The thousands of stakeholders who stepped up and fought for drastic public school reforms in Lafayette Parish are seeing the fruits of their labor through a new administration under Superintendent Pat Cooper. UL Lafayette’s Ragin’ Cajuns softball team experienced an incredible season that ended with a record of 53-6, one game shy of the Women’s College World Series, and that came just months after Ragin’ Cajuns’ football played — and won — its first bowl game. A years-long effort to preserve the Horse Farm for use as a passive park for generations to come is finally becoming a reality.
The list goes on.
As the Hub City continues to thrive and our progress is seen through the best-of lists Lafayette consistently tops, ABiz is proud to take pause each year and celebrate the women whose professionalism, foresight and civic engagement have helped shape our community into the hot spot it has become.
Now in its 15th year of recognizing remarkable women throughout Acadiana, the 2012 Women Who Mean Business luncheon is Wednesday, Sept. 12, at 11:45 a.m. at River Oaks on Kaliste Saloom Road.
This year’s event is co-presented by IberiaBank and LHC Group, along with supporting sponsors Courtesy Automotive Group, Paul Michael Company, Paul’s Jewelry and River Oaks.
Trailblazer: Sherry LeBas
She was a coach and athletic administrator. Now she's just a fan. A big fan.
After almost four decades of dedicated and distinguished service to UL Lafayette — all but two years spent as an administrator in the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics Department — Associate Athletics Director/Senior Woman Administrator Sherry LeBas retired this summer.
Hired as the coordinator of women’s athletics in 1975, becoming the first-ever full-time female athletics administrator for the Ragin’ Cajuns Athletics Department, LeBas began an uncharted path and developed a legacy in women’s athletics at UL that continues to grow.
“I have had the privilege of working alongside many great staff members and coaches on a daily basis who truly cared about doing the best job to make this university and athletic department a top Division I program,” LeBas says. “I loved being an administrator in athletics at this university.”
LeBas says she didn’t turn out the lights when she left her office in Earl K. Long Gym for the last time, but left them on knowing that she will return in a different capacity — as “a loyal fan and a great volunteer.”
In charge of Ragin’ Cajuns women’s athletics since their inception, she witnessed tremendous growth from three sports to eight. When first hired, UL sponsored women’s sports in tennis, volleyball and women’s basketball. LeBas oversaw the expansion of women’s sports with the addition of cross country, indoor and outdoor track and field, softball and soccer.
“Sherry is a true pioneer in women’s athletics who has given her heart and soul to the university and its athletic programs,” UL Director of Athletics Scott Farmer says. “Through her hard work and dedication to making things better, she has positively touched the lives of countless student-athletes in a career that has spanned decades. She came to work every day intent on doing what was best for the university and its student-athletes, and we are a better institution for it. She will be missed.”
The Opelousas native was the only senior woman administrator the athletic department has had since the role was mandated by the NCAA and handled event management for all sports, both men and women, for the past three decades.
“Toby [Warren] was the athletic director who created a new position in athletics as coordinator of women’s athletics, which started me on this journey,” LeBas says. “I’m glad he decided to take a chance on a little country girl from Opelousas.”
LeBas, a 1971 graduate of UL, began her tenure in 1973 as an instructor in the Health and Physical Education department.
“Dr. Ed Dugas hired me and saw my potential,” LeBas says. “He encouraged me to take the job in athletics when I was approached. He has always been a wonderful mentor.”
Upon assuming her first role in athletics two years later, she would add head coaching duties in addition to oversight of women’s sports.
LeBas first served as women’s tennis coach two different seasons (1977 and 1978) and then spent six seasons as head coach of the Ragin’ Cajuns volleyball team from 1980-85, compiling the second-most victories (111) in program history. In 1981, she led the Cajuns volleyball team to the LAIAW State Volleyball championship.
She stepped down from coaching duties in 1985 to devote her full attention to administrative duties.
