09/22/2016 03:26PM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Legacies Shared [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
By Suzanne Ferrara
Despite being one of the ‘crown jewel’ cities in Louisiana because of its enthralling history, diverse culture and natural beauty, many of New Iberia’s most spellbinding stories remain untold. If the Bayou Teche and the ancient moss-draped trees could talk, the storied past of the Spaniards, French, African-Americans and the many other cultures would leave us enthralled.
Historical buildings, oozing with tales of the people who breathed life within its walls, line the commercial district and points beyond, begging for their stories of life and love to be told to the generations of today and tomorrow. These whispers of the past are responsible for the intricately woven soul that makes New Iberia the unique city that it is today.
Behind the fervent effort to forge the bond between past and present is Cathy Indest, the daughter of the late Jacqueline Voorhies who also carried the same passionate mission to preserve and share New Iberia’s history. “We have something really special in New Iberia and it’s unlike any other place in the world,” says Indest. Like her mother before her, Indest is president of the Iberia Cultural Resources Association and is committed to carrying out a painstaking task Mrs. Voorhies zealously worked on until her death in 2008. “She gave so much of her enthusiasm, intelligence and efforts to this community and the Acadiana people,” says a passionate Indest.
In the early 1970s, Indest’s mother, the late historian Glen Conrad and Al Landry (who is still an Iberia Cultural Resources Association committee member) initially fronted the movement to place historical markers throughout New Iberia’s historic district. “I was working with my mother for years on this and when she died I said, ‘I can’t let this go;’ and with the help of this great committee, we are carrying out that legacy for New Iberia,” says Indest.
To say Indest is committed to this mission is an understatement and she and her dedicated committee members are on a crusade to reveal New Iberia’s unwritten history by dotting the community with these bronze markers, an undertaking that has gained insurmountable support. Doc Voorhies, a community advocate (and distant relative of Indest’s father), expresses the importance of having these snapshots of local history on display. “To me, honoring a family member, perpetuating the existence of an institution or honoring a passion while telling the history of New Iberia is a great idea. The many plaques we already have tell part of the story. More needs to be told.”
And thanks to this endeavor, more chapters are about to unfold. As of 2012, 21 markers had been placed throughout the community and the Iberia Cultural Resources Association is determined to add several more by 2018. “I think what happened in 2012 is we lucked out in a sense. We had a couple of people, who were very interested in the plaques and word got out. Now we want people to know we are getting started again on another round of plaques,” says Bo Belanger III, historian and committee member for the Iberia Culture Resources Association. “It’s a way to honor loved ones while telling the history of our community and we are looking for those families who are interested,” adds Indest.
Unlike the plaques dedicated in 1974, today’s markers are trilingual (translated in Spanish, French and English), which is a rarity not seen in many places around the globe, cast in bronze and, weighing 100 pounds each, Indest says they’re made to last forever. While 40 years ago the plaques were funded by organizations, today they are paid for by individuals and family members who want to share a legacy of New Iberia. The cost ranges from $3,800 to $4,100 depending on whether the 24 x 36-inch marker is mounted onto a building or on a freestanding pole like the marker at the Grotto of Our Lady of Lourdes.
In addition to the physical beauty of the plaques, great appreciation should be attributed to the arduous task that goes into creating this vestige: committee members spend hours upon hours translating and editing details, plus eyeballing proof after proof to make sure every element is historically accurate. “We go through a lot of trouble to make sure history and its translations are corrected,” says Indest. The content of the inscriptions has also evolved and includes more historically significant details about the building (original land owner, current owner, etc.) upon which a plaque is placed. “It’s not easy because we are trying to bring it all down to about ten sentences,” adds Belanger. These families also have their individual dedications inscribed at the bottom of their respective plaques.
As witnessed by previous plaque funders, the payoff of dedicating and sharing their markers with the community is intangibly rewarding. “It’s very sentimental. Our parents have a plaque at Church Alley because my mother taught and coached at Mount Carmel and that’s why we choose Church Alley, which was the direct pathway to the church used by the Mount Carmel nuns,” says Phyllis Belanger Mata.
Indest adds that, for some families, these plaques have become heart-felt rallying points for re-connecting. For example, she says, “The Trappey family has one at the Gougenheim in honor of their mother and when they get together for some occasion on Main Street they say ‘we’ll meet at Mama’s marker.’”
New Iberia Mayor Hilda Daigre Curry says the markers underscore the distinct yet varied characteristics of the Queen City of the Teche. “The plaques highlight the unique cultures of New Iberia and our French and Spanish heritage, which sets our city apart from other cities,” says Curry.
Officials with The Shadows on the Teche, a National Trust Historic Site, have thrown their support behind the mission to cover more territory with these markers. “New Iberians and visitors alike relish learning about New Iberia’s irreplaceable past by reading these thought-provoking descriptions which offer a glimpse of our rich history,” says Patricia Kahle, Director of the Shadows.
The unveiling ceremonies of each plaque are where families gather to begin sharing another chapter of New Iberia’s unforgettable history. It’s during these dedications that pomp and circumstance reign, and usual attendees include Louisiana’s governor and both the French and Spanish consulate generals. “I don’t think many people realized we were actually founded by the Spanish,” explains Indest.
So where will the new set of plaques be placed? Belanger says he is gathering and researching history on St. Peter’s Church and the New Iberia National Bank Building, two sites that he believes will have plaques. Other potential locations for the markers are the Allain’s Jewelry building, which was once the old Ford garage; St. Peter’s Cemetery, where the founders of New Iberia are buried along with other chief historical figures; and the Duperier Block buildings.
Over the next 10 years, Indest says the Iberia Cultural Resource Association expects to extend the markers to the National Registry historical residential district from the Shadows eastward on Main Street. “I think we’re all trying to continue the legacy of love for this community through its rich history and its great people, and we’re doing so through these amazing historical markers.”
Indest smiles as she shares a photograph of her mother with Governor Edwin Edwards and other dignitaries at the dedication of the original plaques back in 1974. In her other hand, she holds the speech her mother wrote and read partially in French at that very ceremony. “In 1974 they said, ‘The plaques represent the efforts of a community that wants to retain its cultural identity and that they are a gift to the community’ and this is still true today!”
For more information on New Iberia’s plaques go to www.iberiacultural.com.