Thursday, Aug. 22, 2013
By ABiz Staff
From Sister Betty Lyons to LEDA’s Pamela LaFleur and the always-on-the-go Stephanie Morris, this year’s Women Who Mean Business honorees are an amazing group of accomplished women, all doing their part to leave an indelible mark on this community — many also working successfully to close the gender gap.
Louisiana’s women got some disappointing news this summer when a Huffington Post story broke down the pathetic state of our state when it comes to women representing us in the Legislature. While the state has gender parity among its U.S. senators — one out of two ain’t bad — it has the smallest proportion of women in its Legislature, 11.8 percent. No wonder we couldn’t get a simple equal pay for women bill out of the Legislature.
Female representation is not much better among bodies elected parish-wide. For example, Lafayette has one female school board member and zero representation on the City-Parish Council. That should change — and we’re getting word it just might. (Did you know research shows voters want to support women, because they’re perceived as hard-working and less corruptible?)
For the past 14 years ABiz has accepted nominations from the community and selected 10 or so women for its Women Who Mean Business Awards, as well as at least one Trailblazer who is retired or semi-retired and helped pave the way for succeeding generations of women. While this honor isn’t typically meant to encourage women to seek public office, we do hope that the women we have recognized over the years, along with this year’s class, will get more involved in the upcoming election cycles, supporting their fellow women if they are unable or disinclined to run themselves. We do have an elected official in this year’s group, state Rep. Simone Champagne, who, fortunately, doesn’t appear ready to call it quits in politics even though she won’t seek re-election in 2015.
If you want to know more about these women, join ABiz Wednesday, Sept. 11, at 11:30 a.m. at River Oaks Catering and Event Center, as we honor their accomplishments and hear more about their inspiring stories in their acceptance speeches. You won’t leave disappointed. — Leslie Turk
Profiles by Amanda Bedgood, Patrick Flanagan, Cherry Fisher May, Wynce Nolley, Walter Pierce, Leslie Turk and Kari Walker
In the prayer of St. Francis, one asks to bring hope to despair and light to darkness — Sister Betty Lyons’ Irish smile and compassion for those most in need has been that kind hope and light in the state and Acadiana for more than a half century. The Franciscan sister left her family in Ireland with few possessions and traveled to the U.S. via ocean liner to New York and then by train to Louisiana — she never had intentions to leave her birthplace, but the call of God was greater than St. Patrick.
Sister Betty initially joined the Franciscan sisters in Baton Rouge at Our Lady of the Lake and in 1990 moved on to Our Lady of Lourdes in Lafayette. She became enchanted with Cajun culture and quickly set out to continue her call to mission in Lafayette, taking healing beyond the walls of a hospital and into the community. As the former vice president of mission and community services at OLOL, she believes the best way to serve the poor in the community is to go to them. “She was quietly bringing this [care] to the community; she was doing this before anyone was watching,” says Bently Senegal, director of Community Services at OLOL. “By doing that she has forever changed lives in the community.”
In order to serve the indigent population, Sister Betty had a vision to establish care centers in the area. Among the many community projects she helped spearhead with the Lourdes Foundation, her largest accomplishments have been St. Bernadette Community Clinic for the homeless and low-income population and the Lafayette Community Pharmacy at the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, which serves the working poor. These two programs best define Sister Betty’s primary mission: providing basic health care to Acadiana’s most vulnerable populations.
“She was able to assist us with this initiative [the pharmacy], via funding from Franciscan Missionaries of Our Lady, which had never provided funds to an organization outside its system,” says Jeanette Alcon, executive director of Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic. “She’s not loud and pushy, but she gets the job done so charmingly it almost looks effortless.”
These works are no small feat for anyone, but those who know Sister Betty best say the word “no” is never an acceptable answer for the Franciscan firecracker. Her spirit is quiet and humble, they say, but she is tenacious.
More recently, in 2009, Sister Betty had a vision of expanding dental care at St. Bernadette’s. “She would not hear that we could not afford [the dental] clinic; she knew dental health was part of where health started. She would not accept “no”; she got the hospital to kick in and got her clinic,” recalls Bud Barrow, CEO of Our Lady of Lourdes.
