Interesting people, like the seven 2018 Most Interesting People honorees, have the ability to captivate those around them. They make lasting impressions on everyone they come into contact with. There are endless adjectives that aptly describe the personalities of the interesting: adventurous, humble, confident, eccentric, generous, brave. But what truly sets them apart isn’t who they are; it’s what they do. These honorees are each plagued with curiosity, and when their minds ponder “what if,” they find out.
When Acadiana LifeStyle began accepting nominations for the 2018 Most Interesting People honorees we were, as always, inundated with nominations. People do their best to convey exactly what it is about their candidate that makes them so special, and it always ends with, ”You just have to meet them.” And it’s true – they just have a certain je ne sais quoi. This group proves how many different shapes interesting can truly take.
Allison Howard, Holistic Blogger
Alison Howard’s first love was counseling. However, as a major in college, it didn’t exactly pan out. The beauty is, it didn’t need to. Alison has created a life that has allowed her to give back to others and to counsel them, though not in the traditional sense.
Alison graduated, as a part of the last class from USL, in 1999 with a degree in Interior Design. After a brief move to the San Antonio area, she returned home to be with her boyfriend (who would soon become her husband), to cure a craving for rice and gravy and to open her own interior design business, Décor. Then…
“I got a call in 2006 from my aunt that my dad had been given two weeks to live and I needed to get to the hospital,” she laments. “My father had been an alcoholic for a very long time. I saw that his condition had severely deteriorated since I’d seen him two years before. I told him I couldn’t save his body, but I was going to do everything I could to save his soul.”
Alison did exactly as she’d promised for the next nine days until her father’s death. During this time, Décor fell by the wayside, but something bigger began. She dedicated her life to volunteerism. She started with the Junior League of Lafayette. Ten years later she became the President of the organization. She was also a member of the board of the United Way. While she’s still a member of the Junior League and of the Catholic Services Executive Council, Alison’s volunteerism has slowed down…for a very good reason.
“My husband and I weren’t able to conceive,” she states. “I told my husband that God was going to give me a baby. I didn’t know how, but I knew he was. I was ordering my baby in mass every week. I ordered her perfectly, and that’s exactly how God delivered her to me…perfectly.”
Three years ago, Alison met her daughter’s, birth mother and embarked on the very rare experience of a private adoption. In May of 2014, the baby Allison had ordered arrived. She named her Helena. The arrival of her daughter changed everything for Alison, including the way she cooked.
“I was gluten free before gluten free was cool,” she jests. “Eliminating gluten 17 years ago cured digestive problems I had experienced since college. When Helena was born, her body rejected dairy. So now our family is gluten free and dairy free.”
With a myriad of holistic recipes in her arsenal and her servant’s heart eager to help others, Alison started her blog Savoring Presence. The health and wellness blog has amassed an extremely impressive fan base that is constantly growing. She also contributes to the popular Lafayette Moms Blog. Alison is continuing to evolve the way she helps others. She recently began teach yoga at Oui Power Yoga.
“I went to yoga teacher training in Sedona, Arizona. There was so much self-inquiry; it was invaluable. I came home with a new view, and a new view means a miracle. Shifts in views create miracles. My new view? I love myself.”
Michael Parich, Jr., Philanthropic Entertainer
You may know Michael Parich Jr., Mike, as many things: entertainment industry extraordinaire, voice of the Catholic High School Panthers, devoted father of two, water skier, coach to his sons’ football and baseball teams – the list goes on. But the one quality that stands out above all is Mike’s love and passion for New Iberia and his desire to see it grow. He wants to bring “the fun” to New Iberia, and who better to do it?
Today, Mike is a health and safety environmental risk and claims manager in civil construction. Prior to this he was in the entertainment industry for more than 17 years. As he explains, his love for entertaining came honest.
“I got the love for music, food and entertaining when my dad played in a band when I was a kid,” he reflects. “I can vividly remember being a child and going to band practice with my dad. It instilled the love of entertainment in me early on.”
For Mike, all roads lead back to New Iberia, his hometown and his pride. In 2017, he had the opportunity to begin giving back to the community he loves so much. As a volunteer for the Sugar Cane Festival, Mike was put in charge of entertainment and beverages. He was also part of the team who decided to move the street fair to the Old Iberia Sugar Cooperative. The move required three months of cement removal and dirt work, and of course, Mike was there, too.
