A Race To The Finish
Ray Pellerin Instrumental In Promoting Bayou Teche Corridor
By Cheryl Robichaux / Photos courtesy Tour du Teche
Breaux Bridge native Ray Pellerin, 72, loves boats. From a pirogue to a canoe to an 85-foot houseboat, he’s had them all. In his college days Ray and his roommate at LSU used to race on the university lakes against the other fraternities, so it’s always been in his blood. In fact Ray’s first date with his first mate involved a boat race at Lake Martin.
A Licensed Coast Guard Captain, his first mate is his wife, Susan, and next year the couple will celebrate their 50th wedding anniversary. Their children are Gene, Frank, Paula and Andre, and they have eight grandchildren.
He is past president of Pellerin Funeral Homes, Inc., Pellerin Life Insurance Co. and Pellerin Marble and Granite Co., and the founder of Limousines Limited. The Pellerin family operates funeral homes in Arnaudville, Breaux Bridge, Cecilia, Henderson, New Iberia and St. Martinville.
A lifelong community leader, volunteer, advocate and exemplary citizen, Ray has served as president, director and chairman on numerous boards and commissions in Acadiana. He was previously selected as Fireman of the Year and Crawfish Festival Crawfish King, to name a few, and has received many awards and much recognition for his outstanding service to the community.
Tour du Teche III
Ray is a founding organizer of Tour du Teche, a 135-mile canoe and kayak race down Bayou Teche through St. Landry, St. Martin, Iberia and St. Mary Parishes. This year’s race will be held from Friday, Oct. 5 through Sunday, Oct. 7 and it benefits all four parishes.
According to Nicole Patin, executive director of Tour du Teche, “It started in 2010 to introduce the beautiful Teche Country to paddlers and other eco-tourists, and to illustrate to its residents the recreational, aesthetic, cultural and economic value of Bayou Teche. Visitors and locals enjoy the music and cuisine that give Tour du Teche its reputation as a moveable party as well as a tough series of paddle marathons.”
About 20 years ago Ray spearheaded canoe and kayak races with the Kiwanis Club in Breaux Bridge, but organizing a 135-mile race came with its own set of challenges. During the Inaugural Tour du Teche in 2010, racers paddled non-stop from Port Barre to Patterson for three days. It was exhausting for everyone involved.
“At the end of the first race we realized we should stage it into three days,” says Ray. “Friday night I’m listening to Wayne Toups playing in St. Martinville on the stage and all these paddlers from 12 states and one foreign country are worried about is getting to the finish line. Here we’ve got this music, these people and the culture. They didn’t get the chance to see any of that. Staging the race in 2011 forced them to stop in St. Martinville and Franklin so they could rest, have a good time at night and celebrate.”
There are two classes of Tour du Teche: Racing, in which some of the fastest boats and paddlers from around the world compete for cash prizes; and Voyageur, or recreational paddling, where the participants compete for trophies and “bragging rights.” Voyageurs may choose shorter races held in conjunction with Tour du Teche.
Prior to the race in 2011, an insert was circulated that listed the name of each person who registered, their hometown and their boat number. Anyone on the banks of the Bayou Teche who had this insert would yell out their name and cheer them on. According to Ray, “The paddlers told us that was the most effective thing they’ve ever seen. Some of the residents would give them cold water and soft drinks. One lady in Loreauville let a couple of paddlers go into her house to take hot showers. The racers from up north are not used to the welcoming Cajun hospitality. It’s a different atmosphere down here.”
During a race of this magnitude, it’s important to rehydrate and replenish electrolytes in the body. A typical racer will burn 500 calories per hour. In order to win the Tour du Teche, paddlers have to stroke between 60 to 80 strokes a minute, the whole way.
Ray states, “A pirogue can race the entire length. Last year we had a couple that raced the entire 135 miles in a pirogue. I have a lot of respect for them. They didn’t come in first or anything, but they finished.” In May 2012 the pirogue was officially adopted as the State Boat of Louisiana.
Inaugural Petite Tour du Teche
The Inaugural Petite Tour du Teche is scheduled for Sept. 8 and 9, three weeks before the big Tour du Teche. Petite TDT is a series of short canoe and kayak races for children aged 5 to 17, the first of which will be held on Bayou Teche at Breaux Bridge. Distances range from 250 yards to 1 mile and the prizes will be ribbons and certificates. “The purpose is to create a racing opportunity for paddlers too young to compete in Tour du Teche, thereby seeding love of the sport and stewardship of the bayou for the future,” says Patin.