“People know that behind all her persistence you find a loving, compassionate person who inside has an innate desire to help somebody. It’s not for her, it’s to benefit the community,” Senegal says.
Adds Barrow, “If you open up a dictionary and look up ‘sister,’ you would see Sister Betty’s face — she represents all that’s good.” — KW
|Photo by Robin May|
Dr. Maureen Brennan spends her days counseling patients as a clinical psychologist. Upwards of half the clients of her private practice in Lafayette are sexual abuse victims, including children, as well as sexual abusers.
That’s pretty heavy stuff, although Brennan wouldn’t have it any other way. “There’s never been a day in 30-some years of practice that I left work feeling ‘woe is me.’ No matter what was going on in my life, I heard stories during the day that made me realize I didn’t have it so bad,” she says.
And fortunately, the civically engaged Brennan has a steam valve for any stress that might build up counseling abuse victims and their abusers: the performing arts. “When you’re in rehearsal and seeing new things come to life, that’s energizing — it sort of gives back the energy that some of the [psychologist] works takes out.”
Brennan has been involved in Lafayette’s performing arts scene for decades in various roles — director, producer, actor, playwright and board member. She was a longtime fixture on the stage and behind the scenes at the now-defunct Lafayette Community Theater.
The jewel in the necklace she has draped around Lafayette’s cultural life is Cité des Arts, the downtown venue that has incubated hundreds of plays, musical and cross-disciplinary arts productions since its inception more than a decade ago. Operated by a non-profit 501C(3) for which she is the executive director, Cité occupies what was once a bus station on the bottom rear floor of the Evangeline Apartments, near the old Evangeline Hotel, at the corner of Jefferson and Vine streets. Begun as a bare-bones space to host plays and other performing arts productions, Cité has evolved into a top-notch “little” theater, complete with professional lighting, sound, stage and seating.
But unlike Lafayette Community Theater, which was both a theater company as well as a brick-and-mortar place to see plays, Cité is a venue that incubates the work of others — a space for cultivating (at a reasonable price for the producers) Lafayette’s rich performing arts life.
“The thing I’m proudest of there is the number of original works,” Brennan says. “A couple of years ago we had 25 plays there and 18 or so of them were original works by Lafayette writers, and that’s been so exciting. There’s as much writing and theater talent in this town as there is music, and it’s just starting to be discovered. It’s been sitting there waiting.”
The mother of three adult children (and eight grandchildren) was recently named a Chevalier of the Order of Arts and Letters by the French government for her heavy lifting in local performing arts — one of her proudest achievements.
Brennan also serves as a volunteer mentor in public schools for a Rotary Club youth program, and plans to travel to Liberia next year as a volunteer for Change Agent Network, which does educational and outreach work in desperately poor communities in the African nation.
All in a life’s work for a very busy person.
“The thing my parents were most worried about finally served a good purpose,” she says with a laugh. “They always complained that I was hyperactive, an unrealistic dreamer and stubborn as the day is long.” — WP
Simone Champagne was about 10 years old when her mother campaigned to be the first woman to represent Jeanerette on the Iberia Parish School Board in the 1960s. Though that election was won by a man, the experience left a lasting impression on the political career of the young Champagne, as she would later achieve several of her own political firsts, becoming Iberia Parish Government’s first female chief administrative officer and the first woman elected to represent District 49 in the Louisiana House of Representatives.
Though Jeanerette is still Champagne’s primary residence, she and her husband, Gary, recently moved to Youngsville, where the couple plans to retire after she finishes her current — and, she says, final — House term in 2015.
“I got involved from an early age with my mom’s campaign for school board and really enjoyed the process of politics, knocking on doors and getting to meet and talk with all the different people,” recalls Champagne. “Mom didn’t win that election, but what always stuck with me was when she didn’t win she said, ‘Child, I lost the election but I won the battle.’ It took me years to comprehend that message, but now I know what she meant and it makes me very proud of her. She was a woman, and it didn’t turn out the way she wanted, but she always talked about what a wonderful experience it was to run for public service.”
While working her way up the ranks of the First National Bank of Jeanerette, Champagne says she stayed active in the political process, helping with various local campaigns. In 2002, she was appointed by former Iberia Parish President Will Langlinais as chief administrative officer, becoming Iberia Parish Government’s first woman to hold the position. She resigned in 2007 and launched her own political career by running for the District 49 House seat.