“Overall, the Sugar Cane Festival was a starting point for me to do what I feel is my purpose in New Iberia…to bring a little bit of fun back,” he smiles. “I want to help turn people’s heads back to Iberia Parish so they can see the commitments they can make to Iberia as well. In my opinion, this is one of the best places in Louisiana to live and raise your kids.”
Using the Sugar Cane Festival as a springboard, Mike dove head first into community service. With his father, Michael Parich Sr., the two formed The Parich Foundation. Mike hand selected board members within whom he saw the same fire for Iberia that he possesses – Jason Bayard, Lisa Lourd, Phyllis Mata and Jenny Toups. The Parich Foundation is, as it’s mission statement reads, “involved in a variety of forward-looking, impact-driving initiatives around Iberia Parish, to give back to the people of our community, indulge in our rich history and grow our future.” The momentum it has already created is undeniable.
“I grew up on Bank Street; it’s a very humble area. It inspired me to work hard, do it with a smile on my face and to give back to those around me. Everything I’ve tried to do in my life was to make other people’s lifes enjoyable, and if I can do that while making a difference, making someone else’s day a little bit better, then I’ve really achieved something.”
Elizabeth Terrell, Farm Fest Chair
Elizabeth Terrell grew up on Avery Island, where she was known as “Terrible Terrell” for the mischief she caused around the island. Elizabeth graduated from New Iberia Senior High and went to LSU where she majored in accounting. From there, she was recruited by Mobil Oil Company as an accountant. Some years later, during a downturn for the oil industry, Elizabeth, who was living in Houston and working as an analyst, volunteered to take a severance package and changed her career path.
“I grew up at Avery Island and my mom’s family had a restaurant in New Iberia – food was in my blood,” she expounds. “I went to culinary school at the Art Institute. I was told that I would never be hired to work in a kitchen because of my financial background. Low and behold I was hired by Landry’s Seafood Restaurants to develop a food cost group.”
Elizabeth became so immersed in her new career that she would have to set an alarm to remind herself to go home at night. But then, everything started to run too smoothly for her liking and she became restless. She received a call asking her to return to what was now Exxon Mobil. She accepted the position and moved to Dallas where she began doing global SAP software implementation.
“I traveled the world, and I’d be in these locations for weeks,” she recounts. “I’d go to the global accounting hubs – Singapore, Bangkok, Buenos Aries, Brazil, Toronto and London. In 2010, I basically lived on a plane.”
In 2013, Elizabeth decided she was ready to stay home for a while. She retired, bought a piece of property on the bayou and moved home to New Iberia. It wasn’t long before people started knocking at Elizabeth’s door asking her to lend her expertise to various local organizations – after all, she was Senior Staff Financial Specialist and a former Sugar Lump to boot. Once she was settled, Elizabeth teamed up with the Shadows on the Teche and became the chair for the newly established Farm Fest held in conjunction with the Sugar Cane Festival.
“In 2016 at a Shadows board meeting we made a small note in the margins about possibly hosting an event on the Thursday of Festival weekend, and that became Farm Fest,” she laughs. “I offered to take the lead on it. We started thinking about doing yard games and having music. Now, we have full fledged Farm Fest! It’s a mini festival in 4 hours!”
Elizabeth is also on the board for Angel Paws. When she finds free time, she uses it as an excuse to fill her house with family and friends and cook and entertain for them. Elizabeth is always planning the next Farm Fest. In its brief existence, Farm Fest has become a Sugar Cane Festival staple.
“It’s incredible how well it’s been received. I don’t think we ever imagined it would be this successful. I run into people all of the time who say it’s exactly what we needed. It’s just good wholesome family fun. We’re getting ready for 2018.”
Troy Leleux, Iberia Parish Artist
On any given morning in New Iberia, you may see an artist working steadfastly at an easel outside of one of the downtown historic district’s landmarks. That artist is Troy Leleux and he has been transfixed by the beauty of New Iberia since he was a child.
“I grew up off of Main Street,” he states. “As a boy, I had a bicycle paper route that ran from Ann Street to the Shadows on the Teche. Every single day for years I went up and down those roads delivering papers. I really got a feeling for the architecture, but I didn’t know how to respond to it. Now, I’m responding to it as an adult and as an artist.”
Troy explains that for him, there was never an option other than art. He understood early on that he had been given a gift and he intended to pursue it. After graduating high school he attended USL to study Fine Arts. Troy studied under the landscape painter Elmore Morgan Jr., who became his greatest source of inspiration to date. At a time when abstract expressionism reigned supreme, Morgan fostered Troy’s love of realism. It was Morgan who encouraged Troy to create art in nature.