Her role developed throughout the years with additional responsibilities, including athletic department compliance liaison with various university departments, coaching men’s tennis for a three-week period, Student-Athlete Advisory Committee sponsor and adviser for both the Ragin’ Jazz dance team and UL cheerleaders.
LeBas played an instrumental role in helping the athletics department secure the first NCAA Softball Regional in Lafayette in 1990. With her guidance as regional site tournament director, the athletic department set some of the current standards that are required by the NCAA for sites today — a key factor that led to Lamson Park hosting an additional seven NCAA Regional tournaments from 1991 to 2002. — Matt Hebert
Trailblazer: Maugie Pastor
You can take the girl out of the country, but ...
Maugie Pastor is made of flour, oil and fire. If you don’t know Cajun cooking, that’s where a roux comes from.
A Landry by birth and daughter of one of the brother-founders of the venerable Don’s Seafood & Steakhouse downtown, Maugie and her accountant husband, Pat, left Lafayette in 1965 to start a Don’s restaurant in Shreveport. In her 20s, Maugie was making babies at the time, like a good Catholic girl was expected to do. Pat was the food/beverage manager at the Petroleum Club. But to Shreveport they went.
“It was culture shock for this little Cajun girl,” she recalls. “At that time I thought the whole world ate rice and gravy, drank beer and said, ‘Hey, cher, how’s your mama?’”
Exporting Cajun cuisine wasn’t the slam dunk it is today. Maugie, in fact, was a stay-at-home mom who says she got into the business “out of boredom.” But it was a gushing compliment from a well-traveled patron at Don’s in Shreveport — after Maugie had taken over the kitchen — that hooked her on the restaurant biz. “She said, ‘My dear, I have eaten from Maine to Spain and I have never tasted food like this — it’s fabulous.’ Well, my head swole big-big, and I thought, ‘My mama and my daddy did that — my family. My God!’
“I got bit.”
That restaurant bug would lead Maugie and Pat Pastor on a culinary odyssey: Homesickness brought them back to Lafayette in the late ’60s where they founded Maison Acadien in the antebellum home now occupied by Café Vermilionville. Around this time, in the early 1970s, Maugie began patronizing the fine restaurants in New Orleans, generating ideas and developing recipes that included fancy French sauces, which led in short order to her and Pat’s most notable culinary accomplishment in Lafayette: Chez Pastor.
“I can taste things and tell you what’s in ’em,” she says. “And I tried the dishes [in New Orleans] and I’d go home and I’d create them, and this is how Chez Pastor was formed. That’s how that restaurant was created: one dish at a time.”
Hollywood icons Paul Newman and Joanne Woodward solidified the eatery’s reputation when they made it their exclusive nightly destination in 1975 while in town filming The Drowning Pool.
“After the movie stars left Chez Pastor took off like a rocket,” Maugie recalls.
But rockets tend to return to earth. The couple uprooted their family, now numbering five kids, plus half the Chez Pastor staff to start an offshoot Chez at a golf-resort community in Florida. Chez Lafayette never recovered from Maugie and Pat’s absence.
Following the closing of Chez Pastor in 1992, the couple managed Scandal’s nightclub for a time. But it was on a drive scouting a new location for a restaurant on Verot School Road in 1993 that the Pastors found themselves on the path to becoming B&B proprietors.
“That’s when I think I had divine inspiration,” she says. T’Frere’s House, a gorgeous brick and cypress home built in the 1880s, had been on the market for a year. Maugie wanted it. Pat was in.
“I pushed the front door open and my life changed,” she says. “It caught my heart, my spirit, I was just speechless. I went room to room thinking, ‘Oh my. Oh dear.’”
Nineteen years later in a renovated and expanded T’Frere’s, Maugie is in her element, regaling guests with her Cajun-accented stories and whipping up a menu of eight gourmet breakfasts. If you’re going to break your fast, Ms. Maugie is the lady to help.
Rumor — and good marketing — has it that the 130-year-old home is haunted. But Maugie Pastor, the consummate hostess and, quite obviously, quintessential saleswoman, is coy: “Mmmm...” she intones slyly. “You’ll have to come see.” — Walter Pierce
Stephanie Mitchell Bernard
The diocese's director of black Catholic ministries believes she has the perfect job.