“I knew politics was very demanding. I chose to have a family, raise children, and over the years I helped others get elected, but always knew that at some time I would have my time,” says Champagne. “When term limits set in for Troy [Hebert] in District 49, my baby was 17 and a senior in high school, and it was time, I was ready.”
Though several possible contenders also eyed the seat, when the deadline to qualify came around, Champagne was unopposed and took office in 2008 as the first female representative from District 49.
“The year I took office we got hit with hurricanes Gustav and Ike,” says Champagne, whose district also covers the low-lying coastal areas of Delcambre and Erath. “Luckily I had gotten my feet wet a little before that working for the parish during Katrina and Rita.”
The majority of her six years in office have been dedicated to the recovery efforts from those storms, and getting federal recovery dollars where they belong: in the hands of her constituents whose lives were turned upside down by the devastation wrought by three hurricanes within three years.
“The struggle really has been to get fully recovered, and there’s still a lot of work to do,” says Champagne. “That really taught me how people can be so resilient, and not just wait for the government to come in and fix it, but to try and do it themselves.”
In 2011, Champagne was one of six candidates to run for Troy Hebert’s District 22 Senate seat. Though Fred Mills won that election, the experience, says Champagne, brought her back to her mother’s campaign nearly a half century ago.
“When that was over, I went back to what my mom said, that maybe the outcome isn’t what you hoped for, but the experience was truly eye-opening,” says Champagne, who proved successful in a second campaign that year against two challengers seeking to unseat her as the District 49 representative.
Champagne’s experience as a female lawmaker in a state with a male-dominated Legislature has only heightened her belief in the need for more involvement by women in Louisiana politics. “Women overall are hard workers, we have drive, ambition, and do it with a focus that I believe is different than the men,” says Champagne. “For me, my focus has always been that no matter what I did, it would focus on how it affects families.”
The big question for Champagne: What’s next in her political career?
For now, she says her attention will remain on the needs of her district and finishing the last two years of her term; she admits, however, that her interests are piqued by Lafayette Parish politics (the school board in particular), but as far as her name appearing on the local ballot any time soon: “Who knows? I believe in never saying never, so we’ll see what happens.” — PF
|Photo by Robin May|
Kelsey Corrigan points to a framed photo hanging on the wall of her Johnston Street office. It captures a place she obviously loves: a weathered wooden barn, dwarfed by snow-capped peaks, cobalt blue sky overhead. “I’m from northwestern Montana, so close to the border you can see the Canadian Rockies,” she says. “No one in my family was in the oil and gas industry, but I always loved science and math. So when I was young and people would ask me, ‘What do you want to do?’ my mom would tell me: ‘You should be an engineer.’”
It was also her mother who took young Kelsey to a career fair that showcased non-traditional job opportunities for women. “The woman who stood out in my memory was a petroleum engineer,” she recalls, and eventually Kelsey headed for The University of Tulsa in pursuit of a petroleum engineering degree. That launched a career that has already taken her a long way from those Montana plains: to Houston, Bakersfield, Covington, Lafayette and drilling rigs in West Texas, New Mexico, the northern and western Gulf of Mexico. And she’s only 26 years old.
Travel is big part of the appeal of her job at Chevron. She also relishes the challenge of solving problems on a very big scale, and she hates being bored.
“I love it in the field and how fast things can change,” she says. “There’s always something dynamic going on.” Although there are more women co-workers now than when she started, she has found it easy to work in a male-dominated industry, even on the rigs. “Once they realize that you’re not out there to be the boss — that you’re there to learn, too — they are definitely willing to help you,” she says. They are also likely a bit curious when she rolls out her yoga mat on the heliport to do a few sun salutations at the dawn of the day.
In her current assignment, Kelsey is primarily office-bound, writing protocols for wells that will be drilled next year, lining up rigs for multiple offshore jobs. “You don’t want to contract one that is too big for the job or too small. And you definitely don’t want to over-pay,” she explains.