“Working outside gives the artist everything,” he muses. “Nature is the artist’s first teacher. The light is so spectacular, and it’s what I go after in creating three dimensional form. Not only that, but the detail, texture, color, it’s all there right in front of you. There are ways of mixing color to capture it once you’ve learned about the language of color – you can spend a lifetime practicing it.”
Troy waxes poetic about color and shade; he gets starry eyed speaking about Michelangelo and da Vinci. Art was Troy’s first love, but it wasn’t always kind to him. In the beginning of his career he remembers setting out on foot with stacks of his work and going door to door trying to sell a piece. He took commissioned work whenever he could, but longed to be able to freely create the work that truly inspired him. Then 20 years ago, something unexpected happened that in a roundabout way allowed him to do just that.
“I started teaching 20 years ago,” he explains. “I never imagined I’d be a teacher, but it kind of happened naturally like so many things in my life do. I was offered the position as an art teacher with the Iberia Parish Talent Program. It’s grown tremendously over the years. I teach methods and techniques that aren’t taught much anymore.”
Troy also teaches private lessons for children and adults. When he isn’t teaching, you can find the proud husband and father of four in front of his easel capturing some of New Iberia’s most iconic landmarks and working before the magic light of the morning begins to fade.
“I think that the historic district here in town is the most beautifully unique place, especially the oak trees. The way the moss hangs over parts of Main Street, it’s gorgeous. I look for the rare and unique elements that we could so easily pass by. In some small way, I want to help people see the beauty of this area.”
Mary Gothe, Cancer Survivor
Mary Gothe is accustomed to life’s curve balls, but she’s caught each one and thrown them back. Every challenge that she has been dealt she’s overcome with a grace that can be attributed to her tenacious work ethic and an unwavering air of positivity.
Mary was raised by her mother in Rayne. After graduating high school, she briefly attended Xavier University in New Orleans before returning home to Acadiana to study Office Administration at USL. Life proved it had other plans for Mary.
“At 20 years old, I became a single parent,” she divulges. “I stayed in school while I was pregnant. When I was 22, I got married and started working. School sort of faded into the background.”
Mary worked in oil and gas before moving on to her career with the Lafayette Parish School System. She spent most of her time attending her two children’s numerous activities. Life was moving forward without consequence – until 2006.
“I received the call that they found a tumor – I had stage 3 rectal cancer,” she recalls. “The first doctor I saw told me he didn’t believe he could fix me. I left his office and said, ‘He’s not the doctor for me.’”
Determined someone could fix her, Mary went to MD Anderson. She was administered 28 radiation treatments, which she always got dressed up to receive, and took oral chemotherapy before undergoing major reconstructive surgery. She had an ileostomy bag, a PICC line and 6 months of intravenous chemotherapy in front of her. Cancer wasn’t the only thing Mary was dealing with during this time.
“I decided to go back to school at 49 years old,” she laughs. “When I stared my treatments I still had one class left to take. I went back to school because it had always been important to my mother that I finish school. I didn’t know if I would be able to do it, but I did.”
Six months after surgery, her ileostomy bag was reversed. She had a degree and was cancer free. Still, she wanted more. She was finally able to fulfill her dream of joining the National Association of University Women. A month later she was named treasurer of the organization. In 2009, she ran and was elected president. She went on to found the St. Martin branch of the NAUW, where she accomplished unimaginable growth and change.
Mary’s list of volunteer work is staggering: advocate for American Cancer Society, Look Good Feel Good, Second Harvest Food Bank, Games of Acadiana, Faith House, Make A Difference. She’s served on a multitude of boards. If there is a positive impact to be made, Mary is likely involved. Mary has used her set backs as stepping-stones.
“Everything I’ve been through has made me realize that you have to live your life, and even if you’ve been given a bad hand know that there is a good hand. I’ve been cancer free for 11 years. It’s an awesome feeling to be able to say, ‘Yes I was diagnosed with cancer and I survived.’”
Jo Vidrine, Freelance Cajun
Jo Vidrine is what you might call a “contemporary Cajun.” Jo is passionate about Lafayette and Cajun culture, and he is dedicated to sharing his culture through a variety of carefully cultivated mediums. You may know him by his business name, “Freelance Cajun.” The title can best be described as a rustic modern day renaissance man.
“I want to find the best possible way to pass along all of the great things Lafayette’s culture has to offer and make a career out of it if possible,” he professes. “For me it’s not about preservation, but cultivation. The culture has to grow, change and adapt. So that our kids and grandkids will one day be able to build off of our foundation and have their own take on it.”
