Striving for the Best


The gala that bears the name received nothing short of rave reviews. With a fusion of elegance and fun from start to finish, it was an ideal way to celebrate Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15-Oct.15. Once again, the venue for the Excelencia Gala given by the Hispanic Chamber of Commerce of Louisiana was the JW Marriott. For hours, guests delighted in the festive format of a dinner dance and silent auction.

Capping the formalities was the presentation of the 2017 Excelencia Awards by mistress of ceremonies/HCCL board member Teresa Lawrence to Metairie Bank with President and CEO Ron E. Samford Jr. accepting; Brandy D. Christian, president and CEO Port of New Orleans; Good Work Network with executive director Hermione Malone accepting; and Emilio Peralta, Meridiano90. They were the respective Corporate Partner, Economic Development, Community Leader and Small Business honorees.

Among those applauding them were HCCL President and CEO Mayra Pineda and husband Hector; Pan American Life Insurance Group Vice President Rudy Revuelta and Elizabeth; Dr. Juan Gershanik and Ana Ester; Blue Cross Blue Shield senior director Rod Teamer and Toya; World Trade President and CEO Caitlin Cain; Delgado Community College Chancellor Joan Davis; and New Orleans Baby Cakes general manager Augusto “Cookie” Rojas and Kristen.

Amanda Freeman, Blanca Robinson, Deysi Munoz, Jennifer Quezergue, Martha Castillo, Mayra Pineda, Miriam Brown, Raiza Pitre and Milca Palma-Otanez formed the gala committee; Triton Stone Group and Blue Cross Blue Shield of Louisiana were Title Sponsors; and Anselmo Rodriguez (chairman), Castillo, Pitre, Jacqueline Brettner, Blanca Robinson, Angelica Rivera, Munoz, Juan Barreto and Pineda are the HCCL’s 2017 officers.

Mardi Gras Productions embellished the site with a fabulous modern flair. Silver table linens, black chair covers, and arrangements of yellow roses, white orchids and greenery were among the features. Meal and music were major components, thanks to the creativity of chef Carlos Lainez for the sit-down dinner that concluded with key lime pie, and to the noteworthy excitement of the Julio y Cesar band. Their dance favorites kept gala-goers rushing to the floor.

A slew of treasures figured in the silent auction, especially art work by Terrance Osborne, Gustavo Duque, Belinda Shinshillas and Elsa Baker. Other popular items were the tickets donated by COPA Airlines, a sponsor; jewelry by Christy Cali; and a JW Marriott Resort & Spa “stay.”

Throughout the evening, the gala enjoyed special moments, starting with the entrance of the Marine Color Guard and the national anthem. Another highlight was the surprise birthday celebration for Emilio Peralta, which had the added excitement of a mariachi band.

Appreciation Day

Dozens amassed at midday at the New Orleans Marriott for the New Orleans Navy League’s Military Appreciation Day luncheon sponsored by the New Orleans Council of the Navy League of the United States. The Navy League is a national volunteer organization dedicated to supporting the Navy, Marine Corps, Coast Guard, and Merchant Marines by providing information to Congress and the public on issues that are vital to the sea services.

Jeffery Sallet, FBI agent in charge, New Orleans, was the guest speaker. Turning attention to him were New Orleans Navy League President Tommy Lind and wife Eugenia; luncheon Chairman Rear Adm. J. D. Olson, who is retired from the Navy, and Carol; Rear Adm. John Okun, commander of Navy Meteorology, Stennis, Mississippi; Rear Adm. Tommy Rinard, US Navy retired; and Rear Admirals Joel Whitehead (with Martha), David Callahan, and Jake Korn, who are all retired from the Coast Guard.

Also, former Louisiana Lt. Gov. Jimmy Fitzmorris; Joe Exnicios; US Navy Commander Adam Bashaw; Area President Capt. David Whiddon, who is retired from the Navy, and wife Bobbie; Navy League administrative assistant Joan Kuhn; and Steve Pershing Griffin, a WWII veteran (and almost 99 years old), with his granddaughter, Maj. Julie Santiag, who is retired from the US Air Force. Griffin was duly recognized during the luncheon. A number of honorees were also acknowledged.

The Presentation of Colors was by the New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy. The academy’s choir participated again when the choir sang the national anthem.

“A special and meaningful luncheon” was a repeated assessment of the event. Responding to that comment was the above Bobbie Whiddon, who added, “the city has no idea (of) the service that the military does in our local community both on duty and in their off hours.”

Forging New Ground

In the fall of 1976, the Contemporary Arts Center was formed. Four decades later, in the summer of 2016, the CAC entered into a long-term lease with The Domain Companies for the development of The Shop, a creative co-working space on the under-utilized third and fourth floors of the CAC’s 100,000 square-foot building, including the warehouses. This landmark capital project partnership triggered an essential full-building update, with approximately $12 million in significant building renovations and systems upgrades.

To hail the work, a Building Dedication occurred, which included an unveiling and celebration of the 40th-anniversary building renovations. A reception and open house, along with tours of the CAC and The Shop beckoned.

During the formalities, CAC director and CEO Neil A. Barclay, as well as CAC board President and Chairwoman Debbie Brockley acknowledged capital project donors and dedicated the new named spaces. A plaque had the names of the past CAC presidents. Among the stops on the tour were the Helis Foundation First Floor Galleries; the Dathel and Tommy Coleman, Amicus, and Media galleries; and the Camp Street Warehouse.

Celebratory balloons, colorful CAC brochures, autumnal florals by Palate New Orleans, vases made by Palate owner Glenn Vatshell, and Palate’s delicious hors d’oeuvres and a Creole boucherie table added to the excitement.

Mastheaders included CAC building donors Sydney (a past president) and Walda Besthoff; Domain Companies principal Matt Schwartz and Christa; and CAC past prezzes Robyn Dunn Schwarz with Andrew Schwarz, Mike Siegel with Aimee, Barbara Motley with Biff, and Steve Dumez, project architect, with Suzanne. Also, Tom Snedeker with daughter Rebecca Snedeker, Mark and Patricia Fullmer, Bennett David and Lisa Brooking David, Erik Johnsen, Robert Tannen and Jeanne Nathan, Melanee Usdin, Virginia Rowan, Michael Schneider, Ron Bechet, Jonathan Ferrara, Susan Brennan, and Mary Elise Schlesinger, regional director from U.S. Sen. John Kennedy’s office. Party favors were Leporello of CAC postcards showcasing the upcoming season.