As chair of the young professional committee in the local chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, she promotes the career she loves to high school juniors and seniors, among other duties. She is working with her counterpart at LAGCOE to launch Gear Up this fall, a guided tour of the oil show for a hundred local students selected for their talent in science and math. Along with a designated ambassador from the UL engineering department, Kelsey and her peers will walk the students through LAGCOE in small groups.
“We want to show them what a fun job this is…that there is so much going on here, you can stay in Lafayette and have a great career,” she adds. Before she has a family of her own, though, she wouldn’t mind an international rotation, especially in South America because she speaks Spanish. But for now, Lafayette keeps her close to where the action is. “I love the drilling side of it,” she says, “but I’m not opposed to learning something new.” — CFM
|Photo by Robin May|
Many people switch careers at least once in their lifetime, and Jennifer Jackson, Ed.D., is no different. “I’ve probably had about three careers,” says Jackson. “I was in maternal health, then in government and now in higher ed, but I still teach nutrition part-time at night.”
After receiving her bachelor’s degree from UL Lafayette in nutrition, and then her master’s in nutrition from a small liberal arts college in Pennsylvania, she became a registered dietician. She then received her doctorate in educational leadership from the University of Phoenix.
“Having a degree opens the door,” she says. “I think for one it opened the door and then just got me the opportunities that I needed.”
One of those opportunities came in the form of a grad school classmate whose mother happened to be the college president.
“I met her and she hired me to run the diversity office at the community college, and that’s really how I got my start in higher ed,” explains Jackson. “She sent me to training, and I really just fell in love with diversity work.”
It was then that Jackson returned to UL to work in the campus diversity office where she would spend the next seven years while obtaining her doctorate. While at UL and after the university raised its admission standards, Jackson helped initiate a successful mentoring program that aimed to provide academically at-risk freshmen with the means to flourish in their classes.
“I had so many mentors, so many great and wonderful people; I had an amazing upbringing,” says Jackson. “Most people tend to struggle and then give back because of what they struggled in. They taught me that you just give because it’s the right thing to do.”
Today, Jackson is the associate vice chancellor at South Louisiana Community College where she oversees advancement for the college, including advising the public relations office.
“We’re like the face of the college,” she says. “We’ve done some commercials; we worked on a branding initiative, which has been very successful; we have grown our foundation, which was very stagnant; and we raised over $80,000 probably just in scholarships.”
One of Jackson’s current projects at SLCC is a fundraising campaign, which plans to raise $2 million this year for a new health and science building to be built on campus. Another accomplishment Jackson has made during her tenure at SLCC is instituting a women’s conference to provide female students with a whole day for professional development and networking.
“I really didn’t plan on going into higher ed; I’d planned on having a career in health,” she says. “And really once I got into [higher ed], it seemed like I was helping people. And now teaching is something that I truly, truly love.”
According to Jackson, her collective feats in higher ed are all stepping stones for something she has wanted since making that fateful decision to step out of nutrition and into educational administration.
“My next goal is to be president of a college, shortly,” she says. — WN
|Photo by Robin May|
A little more than a year ago, Amy Jones was the subject of a cover story profile in ABiz’s sister pub The Ind, not for her skyrocketing public relations business, but for her plummeting waist line. Jones had dropped 140 pounds following a surgical procedure known as the gastric sleeve.
Now well over a year into her post-surgical life, Jones remains fit. And the former TV sports anchor turned PR dynamo who founded Jones Communications and works with clients nationwide has applied that concept to her business, too: Stay lean and light on your feet and the client is better served.
The staff at Jones Communications has more than doubled since she founded the company about three years ago — there are now five full-time employees and a phalanx of contractors with whom she works — but Jones has resisted the urge to grow for growth’s sake.
“If I wanted to I could have more staff,” she says. “But I’m not like a medical facility where you know a patient’s going to come in because they’re sick, so you need the nurse, you need the receptionist, you need the person to file their insurance — that’s just not what we are; every client that we work with is coming with a different need and so we have to be able to be nimble and responsive to what those needs are. And, really, this model has proven to be very beneficial for us.”
Jones likens the trust companies place in her to the trust parents place on those who care for their children. “Everyday, for me, it’s a humbling thing to be trusted to tell that story correctly,” she says.