Jo’s parents were cultural advocates in their own right. As a child he fell asleep to the sounds of Cajun and Zydeco music being played by those who are now considered legends. He recounts busses full of Danish tourists, who were infatuated with Cajun music, stopping by his parents’ home. So for Jo, sharing his culture is deeply personal and multifaceted.
“All of the things that I do under Freelance Cajun can be very specific or they can be all encompassing,” he explains. “I’m photographing, cooking and playing music, but I’m doing all of that for my culture and for my people. Each one is a way of documenting the contemporary Cajun.”
What began as black pot feasts in his back yard in Freetown has evolved into a Cajun specialty meat catering gig. Jo does this as a form of cultural exchange. As he explains, if you hire the Freelance Cajun for one task, you’ll likely get the others as well. Jo was recently hired by a cultural festival in Washington. He arrived as a photographer, but stuck around providing Cajun delicacies and music. No matter what Jo presents, he does it with his signature unwavering sincerity.
“I just try to present my culture in a natural way,” he reasons. “If you’re genuine with people and treat them as if they’re in your own backyard, they will respond to it.”
Jo also has a knack for capturing his culture in its natural light through his camera lens. The photography element of Freelance Cajun is like looking at a page straight out of Jo’s diary. He is also involved in the wildly popular charity dinners, Runaway Dish. Then of course, there is his music career. He has toured with multiple local bands. He plays guitar, accordion, fiddle and sings. He was a part of the 2017 album “Straight Allons” by Kyle Huval & The Dixie Ramblers. Jo continues to dream up new ways to “explore not exploit” Acadiana’s culture, waterways, food, music and people.
“We have this amazing foundation here built by those who came before us and as young people we can really build off of that momentum. We can build the businesses and the art and the soul of the community off of that foundation. I’m so proud of my friends who have moved away to be successful. But because I stayed, I’ve been able to really connect with my culture and share it in some unique ways.”
Tony Adrian, Sustainability Trailblazer
South Louisiana was always Tony Adrian’s destiny, but his journey to Acadiana was a wide and winding path. He was born in Albuquerque, New Mexico as the youngest of seven children. When he was only two years old, his father died, and when he was six years old, he lost his mother. Tony and four of his siblings were taken in by their aunt and uncle, who had nine children of their own, in Chicago.
“I don’t like to put too fine an edge on it, but it created in me a certain amount of empathy for people who don’t eat regularly, don’t have enough clothes or live in a house that isn’t heated,” he professes. “I was never able to shake that.”
When he was 12 years old, Tony was able to go live with one of his older sisters in Columbus, Ohio. Upon graduating from high school, Tony was recruited by USL to be a member of the wrestling team. As he describes, he arrived in Louisiana as a “feral street kid.”
“As soon as I got out of the vehicle, I knew this was where I was supposed to be,” he recalls. “I hadn’t even spoken to anyone yet. I took a breath of the air and I said ‘This is it.’”
For work, Tony galloped and broke horses for rural bush track horse races. It was here he gained an immense affection for the Cajun and Creole people of south Louisiana. He credits them for so much of who he is today. Tony graduated from USL in nursing. A year later, he left Acadiana, traveling to Guatemala, Mexico, El Salvador and Canada. But nothing stuck, because Tony had found his home, and he headed back to it.
“I owe Acadiana a lot,” he proclaims. “I could never give back to them as much as I’ve gotten.”
Tony may believe he could never repay Acadiana, but he’s certainly trying. His current cultural efforts were inspired by his own experience creating he and his wife’s home. The couple has lived off grid for 14 years. Their home is completely energy efficient. Tony took this knowledge and used it to turn a few dilapidated cottages on the bayou in Arnaudville into sustainable, energy efficient beacons of cultural prosperity – Les Deux Mondes.
The cottages create an astonishingly unique boarding experience for those passing along the bayou. Working on the cottages along side Tony are millennials from across the country involved in Work Away, a program that allows them to immerse themselves in different cultures while also giving back. As for guests, they’ve hailed from France, Belgium, Denmark, Canada, Mexico and beyond. The transient mystique that floats around the property is undeniable.
While he may not know it, Les Deux Mondes is Tony’s love letter to Acadiana. Guests can feel the care and intent that went into the cottages.
“If I have a chance to talk to the people who stay here, they all say the same thing. They remark that they have never slept so well in their lives. I was at a loss for why; and then I realized, it’s the high wood ceilings, the paint made of cow milk, the tongue oil used to preserve. We’re designed to live this way.”