In her nearly 30 years with the Diocese of Lafayette, Stephanie Bernard has done almost everything, from audio/visual secretary in the Office of Religious Education to the now-defunct Office of Pastoral Services to overseeing catechism for elementary students. She was named director of the Office of Black Catholic Ministries in 2001.
“What I love about it is that we collaborate with every office, and then the background that I bring to the office — being in Religious Ed, being in Pastoral Services and Justice & Peace — I actually feel that working in all these little different areas actually prepared me for the ministry,” Bernard says.
Although South Louisiana has a relatively large black Catholic population, blacks didn’t always play a prominent role in church affairs, something Bernard — married 30 years with two adult sons, one in the U.S. Air Force stationed overseas, the other a student at UL — recalls from growing up in her native Vermilion Parish. “Coming up in the Catholic church when I was a girl you had remnants of segregation that still existed,” she recalls. “My experience at the church in Gueydan was that the blacks occupied two pews in the back of the church and they weren’t involved in church ministry. Blacks went to church but really were not involved in the church.”
When she moved to Lafayette fresh out of high school in 1979 and joined Our Lady Queen of Peace, the now 50-year-old Bernard saw her faith from a new perspective. “I had never ever experienced a predominately black Catholic church and Queen of Peace was my introduction to that. It was totally different.”
Devoutly religious, Bernard grew up attending Mass and Baptist services on Sunday. (Her mom is Baptist but agreed to raise her and her four siblings Catholic.) You’d think that would be enough churchgoing to last a lifetime. Not for Stephanie Bernard.
“The rewarding thing [about my job],” she says, “is that I live in a world where I can talk about God, and I can talk about love, and there are no ramifications.” — Walter Pierce
This exec blends 'masculine boldness with feminine grace' and isn't afraid to gamble.
As managing director and CEO of Doerle Foods Services, Carolyn Doerle-Schumacher’s main challenge as a woman running a multi-million dollar food service distribution company was finding a place for a “hen in a rooster house.” While Doerle-Schumacher has been involved with her family’s company for more than 30 years, she didn’t fully take the reins until 2003 when she bought the company from her family, effectively making it a 100 percent woman-owned business.
“To be a woman in business has some special challenges, and one of those challenges of course is how to motivate and get the men in an organization following the ‘hen,’” she says.
To solve this, Doerle-Schumacher has cultivated a leadership style that calls for not just team-building but consensus.
“It’s not solely a feminine style of leading,” she explains. “I think that my leadership abilities really incorporate a focused performance style that’s most often associated with men. So it’s kind of a blending of masculine boldness with feminine grace.”
The strategy seems to be working. In the eight years under her leadership, Broussard-based Doerle Foods has grown by leaps and bounds, now boasting 450 employees and 2011 revenues of $321 million. The company, which has facilities in Shreveport, Pasadena, Texas, and a new site under construction in Port Fourchon, expects sales to grow to $360 million in 2012.
Another vital ability she attributes to her company’s success is that she never shies away from a gamble. “When it comes to business I’m a risk taker,” Doerle-Schumacher says. “Because of that there have been opportunities that have come up that I have taken because it is my belief that opportunities are never really lost; someone’s going to take the one you missed.”
Those opportunities have carried her a long way from when she began her career as a psychiatric nurse and later a social worker before joining her family’s company in 1980. “That was a stepping stone,” she says. “From psyche nurse to individual and family counselor, to CEO was a natural progression for me. Those people skills have served me well in my position as CEO.”
Earlier this summer, the executive celebrated another milestone when she married fellow Acadiana business mogul Dr. Kip Schumacher of the Schumacher Group. Both companies rank in the top 10 of ABiz’s Top 50 Privately Held Companies, Schumacher Group No. 3 and Doerle Foods No 8. “We’ve been called a power couple,” Doerle-Schumacher says. “It cracks us up.” — Wynce Nolley
Helping decision-makers understand complex finances keeps this number cruncher satisfied.