Her company is currently working almost exclusively with corporate clients, among them LALED, a lighting manufacturer. Jones slips into PR mode easily when mentioning the company, pointing out — bragging, really — that LALED manufactures the only stadium lighting certified by ESPN.
But not all PR campaigns are created equal. It would be easy to do a campaign for, say, puppies — everybody loves puppies. Not so much for chemical manufacturers or private prison companies. But Jones says her most difficult PR campaigns always involve politics.
“The nature that we have is to want to just answer questions at will and at ease, and yet in this day and age where we live in the 8- to 10-second soundbites, anything that you say can basically be twisted into something completely different,” she explains.
It’s not political season right now anyway, and other than working with a few municipalities including the city of Broussard, Jones Communications isn’t doing politics. And unlike in the past when she may have served as a hired gun for politicians whose politics she found unsavory, Jones says her personal beliefs, which she keeps close to the vest, must align with a candidate’s. She’s even turned down contracts from politicians with whom she disagrees.
“I feel like I’ve reached a point in my life and in my career where what I do politically needs to be true to myself and what I believe personally,” she says, “and that’s really a model that I’m trying to stick with in terms of candidates who I’ll work with and work for moving into the future.”
Jones clearly loves her work and brings to it the same energy she brings to life — sans about 140 pounds.
“I think the line that I continue to use over and over because it’s just about as true as it can be,” she says, “is that over the last three years life has been incredibly kind.” — WP
|Photo by Robin May|
Get a group of commercial real estate professionals together and it won’t be long before the topic of Gregg Gothreaux and the Lafayette Economic Development Authority comes up, and the conversation will take a decidedly positive turn. It’s often said that behind every successful man, there is a successful woman: In LEDA’s case, that top tier woman would be Pamela LaFleur.
As vice president of administration, LaFleur provides support and liaison services to LEDA President and CEO Gothreaux; as part of a small but mighty organization, however, she wears many hats.
“One minute I’m tending to an air conditioning issue in the building and the next I’m meeting with our legal counsel to prepare for contract negotiations,” says LaFleur, noting that she tackles tasks from human resources management to building operations to helping manage fiscal responsibilities.
LaFleur has maintained a very low public profile, quietly getting her work done behind the scenes. She says one of the most fulfilling aspects of her job is working alongside Gothreaux in their shared passion for economic development — she’s the one with the duty to help keep projects moving in the right direction and as smoothly as possible.
LaFleur has learned over the past two years to find balance in her professional and personal life by knowing the difference between what needs to get done and what she wants to get done — life with a 2-year-old will do that to a busy, working mom who also has strong ties to community involvement. “Prioritizing and managing my time to get as much done as possible [helps]. I also couldn’t do it without the help of my family,” says LaFleur.
In addition to being Cooper’s mom, she’s also looking forward to celebrating a decade of marriage to husband Colby next year and hopes time lends itself to some travel. “We love to travel and the stamps on our passports show that,” notes LaFleur. She’s also into volunteering, cooking and digging in the dirt in her garden.
So what brought her to her 13-year career at LEDA? In a word, Gothreaux. “Gregg took a chance on me and offered me a full-time position before I had even graduated from UL. While in school, I was a part-time intern at LEDA and spent my last summer as his assistant,” LaFleur says. “I never would have guessed that I would still be here 13 years later.”
“Pamela’s compassion and understanding nature have allowed her to be successful in the workplace and at home. People — whether co-workers, clients or friends — see that Pamela genuinely cares about them and they open up to her,” Gothreaux says of his second-in-command. “She’s leaving an impact on her community and economy that is not going unnoticed. Lafayette commercial real estate needs more Pamelas in order to drive business in a positive and balanced manner.
“Pamela understands that the nature of economic development means it’s not a traditional 8-to-5 job,” Gothreaux continues. “She’s able to gracefully balance the demands of the office while still remaining active in the community and being a super top-notch mom.” — KW
|Photo by Robin May|
When Christl Mahfouz started her work-wear and safety products company Ace Specialties in 2007, she had one employee, one product and one client. Now more than five years later, she’s grown her one-woman operation into a thriving and ever-expanding business to serve Lafayette’s bustling oil and gas industry.
Today, Ace Specialties has 14 employees and a 12,000-square-foot warehouse with an inventory of thousands of work-wear and safety items, including promotional products along with a range of in-house services for its clients.