Ray’s passion for boating has inevitably caught on with his grandchildren, 10-year-old triplets Carson, Peyton and Conrad. When the triplets get in the water they each have 32 ounces of Gatorade in their racing kayaks to stay hydrated. Their kayaks, Spirit Pro Race Series Skis, were built in Australia and designed to race in the ocean. “They’re perfect for kids because you can’t sink them,” says Ray. “They sit on top, not in the hole. You ought to see those kids. It’s like they’re part of the boat.”
His First Mate
Ray met his first mate at a dance revue in Lafayette. His sister was dancing and she asked him to run a tape recorder. He agreed, thinking they’d have some cute girls on stage. Ray recalls, “Susan Caroline Taylor of New Iberia was there and I thought, ‘This looks interesting.’ After the dance revue I offered to give her a ride to her car because it was raining. I tried to get a date but she said she was booked. So I threw her a curve ball and asked her out for the next day, which was a Sunday. She agreed to go with me to the hydroplane boat races at Lake Martin, and the rest was history.”
They dated for four years and Susan, a bright student, graduated from LSU in three years. “When I finished college I had $18 left in my bank account,” she says, “and that was just enough to buy his wedding ring.”
Staying The Course
Pellerin Funeral Home was founded in 1921 by Harris J. Pellerin, Sr. At that time, the funeral home business was very different from what it is today. There were actually no “funeral homes.” Harris would travel to the deceased person’s home to perform the embalming and deliver the casket. In those days, the caskets were built in Ray’s grandfather’s furniture store in Breaux Bridge, which is now Café des Amis. The wake was also held at the home.
Ray was in his third year at LSU studying mechanical engineering when his dad, who had Parkinson’s disease, couldn’t run the business any more. Ray went on to obtain his degree from Texas Dallas Institute of Mortuary Science and came back to Breaux Bridge in 1962 to start running the funeral home.
Ray and Susan married on June 29, 1963 and the couple resided in Breaux Bridge. Susan became a math and science teacher at Breaux Bridge High School. In September of that same year, Ray received a notice from the U.S. Army to get a physical and had orders to report to Fort Hood, Texas for the military. About 10 days before he was supposed to report for duty, President John F. Kennedy signed a bill exempting married men from the draft.
Through Rough Waters
As the young couple worked and began raising their family, there were many nights Ray spent sleeping at the funeral home. “In those days it was tough because there were no cell phones or beepers and I couldn’t leave,” he says. “We also operated an ambulance service until 1971.” Susan adds, “There was a time when he’d go to three meetings a night, five nights a week. Everything civically you could do, every project in the parish, he was involved in it.” Ray worked for 17 years as an embalmer, and today the family tradition continues under the direction of his sons, Gene and Frank, third generation funeral directors.
After Hurricane Katrina’s waters inundated New Orleans and surrounding areas in September 2005, Ray and Gene were volunteer members of the Louisiana Funeral Director Recovery Team. They spent two harrowing weeks recovering bodies in the immediate aftermath of the storm and helping with autopsies at the Jefferson Parish Forensic Science Center in Gretna.
At one time Ray and Susan owned an 85-foot long houseboat called Beau Rêve, which is French for “beautiful dream.” Each year for the Sugar Cane Festival in New Iberia Beau Rêve was docked at Bouligny Plaza and it was a spectacle indeed. The houseboat boasted three bedrooms, a wet bar and a hot tub.
As the founder of the Cajun Christmas Bayou Parade in Breaux Bridge, Ray had 18 animated floats built on the water. “Engineers with Baker Hughes did all the programming and built the computers for us,” he says. “The parades were so good we got a call from Disney World to send them video. They wanted to know what we did and how we did it.” Eventually the parade became more complicated every year and after eight years the couple laid that project to rest.
So what’s next for the man who apparently can’t resist a new challenge? Ray is a founding organizer of Cycle Cajun Country, a future bicycle tour from Berwick to Opelousas. The race meanders through a scenic route along the Bayou Teche Corridor featuring nightly stops of music, food and entertainment in true Tour du Teche fashion. The ride is planned for April 2013.
“It’s been a ride I’ll tell you,” Ray says with a grin.
For more information on Tour du Teche and Petite TDT visit www.tourduteche.com and find them on Facebook.
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