Lorrie Toups can’t help but feel like a messenger bearing bad news sometimes. The chief financial officer for Lafayette Consolidated Government for a little over a year, Toups took over for longtime CFO Becky Lalumia at a time when the Great Recession’s grasp, although relatively weak in Lafayette Parish, was beginning to be felt as revenues continued to lag behind the cost of running government, prompting some hard budgetary decisions by her boss, City-Parish President Joey Durel.
“Sometimes I feel that even some of the councilmen get frustrated and angry with me,” Toups admits — with a caveat: “I’m happy that at least we’re discussing it, because if it’s discussed and people are learning about it, then better decisions can be made.”
Explaining the minutia of government finance to a City-Parish Council that is arguably as ideologically polarized as it’s ever been is made doubly difficult, Toups says, by the fact that “consolidated government” in Lafayette is consolidated in name only and maintains separate accounting ledgers for the city and parish. But the St. Charles Parish native who came to Lafayette after a short stint as CFO for Jefferson Parish says her work is important. “I feel like what I do really matters even though I’m not the one making the decisions. But my ability to provide and communicate the information to our lawmakers affects people in their daily lives.”
The 49-year-old Toups spent 16 years counting beans for St. Charles Parish government before her short stop in Jefferson, but she says she jumped at the chance to work in Lafayette, a community she often visited for conventions and for her now-adult daughter’s prep swim meets. “If I was ever going to leave St. Charles Parish there’s not too many other places in the state that I want to move to, and Lafayette was definitely at the top of my list.” — Walter Pierce
From teacher to principal to assistant superintendent, she's worn many a hats for Lafayette Parish public school students.
Sandra Billeaudeau has climbed every rung of the public education ladder in Lafayette Parish. After 28 years, the view is looking mighty optimistic from the top.
An assistant superintendent for the Lafayette Parish School System under the new administration of Superintendent Pat Cooper, Billeaudeau landed her first teaching job in Lafayette Parish almost three decades ago as a first-grade teacher at Plantation Elementary. She spent 13 years teaching both first and third graders at Plantation while also building her life as a wife and mother of four children, eventually deciding to pursue a master’s degree through an intensive graduate program at Northwestern University in Natchitoches.
Billeaudeau was an assistant principal at Judice Middle and Live Oak Elementary before taking over as principal of Alice Boucher Elementary, a high-poverty, low-performing school in north Lafayette. It was during her tenure as principal that Billeaudeau was selected by the state to participate in the University of Virginia’s School Turnaround Specialist Program. Those credentials helped Billeaudeau raise Boucher’s performance scores by an unbelievable 11.9 points before she was unexpectedly moved to N.P. Moss Annex to oversee programs formerly housed at the facility.
Fast forward three years, and “Dr. Cooper’s knocking on my door.”
“He said, ‘You have the credentials.’ Tag, you’re it,” Billeaudeau recalls with a smile.
Within weeks of Cooper’s start as superintendent of Lafayette Parish schools, he tapped Billeaudeau to serve as assistant superintendent.
“We’ve been blowing and going ever since February,” she says. “It’s an exhilarating feeling. It’s a lot. We have a lot of growth to do, and a lot of work to help that take place, but I think we have a team of people who can make that happen. There’s a lot of energy. If you come during regular business hours, you feel the energy down the halls. There’s laughter ... because they’re collaborating and happy about what they’re doing. I’ve never seen the community as a whole more excited and more exhilarated. It’s something I know we have the ability to do in our district. More important, we have a responsibility to each other, to the children, in making sure they get what they need to move forward in life. That’s a perpetuation of society as a whole, developing that younger generation.” — Heather Miller
When she left Lafayette bound for New Orleans to study electrical engineering, the world lobbyist had never even entered her vocabulary.
“I was this little math and science nerd at Northside,” Mandi Mitchell recalls.
A twist of fate and a couple of decades down the road, Mitchell, an independent lobbyist and consultant, has made a name for herself both locally and statewide as an advocate for numerous nonprofits, businesses and other worthy causes.