“It started really with work gloves,” she says. Mahfouz conceived of the idea while she was managing the Edie’s Express restaurant where she had worked throughout college.
“I got really close to the customers there and one in particular was Mr. Don Mosing, who was president of Frank’s at the time,” she says. “One day after I left Edie’s he came to me and said, ‘You know we buy large quantities of work gloves every year and if you open a business I’ll be your first customer.’ So that’s what I did.”
Mahfouz says that within a few months she had customers asking for everything from duct tape to ink pens, which she eagerly would acquire for them even if she had to buy it at retail and sell it back at the same price.
“I knew back then as long as I got in as a vendor then I could develop customer relationships,” she says. “My overall goal is to provide excellent customer service, and that’s what we strive for every day. All our employees have it. I’ve pretty much bred it into their daily activities. No matter what customer service comes first, that’s my main goal here.”
It was that commitment to customer service that propelled Mahfouz and her fledgling business into greater success. Eventually, she was able to bring uniforms into her inventory after landing a major client in Texas, which led to an even bigger expansion.
“I bought embroidery machines and did everything: taught myself how to embroider, taught myself how to sew, everything,” she says. “Within about six months I was full-fledged; I was set up with every clothing and safety product manufacturer.”
Mahfouz’s rapidly growing business isn’t the only endeavour keeping her busy. The same year she founded her company, she was asked by longtime friend Brittany Hebert to help organize a sporting clay shoot for charity with a goal to raise $10,000. The event took in $50,000. This unexpected success led the pair to create their own non-profit organization.
“We started a non-profit called Sky High for St. Jude and since 2007 we have donated $1 million,” says Mahfouz. “Amazingly, this year alone we will donate over $1 million.”
In fact, Sky High became so successful in its work for St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital that it attracted the attention of Eric Trump, son of the infamous business magnate, and has since partnered with his organization, the Eric Trump Foundation. Sky High’s co-founders sit on the board of directors.
“I’m very driven by success,” says Mahfouz. “So personally for me accomplishing what I have accomplished so far is very rewarding in both my business and non-profit.”
As for the future, Mahfouz has several projects on the horizon, including the opening of a Red Wings shoe store off Kaliste Saloom in November and launching an e-commerce website, OilFieldWorkwear.com.
“I want to be the next big work-wear company out there,” she says. “I’ve experienced a 40 percent growth over the last few years, and every year I just continue to strive to beat it.” — WN
|Photo by Robin May|
Nancy Marcotte knows what it means to work hard. It’s something she learned in those early rough years when she opened Keller Williams Acadiana. And it’s something that certainly colors the way she treats the 169 agents at Keller Williams today.
“One of my favorite sayings is ‘whether you think you can or think you can’t — either way you’re right,’” Marcotte says. “A lot of what we can or can’t do is what we tell ourselves, and I truly, truly believe that.”
The power of what we believe wasn’t something Marcotte always understood, though. In high school she was shy, unsure of herself. But over the years she learned what many successful women learn — pay attention to wise people and know you’re no different than those you aspire to be.
“That person doing that is no different than I am. I can do that, too,” she says of her realization.
Her never-quit attitude began long before she sold her first house. Marcotte’s career began in advertising as a graphic designer and art director. But a move to Mandeville for her husband’s job left her looking for a new direction.
“I was disenchanted with developing new clientele ... my daughter was in the ninth grade and suggested I get my real estate license,” Marcotte says.
She earned her license, interviewed with one company — Keller Williams — and began her real estate career. It was slow going — she had earned her license just days before 9/11 and faced a market at a standstill. But, things improved and in less than a year her husband was able to transfer back to Lafayette where she decided to open a Keller Williams office.
“I loved the culture,” she says of the company that approaches the industry with a “God, family, then business” attitude. “Not many people will say that anymore and that sets us apart. We always try to do the right thing and instill that culture into our agents.”
Couple that philosophy with Marcotte’s relentless work, and it’s been a recipe for success. She began nearly a decade ago with eight agents. Today there are 169. And after years selling houses, Marcotte finds herself on the other side of business.
“I loved helping people find their dream house,” Marcotte says. “I no longer directly list and sell, but I love helping my agents grow their careers.”
