wife Maura Sylvester, Doug Hammond with Mignonne, Ron McClain, Ruth Chouest with Lainey. Courtney Slatten Katzenstein, Bob Edmundson with Kathleen, Brittany Major, Judge Sidney Cates, David Kerstein and Norman Robinson.
Reveling, too, were Don Marshall, Sally and Geordie Brower, Rhonda Sharkawy, Abhi Bhansali, Sid Bhansali and fiancée Gia Rabito, Dominic Massa, Tom Lewis, Kerry and Tiffa Boutte, Charlotte Bollinger (“This has been so much fun”), Leslie Perrin and Chuck Randsdell, Karen Solomon, Staci Rosenberg, Susan Wormser, Sarah Martin, Rick Wilkof, Michael Longfield, Sally Young, Michael Dominici, Leslie Cooper, Bob Rodrigue, the Rev. Ron Clingenpeel, Tom Roche and “the entire award-winning WWOZ staff.”
In the spirit of fest and fun, even the restrooms got a dubbing. Signs in front of the doors stated, “Better than Portalets.”