Mitchell earned a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering from the University of New Orleans and spent the first six years out of college working in the technology sector for BellSouth.
When she wanted to move up in the ranks of the corporation, she learned that the only area for promotion was in governmental affairs.
It was a “drastic switch,” Mitchell says, one that led her to pursue a master’s degree in business from her New Orleans alma mater.
Her governmental affairs role at BellSouth led her on what she calls a tour of Interstate 10, first to Lake Charles then back to Lafayette in 2006. She spent three years working for AT&T when it took over BellSouth as the company’s regional manager of external affairs.
A 2005 graduate of Leadership Southwest and Leadership Louisiana, her “leap of faith” came in 2009 when Mitchell decided to branch out on her own and begin a consulting business. Since then, her client list has grown to include the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, and in more recent years she’s assisted in projects for the Louisiana Oil & Gas Association, the Louisiana Realtors Association, United Way of Acadiana and the city of Carencro.
“I’ve had to reinvent myself from Miss AT&T to Mandi D. Mitchell LLC,” she says. “The way I look at lobbying, first of all you’re an advocate, and I’ve been able to be selective about the things I advocate for.”
She serves on the board of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, co-chairing the education division in 2011 when Lafayette Parish witnessed an unprecedented shift toward community involvement in the public school system, and is a member of LCG’s Comprehensive Plan Citizens Advisory Committee. Mitchell is also on the boards of the705 for young professionals, the SWLA Center for Health Services and the Lafayette General Hospital Membership Corporation.
“The projects I’ve been involved with have all been positive things, things that will help Lafayette, Acadiana and Louisiana move forward,” says Mitchell, also a member of the Delta Theta Sigma sorority. “Lobbying is the place where business and politics intersect. You really can’t function as a business owner unless you have some way of impacting or influencing policy outcomes. There are complex issues; it’s more than just taking people out to eat. I get to use my left and my right brain.” — Heather Miller
Family court's newest judge can't stop smiling about her job.
District Judge Susan Theall has wasted no time in shaking up the court system since her election to one of two divisions dealing with the most personal and heart-wrenching issues to ever enter the legal process.
Since coming out victorious in a three-candidate race for the Division M judge’s seat, Theall has been working diligently to bring much-need efficiency, “and a little more dignity,” to family court in Lafayette Parish.
Theall, a family law attorney of 26 years who spent decades in the trenches of the local family court system and worked to establish family court associations statewide, says her ideal job description as a family court judge stems from a Louisiana Supreme Court case, Turner v. Turner, in which former Louisiana Chief Justice John Dixon described the trial judge’s role in custody cases as being “the fiduciary for the child.”
“When you remember that, all I do is look at what’s in a child’s best interest,” Theall says. “Sometimes parents can’t see it because they’re so angry. We’re trying to diffuse the anger before they’re so angry they can’t think straight. They get so entrenched in their positions they can’t think about the child.”
In addition to increasing her availability to lawyers and their clients outside of scheduled docket days — consequently making the overwhelming case loads in family court more manageable — one of Theall’s first big undertakings as a family court judge has been establishing a new program within the court system for parents with substance and alcohol abuse problems.
“The thought before was that if we take the child away and say get clean or you won’t see your child, that would be enough of an incentive to get them straight, but it’s not,” Theall says. “Addiction is a really tough thing. Sometimes they can’t overcome it.”
Theall has worked with her fellow family court judge to establish a substance abuse monitoring program for parents who have been identified as abusers. A team of evaluators is responsible for assessing the parents and making recommendations on how to overcome the addiction.
“We’re dealing with social problems, and if we can’t address it in family court, where everything starts as far as I’m concerned, then children are going to grow up having problems because their parents have dropped off the face of the earth. We’ve had some parents go through the program since it started in May, and it’s making a difference. That’s what’s exciting. They’re making sure kids get to school on time, making sure they do their homework, and all of those things will benefit the kids and our community.” — Heather Miller
This feisty manager has overcome obstacles in life and business, and she's still climbing the corporate ladder.
