Calling Iberia Home
06/22/2018 08:05AM ● Published by Robert Frey
Gallery: Visitors Who Stayed For Good [2 Images] Click any image to expand.
Visitors Who Stayed For GoodBy Patrice Doucet
Pulitzer Prize nominee and author James Lee Burke once described New Iberia, his childhood hometown, as having the most beautiful main street in the country, a city with “southern manners and, at the same time, is a first-name kind of place.”
There are many places in Louisiana that offer culture, great food and friendly people, but when chance visits (or fate) brought the couples in this story to New Iberia, they not only made the city their home, but blended into the fabric of the community.
Faryal and Dr. Syed Ali
From Pakistan, to Malaysia and then Atlanta, little did Faryal and Dr. Syed Ali know that fate would take them even further south. A former boss of Syed’s, teaching at UL Lafayette, convinced him to join the university’s faculty. He took the leap with a personal belief that “where you live is your home.”
Syed splits his time as Assistant Professor of Molecular Biology at UL and a scientist at the Research Center in New Iberia, trying to find a cure for HIV AIDS.
Growing up in the countryside of Pakistan, the move to New Iberia was not a huge transition for Syed as much as it was for Faryal, who is from Karachi, the largest city in Pakistan. But it helped that the community embraced her and her family.
That first year, they were invited for Thanksgiving and Christmas dinners where they were the only non-family members – a tradition they continue today.
With more time available than Syed, Faryal has entrenched herself into projects like the literary festival, volunteering at the Iberia Performing Arts League (IPAL) and starting a garden club at South Louisiana Community College. Next month, she will enroll at UL pursuing a certification for elementary education. She taught kindergarten in Malaysia for five years.
Their sons have acclimated very well and made friends at school. They are Boy Scouts and, at this writing, are auditioning for the children’s youth musical “Annie.”
“I’m in love with this place!” smiles Faryal, “this is home.” Syed agrees saying they have no plans to leave any time soon.
David and Mary Dahlquist
It didn’t take long for David and Mary Dahlquist to take to their new surroundings even though they moved from Des Moines, Iowa. David, a landscape architect, has traveled to every parish in Louisiana since 2007, doing consultant work for the state’s scenic byways program, while Mary, still living in Des Moines, would join him when she could.
One of the first trips they took together in Louisiana, in early 2008, was a weeklong vacation in Franklin, venturing out to New Iberia. “After that vacation, we tried moving to New Iberia three or four times, but the timing wasn’t right for us.”
In 2015, they found themselves back in Franklin and this time seriously looked at homes for sale, finding their current home in New Iberia on the banks of Bayou Teche, landscaped to their liking, complete with a grand old oak in the back yard. David’s love for the bayou has guided him to being on the board of the Teche Project, a non-profit project funding kayak and canoe docks in 15 communities of four parishes.
David and Mary are supporters of IPAL, the Iberia Association of Cultural Resources and the symphony. “We expected the food, music and weather to be great; what we didn’t expect was how open, warm and genuine the people are,” says David.
Proud ambassadors of New Iberia, the Dahlquists have had friends from Iowa stay at their home often enough that Mary jokes they’re turning into a Bed & Breakfast.
Wyatt and Becky Collins
It was a search on the Internet for a childhood friend from his hometown in Ellisville, Ms. that brought Wyatt Collins to New Iberia, where he found, his now wife, Becky teaching in Iberia Parish since 1991. When they decided to marry in 2000, they began looking at homes and realized they could get more home for the money in New Iberia and Becky felt that the city was on the brink of things happening.
A member of numerous board of directors, Becky was named citizen of the year in 2005. Wyatt retired as one of the most respected teachers at Westgate and now works part-time for the District Attorney’s office.
Over the years, the Collins have hosted a multitude of friends from out of state. “We’ve had people, whom we’ve met through collecting folk art, fly in on jet planes from Chicago, New York, California, Kentucky after telling them about New Iberia. Once they come, they return.”
Wyatt says the new police department and city administration bring hope for the future of New Iberia. “They will make New Iberia something to brag about; it will be one of the premiere smaller cities in Acadiana.”
For Becky, too, the message is positive: That there is a core group of community activists who are working hard to provide cultural, family and athletic events to make New Iberia a wonderful, safe environment to live and enjoy.
She laughs “When I visit family in Ellisville, they always ask me when we’re gonna move back home. I tell them I AM home; you’ll never take me out of New Iberia.”
Barry and Jennie LaCour
It’s not as long a distance for visiting friends and family of Barry and Jennie LaCour, attorneys living in Metairie who wanted to retire to a smaller community. Their search for a home took them all across Louisiana, but they were drawn to the New Iberia area. “It seemed to be a really welcoming community,” says Barry, remembering that his dad always spoke fondly of visits with family in New Iberia. When Jennie found a beautiful plantation home set on five acres, that sealed the deal. They bought the home in 2007 with the intent of making it a second residence but moved in permanently in 2012.
The couple remembers the first Easter they were in the house. “We were cleaning out the ditch in front of the house,” says Barry “and our next-door neighbors walked over and invited us for Easter lunch.”
Another surprise for the couple was how much this “medium-size” city has to offer. Jennie recites, “There’s so many cultural events - artists, writers, the theatre. We love the historic downtown area; it has a ‘life’ to it. We’re regulars at park district events, symphony concerts and are season ticket holders of IPAL.”
Since the move, Barry’s practice has shifted to representing foster children in the 16th Judicial District. With fulfilling work and a welcoming community, he says they’ve never had a day of regret moving to New Iberia.