It’s a task for which she is well suited, according to her partner at KW, JD Pierce.
“She empowers others to work at their fullest potential,” he says. “She is one of the hardest working people I know. If you could pick a partner — she is who you’d pick.”
Marcotte may work hard, but she also works to maintain balance in her life, whether it’s going to festivals, soaking up the art in the community or volunteering for the American Heart Association. She has two children and a husband who have supported her work again and again. “They understand and appreciate the business,” she says.
It’s a business that isn’t slowing anytime soon. Along with Pierce, Marcotte is operating other KW offices and expanding the Lafayette office on South College Road. “We opened in Lake Charles a year ago, and it’s now the largest there,” she says. Additionally, they are operating partners in an office in Mobile as well as the Denham Springs KW.
“I’m just learning how to juggle life with these new responsibilities and getting staff ... we are growing in the right direction. And so, again, any success I have will be because of the people I’m working with in these offices.” — AB
|Photo by Robin May|
Jill Butler Merkl wears many hats. She’s a top-level banking executive, she’s involved with a number of community organizations and charities, and on top of it all, she’s a jazz musician.
Merkl is a native of Madison, Miss., a UT Austin graduate and a longtime Lafayette resident with more than 20 years of experience in South Louisiana’s banking community. She’s the senior vice president and commercial banking group manager at IberiaBank, but also spent six years with Whitney National Bank and another 10 years with Bank One.
Merkl is also actively involved in local organizations, ranging from United Way of Acadiana to the Central Louisiana Food Bank to Prelude to the Arts and the Rotary Club, among others. She’s a lifelong member and former president of the Performing Arts Society of Acadiana and was influential in its recent merger with the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
“I probably put too much on my plate all the time,” says Merkl, who, despite keeping such a busy schedule, still finds the time and energy each week to shed herself from the world of business and enter the world of music as a jazz pianist and singer.
Merkl was born into a family of professional musicians. Her father composed and wrote jingles and her mother worked as a world-traveling jazz torch singer.
“My parents also had bands of various sizes that traveled about,” recalls Merkl. “It was not your normal upbringing, but my brother and I are both musicians on the side; he’s an attorney with the Department of Justice.”
For Merkl, music is just as important to her as her banking career; she doesn’t let working long hours through the day keep her from playing both solo and alongside a variety of local musicians. “It’s very important to me,” she says. “And I play a lot with a lot of different people like Kraig Strenge — he’s an attorney here — and his rock groups and I play with the East Bayou musicians every week. I also do jazz sets where I just sing and play, and sometimes I’ll play with a jazz combo.”
In addition to lending her skills to Sunday church services, Merkl has kept the family tradition alive with her own children. Both take after their mom in some way, she says, as her son, a freshman at Georgia Tech, is a classical pianist, while her daughter, a sophomore at Lafayette High School, is primarily a singer, recently placing within the top 100 at an audition for The Voice in Austin.
“I’d say our family is a pretty noisy bunch,” says Merkl, noting that includes her husband, a morning radio talk show host.
Merkl describes herself as naturally “artistic-minded,” but it’s not a description she limits herself to.
“I feel my music is one way to contribute to our community, and I know that it makes a difference. But I don’t try to limit myself to just that,” she says. “Commercial banking can be thought of as a very conservative profession, but it does have certain avenues that lend themselves to a lot of creativity and to making a difference. I would say the musical element of my life is just as important to me as my banking career.” — PF
|Photo by Robin May|
Stephanie Morris never stops. She never stops exercising, never stops motivating people to eat right and get moving, never stops helping them work through injuries or illnesses, never stops talking.
And at 61 she shows no signs of slowing down.
Stephanie and husband Mike, both nationally recognized fitness experts, returned to their Opelousas roots in 2003 after a successful run in the health club/fitness biz in Sandestin and Seaside. It was there that they created the first stability ball exercise program called Resist-A-Ball. That’s right, the oversized exercise ball craze still going strong was launched by this local couple. For nearly 17 years, the couple traveled the world to instruct master trainers on using the Resist-A-Ball for core exercises, cardio, strength training with free weights, yoga and pilates.
