03/09/2018 07:00AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Local Women Preserving HistoryBy Shanna P. Dickens | Photos by Fusion Photography
In 1987, Congress declared March as National Women’s History Month. In the spirit of honoring the tireless work of women and our own local history, we present a few ladies who have dedicated their lives to the preservation and promotion of Acadiana’s vibrant history and culture. As they say, history is herstory, so it’s no surprise that women are the ones perpetuating the stories of those who came before them.
Director Of The Shadows On The Teche
The Shadows on the Teche was built in 1834 by sugarcane planter David Weeks and his wife Mary Conrad Weeks. The majestic estate has been called the crown jewel of the Queen City, and a glimpse into its history will quickly reveal why. Protecting the plantation’s historical integrity while promoting it as the cultural beacon it is isn’t an easy task, but it’s one Pat Khale tackles each day.
Khale, who originally hails from Elimsport, Pa., grew up interested in history and went on to pursue the subject in college. She completed her undergraduate work at the Pennsylvania State University receiving a BA in Anthropology. From there, she concluded her graduate studies at the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Growing up in rural Pennsylvania, Khlae always considered herself Pennsylvania German, but all around her community were other interesting cultural groups; descendants of 19th century immigrants from Eastern Europe working in the coal mines to “the very visible, but separate Amish farmers.” Khale explains that as it is in Louisiana, each group had it’s own distinct and celebrated culture.
“After college, I by chance got a job at a historical society museum,” Khale explains. “As I discovered the history of the county, history that happened where I had grown up, not as far away as had been described in our school books, I became increasingly aware of the importance of preserving that history and sharing those stories of the past with students. I also became painfully aware of how easily this history could be lost. Whether through preserving buildings, landscapes, objects, documents or passing along music, dance or recipes…it is all of these things that make up our cultural heritage.”
Khale’s passion may have been cultivated in Pennsylvania, but it has become a powerful force here in Acadiana. In addition to being the Director at the Shadows on The Teche, Khale is a staff member for the National Trust for Historic Preservation, a Bayou Teche Museum board, Iberia Cultural Resource Association board and the Iberia Preservation Alliance.
“My work for the National Trust is first to preserve the Shadows, buildings, landscape and museum collections, for future generations,” Khale details. “As the Shadows does not receive any government funding (no federal, no state, no parish and no city), the preservation requires a great deal of fundraising through the Friends of the Shadows membership program events such as the Arts & Crafts Fair and applying for as many grants as possible.”
Khale goes on to explain that equally as important are the Shadows’ many education programs, from researched documented site tours to the Charley at the Shadows and Building a Foundation programs that are presented for almost 3,000 Iberia Parish school children annually free of charge. The staff and volunteers work to ensure these programs continue to support state-mandated curriculum requirements. Khale stresses that the success of these programs is dependent on the work of volunteers. To find out how to get involved, Khale urges community members to contact Jayd Buteaux at the Shadows or Marcia Patout at the Bayou Teche Museum.
The organizations that Khale is involved in are responsible for so many of New Iberia’s premiere events. Like Farm Fest and Beneath the Balconies in the fall. Upcoming events include the Shadows Spring Arts & Crafts Fair on March 3, Shadows Plein Air Painting Competition & Fine Art Sale on March 10-16, Books Along the Teche Literary Festival on April 6-8, Symphony Sunday in the Park on April 8 and Brunch in the Gardens in late April.
“The National Trust for Historic Preservation was founded for the purpose of encouraging the American public to get involved in preserving their cultural heritage,” Khale reasons.
“Preserving your family history, your school or church history, the history of your business, all of this is part of preserving our community’s past. It’s preserving and understanding our shared past that enables us to understand and appreciate who and what we are. On a more practical note, preserving our history and culture are not only beneficial for us as residents, but also for our economy as it attracts visitors and tourism dollars.
Executive Director Of CODOFIL
South Louisiana is privileged to boast a bounty of cultural rarities, but none quite so unique as its rich Francophone heritage. CODOFIL is the Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, and its mission as Louisiana’s French agency is to support and grow Louisiana’s francophone communities through scholarships, French immersion and various other community and language skill-building programs. Peggy Feehan is at the helm of the organization working to foster the language that was once pushed to the brinks of silence.
Feehan grew up in a small village in the Appalachians, northern New Brunswick, in eastern Canada – a bucolic Francophone community called Kedgwick. Feehan taught high school in Canada for six years before moving to Louisiana in 1999 to be a French teacher. Seven years later, she became the French coordinator for St. Martin Parish for five years before going to the Louisiana Department of Education to be a World Language Consultant. In 2015, she became the Language Education Specialist for CODOFIL, and today she is the Executive Director. While her roots may seem far away, they actually couldn’t be closer.