Rhonda Babin was only 11 when she lost her mother to breast cancer. By 37 — the same age her mother was when she died — Babin was beginning her own successful battle with a rare and aggressive form of the devastating disease only to be diagnosed with kidney cancer last February. She beat that cancer, too. “I am in total remission,” Babin says.
In her hometown of Delcambre, everybody knows Rhonda Babin, because she’s everywhere — having once run the entire Remy Landry Park to be close to her two boys, she is currently treasurer of the Delcambre Shrimp Festival, Panther Pass Club, Boat Parade and Delcambre High’s Project Graduation. Ask anyone in the city who they call when they need help organizing or fundraising and her name comes up.
And while nothing has come easy for this now 48-year-old, she wouldn’t have it any other way. Babin was only 17 when she started out as a file clerk at Braun Welding in 1981. Ten years later, when the purchasing agent quit, she let the (male) owners of the company know she wanted the job. “I was the only candidate who was qualified, but they were not going to give me the position because they wanted a man,” Babin recalls. She was persistent. “It probably took them two months to admit they made a good decision,” she says.
In the mid-1990s, Braun was bought out by Airgas, a Pennsylvania-based distributor of specialty gases and welding equipment/supplies, and Babin is now a regional manager in charge of 25 employees working out of the Lafayette and New Iberia locations. “I’ve been at my job 31 years, and all I have is a high school education,” Babin says. “My next step is area branch operations manager. I’ll get there.”
“I remember the day she had to finally shave her head [with the first bout of cancer],” says Meagan Sonnier, a local travel agent and Babin’s godchild who nominated her for the honor. “She was receiving calls from work and having paperwork dropped off to go through for organizations and committees she was part of. Her recent surgery was déjà vu of people bringing flowers and folder files. She also refused to turn off her phone in case her work or organizations needed her while she was recovering.” — Leslie Turk
This Lafayette lawyer is writing a new chapter on women having prominent roles in a city's life.
There’s a reason Rebekah Huggins thinks of her mother first when she’s asked about role models. And it’s not just because they share a first name.
Even though the Lafayette attorney is only in her early 40s, there weren’t a lot of children’s books with strong female characters when she was a little girl. Her mother, Rebecca Rumfalo (“how many women do you see name their children after themselves?” Huggins laughs), had a solution to that problem. “She would take the book and cross out the male’s name and make it girl’s [name],” Huggins says.
A lot has changed since that time. But even though law schools are now turning out as many female lawyers as they are male — and there are plenty more books about the accomplishments of women — Huggins believes there is still plenty of work to be done. For starters, as a plaintiffs’ personal injury attorney with the Glenn Armentor law firm, she’s somewhat of a rarity in Lafayette. “There is only a handful of women in Lafayette who do that work exclusively, and probably half of that handful works right here at my office. It’s amazing there is still a dearth of women in that [area of practice],” she says.
“We need more women partners in law firms, we need more female judges,” she says, making a point of noting the double honor of being recognized with Judge Susan Theall in this year’s crop of winners.
For almost two decades, Huggins has been an active voice for the poor and less fortunate in our community, having begun her career in 1994 working at Acadiana Legal Service Corp., a non-profit law firm that provides free legal services to the indigent. She has always viewed pro bono work as a natural extension of her legal practice. “By definition we are professional advocates,” she says.
In 2008 Huggins took the reins as president of the Lafayette Bar Association, filling a nearly decade old gap since its last female president and becoming one of only four women to ever hold the post. Today she’s president of the Lafayette Bar Foundation, which handles 200 to 300 cases per year pro bono, and a member of the board of directors of Faith House. Faith House and ALSC refer to the foundation cases they don’t have the resources to handle; the attorney says she’s blown away by the number of people who volunteer their services with these organizations.
Says Huggins, “When you start seeing what kind of work so many people do in the area of volunteerism, you just can’t help but get involved if you’re able to yourself.” — Leslie Turk
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