On Saturday, February 28, LSU students and staff made a 3.5 hour trek up the Mississippi River to visit the birthplace of CenturyLink, Delta Airlines, and Duck Commander-the twin cities of Monroe and West Monroe. We began the day with a tour of the University of Louisiana at Monroe’s campus, without which the rural region would be lost financially (think $150 million impact yearly). Pausing for lunch at Fieldhouse, run by a former ULM athlete and now a huge booster of the university, we then ventured to the Biedenharn Museum and Gardens. The Biedenharns are a Monroe family who were the first in the whole WORLD to bottle Coca-Cola in the 1890s and today help to keep arts and culture alive in northeast Louisiana. The group ended the day with a pit stop at Duck Commander Headquarters, where we got a special “behind the scenes” peek at how a small business that began in a trailer 40 years ago has morphed into a multi-million dollar household name while keeping family values intact. We enjoyed our day in “Sportsman’s Paradise” exploring this small town with very big business.
Yesterday, 12 LSU students ventured to the “end of the world” to attend the 40th Annual French Food Festival in LaRose, Louisiana (about 2 hours southeast of Baton Rouge in rural Lafourche Parish). This small community of about 5,000 citizens is situated directly on the water: Bayou Lafourche and the Gulf Intracoastal Waterway intersect here.
Upon pulling up to the LaRose Civic Center, we were welcomed with open arms by the festival coordinator, Ms. Jasmine Ayo. She gave us a tour of the new festival pavilion where over 20 booths offered any type of Cajun food one could imagine.
Our community leader for the 2nd LEAD Louisiana trip was Ms. Celeste Uzee, who is employed by Tulane University in New Orleans and whose family has been the festival’s designated gumbo chefs for three generations. She spoke to the students about how the festival began in 1973 as an effort to pull in visitors and make a profit to build a community park in LaRose. The park and civic center are entirely citizen-owned and operated, as the funds to build them were raised independently and no government money was used. Because of this, a unique sense of ownership has developed that has aided the festival in growing to what it is today: an event that brings in 35,000 people over a 3-day weekend from different states and even countries.
Ms. Uzee talked about the importance of motivation as it relates to leadership in LaRose. Citizens of this community feel invested in the festival and the facilities it takes place in, so they work hard to help it succeed. There is no board of directors barking orders at the festival staff; everyone lends a hand, and no job is too menial to be completed by even the most seasoned workers.
We spent the rest of the day eating local delicacies such as shrimp bouchettes, fried oysters, gumbo, crawfish fettuccine, pistolettes, pralines, and many other things we had never heard of-but they all tasted amazing! Being in such close proximity to the water gives one access to some awesome seafood. There were also fair rides, an auction, and music by Amanda Shaw and Seabrook. We had a fantastic time spending a day in deep south Louisiana and getting an inside view on what it means to be Cajun in the 21st century.