“The French heritage, the culture, the language, both Cajun French and Creole, the cuisine, the influences from all over the world,” Feehan says detailing what she loves about Acadiana’s history. “Personally, being an Acadian from Canada, I feel very much close to the Cajun people from Louisiana. We have common ancestry, common language, common expressions, songs and manners. It is very easy for me to feel right at home in Acadiana, since we are basically the same people.”
Currently, CODOFIL is working on several different projects. One is the recruitment of French teachers from France, Belgium and Canada through a program called Escadrille. This program also seeks to nurture Acadiana’s own “home-grown” French teachers. CODOFIL is working towards establishing a French-friendly repertoire of businesses that offer services in French. They have international partners for student exchanges between schools; they administer an abundance of scholarships that allow students and professionals to study French abroad. The work that Feehan is implementing now is the result of groundwork that was laid when she was a child.
“I grew up knowing that I had to fight for my rights as a French speaker,” she expresses. “We Acadians grow up fighting for what’s ours – our language and our culture. I see a parallel with the Cajuns and Creole population of Louisiana. I want to continue to bring awareness to the local French speaking population. I want then to know that it is OK to be proud to speak French. I want them to embrace it and speak it openly, to their kids and grandkids.”
It is one of Feehan’s goals to take the French language out of people’s living rooms and fill the streets with it. She’s desperate for the younger generations to learn French to utilize it as a skill in the tourism and hospital industries. In February, droves of French speakers met at the Old State Capitol to celebrate CODOFIL’s 50th anniversary. This event was the realization of Feehan’s dream…for Acadians to be heard…en francais.
“In Acadie, we celebrate our heritage on August 15,” Feehan explains. “We have a parade where everybody in the community participates. The only things we bring with us are pots, pans and wooden spoons, and we march and make noise. It’s our way of saying, ‘Listen people, French speakers are still here!’ I want to do the same thing here in Louisiana, metaphorically. Go out into the world with out language, speak it and be proud of it. We invite everyone to join the party as CODOFIL Celebrates our 50th anniversary.”
Dr. Phebe Archon Hayes
Founder Of Iberia African American Historical Society
For Dr. Phebe Archon Hayes, history is a search for the truth, and that truth is personal. As native and life-long resident of Iberia Parish, Dr. Hayes grew up hearing stories of local Black community members – some were of triumph and others of tragedy. As an adult, she realized that local history did not reflect the lore she grew up with…so she set out to change that.
In 2013, following 26 years of service, Dr. Hayes retired from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where she was a member of the Department of Communication Sciences & Disorders faculty. Dr. Hayes received an undergraduate degree in Speech Pathology & Audiology from Xavier University of New Orleans, a Master’s Degree in Communicative Disorders from the University of Southwestern Louisiana and a Ph.D. in Communication Sciences & Disorders from Louisiana State University, Baton Rouge.
Following retirement from university work, Dr. Hayes used research skills acquired over years of graduate study and work to explore her own family history. Through this, she discovered primary records confirming many of the stories she had grown up with. She found evidence of African Americans in Iberia Parish who were activists, public servants, philanthropists and professionals during the Reconstruction and post-Reconstruction eras.
“The main issue is that people in a community begin to take responsibility for learning beyond what they picked up in school,” Dr. Hayes stresses. “Especially when it comes to history, because what we were taught wasn’t always the truth. There is evidence that suggests we were not given a true historical account, and we need to correct that as a community. The Africans were here, too, and we were a part of this community.”
To facilitate her efforts, and the efforts of many others, Dr. Hayes established the Iberia African American Historical Society, Inc. for the purpose of researching, disseminating, preserving and commemorating the history of African Americans in Iberia Parish. Dr. Hayes also partnered with the UL Center for Louisiana Studies as a repository of IAAHS historical collections. She’s conducted numerous interviews in Iberia Parish and has collected various artifacts, including pictures, 8 mm films, documents and more.
“As a result of my research, I realized how many historical facts have to be told,” Dr. Hayes explains. “The point of IAAHS is to support research and community dissemination, which is the commemoration of historical events and individuals.”
The first individual who will be commemorated is Dr. Emma Wakefield-Paillet, Louisiana’s first Black female physician, who was a New Iberia native and resident. Through IAAHS, Dr. Hayes submitted an application to the Louisiana Office of Tourism for a historical marker commemorating Dr. Wakefield-Paillet’s legacy. The marker will be erected in New Iberia’s historical district during the Iberia Parish sesquicentennial celebration of its founding in the fall of 2018.
Dr. Hayes is also involved in various other local historical efforts and organizations. All the work she does is in hopes of inspiring others to question what they know and seek the truth.
“I want people to feel empowered to do their own investigating,” Dr. Hayes says. “I want for us to come together and for us to talk about our shared history – some of it isn’t pretty, but a lot of it is. Once we get through the painful discussions, we can move on. I want people to have that strong sense of identity and pride in the people they come from. I want people to know where they come from.”