Morris says the move home was about being closer to family, particularly her and Mike’s mothers. Also, the couple’s son, Dallas, was playing baseball at UL Lafayette, where younger son Zack planned to enroll.
But a tragic accident in early 2004, which left Zack paralyzed from the chest down, almost sidelined this exercise guru’s career (the details of the incident are still too painful for Stephanie to discuss publicly). The couple spent 10 straight months in hospital rooms fighting for Zack’s life, at times using their expertise in anatomy to solve medical problems that perplexed some of the experts. “Pretty soon the docs were telling the staff, ‘Listen to the parents,’” recalls Morris, who says she spent every spare minute praying she would be healthy enough to care for Zack — if only he would pull through. “I pretty much thought my career ended, and I would take care of Zack all of my life,” she says.
Those prayers were answered, but in a much bigger way. Then a spirited 19-year-old, Zack, now 29, didn’t just pull through; despite his paralysis, he regained his independence and went on to become a pharmacist. He is now planning a November wedding.
In 2009, the same year Opelousas General Health System hired the couple to create and manage a wellness program for its employees, Stephanie and Mike sold Resist-A-Ball. Instead of slowing down, however, the entrepreneurial bug bit again and last year they opened Full Circle Health, an upscale health and fitness studio in Youngsville’s Sugar Mill Pond.
Today the couple splits the duties of one full-time job keeping employees at both of Opelousas General’s campuses healthy while it nurtures the Youngsville startup health club.
It’s a high-risk business, but for Morris the rewards make it worth the sacrifice. Once again, she has her own inviting place where she can meet and bond with people and make them comfortable with working out — like the 50-something-year-old woman who is exercising for the first time in her life because she found a gym and an atmosphere that’s not intimidating to her.
“That is my goal,” Morris says. “I try so hard to make people feel comfortable with moving, with walking into a gym or an exercise class. A lot of people are intimidated. I try to find out what motivates them.”
And she won’t stop talking until she gets an answer. — LT
|Photo by Robin May|
When Angela Morrison left United Way of Acadiana last year to take a job with the Lafayette Parish School System, it was a big jump, but one that suited her personal mission, and belief, to see to it that all children, no matter the life they were born into, have the opportunity for academic achievement.
Morrison took that jump from her role as United Way of Acadiana’s chief of community impact on July 1, 2012, becoming the director of community collaboration and partnerships for the LPSS.
“It was a pretty big change,” says Morrison, “I was really familiar with working with community organizations, and working from a nonprofit point of view, but I never worked before with a system as large as this with 5,000 employees and 30,000 students. At United Way, I served four parishes, but I wasn’t as intimately involved with having an impact on people’s everyday lives on a daily basis as I am now.”
Morrison’s role with the school system is twofold, she says, with one component dedicated to media relations and the other focused on Superintendent Dr. Pat Cooper’s turnaround plan as a “point-of-entry” for those in the community wishing to support the efforts of the school system.
“In my years working for United Way, education was a key strategy for pulling families out of poverty, and coming to LPSS, I already had a wealth of knowledge on groups wanting to support quality education,” says Morrison. “Now I’m the point of entry for the community and organizations to come in and help us achieve that goal.”
While her five siblings live throughout the country, this Opelousas native and longtime Lafayette resident credits the decision to stay in Louisiana to her husband, A.C. Morrison, a longtime educator and assistant principal at Charles Burke Elementary.
“Over the years whenever I talked about possibly moving somewhere else, he never wanted to hear about it,” says Morrison. “And I’m glad. We have so much going for us here in Lafayette. It’s like one big family of friends here, and you really don’t meet people here you don’t like.”
The couple’s shared belief in education as a way up for less fortunate children must have rubbed off on their son, a senior in child and family studies at UL Lafayette. “He wants to help people, too,” adds Morrison. “It makes sense though: he was raised by two parents who that’s all we ever wanted to do.”
For Morrison, there’s no questioning whether going to work for the school system was the right move, because by doing so she now has the chance to fight daily for her belief that all children can use public education as a tool for success.
“Everyday I wake up thinking, ‘What can I do today to help make more kids achieve academic success,’” says Morrison. “Maybe I’m naive, but I really think it can happen. That’s what drives me to do what I can — for the love of this community and the potential for all of our children.” — PF