Larose Regional Park and Civic Center

History


Without the continued support of volunteers and corporate friends, none of what we do here would be possible.

Chapter 1

The year was 1971 when a group of citizens from Larose gathered to discuss programs for youths. The neighboring communities of Cut Off and Galliano had busy youth complexes which welcomed our youngsters, but meeting organizer, Weldon Matherne, thought more could be done in the Larose area. Convening most often around kitchen tables, the group continued to gather to develop goals, and in 1973 formalized their organization by incorporating themselves as the Bayou Civic Club. The stated purposes in the articles of incorporation were to “encourage, promote, advance, and conduct pleasurable, recreational, and other non- profitable activities among the members of the corporation.”

Beyond this purpose, however, and crucial to the success of their mission, was a shared dream by these citizens. That dream was to build a youth and civic center for the Larose community, and this dream motivated members of the club in their future fundraising efforts. Additional members were recruited at ball games, church parking lots, and at the post office. Records indicate that on March 8, 1973 the club had 253 members who had paid $2 dues. Dues collection would later be dropped as a prerequisite to receiving grant funds.

However, if the club was to succeed in fulfilling their purpose and achieving their dream, all involved knew that raising funds would be critical to their success. One of the first fund-raisers scheduled was a baseball tournament for schools, and it was held at the Holy Rosary School ballpark in 1973, with $1 crawfish lunches served and netting the club $82.04. The next month the club contributed volunteer help at the Holy Rosary Fair, and received recognition throughout the weekend for their spirited assistance. The energy level remained high as the club worked the sausage stand at the 1973 Oyster Festival, netting the group some $940.00. But perhaps more important is that the Oyster King Nolan Vinet agreed to help the club by cooking the bouillabaisse at their upcoming fair. When local news columnist Jolyn Plaisance dedicated her column to the hard working Bayou Civic Club early in 1974, the club’s support and visibility grew tremendously. The club was poised to begin looking for property in the area; several offers arose.

Chapter 2

A land donation for the youth center is the first recorded activity of the Bayou Civic Club in 1974. Mr. Stan Perry along with the Roland and Harold Callais families donated property located on LA 1 beyond the 12 arpent line, across from Calvin’s Exxon Station. Board President Weldon Matherne received permission to access the property and later recruited free help from the National Guard, bringing in heavy equipment to clear the land. On Mother’s Day of that same year, several families met on the property for a barbecue. However this property would not remain the home of the Bayou Civic Club. A change in the make-up of the Board of Directors some time later produced a change in the size of the property that the club wished to occupy. Eventually, the Bayou Civic Club returned the property to the original owners.

In the spring of 1974, the Bayou Civic Club hosted a “kick-off” banquet to help fund their July festival. The banquet, held April 19th in the Holy Rosary School cafeteria, featured a baked chicken meal with a dance afterwards, all for only $5 per couple! The club grossed $550, but only netted $82 that evening.

The 1974 fair grew in size and in recognition. Weldon Matherne remembers board members meeting to determine a catchy name. “We wanted the festival to represent something from South Louisiana, and something we served. There were already crab, shrimp, and oyster festivals operating. Board member Harold Callais suggested the name of Bouillabaisse Festival, and we went with it.” A tent was set up in the front yard of LCO Jr. High School, rides were hired, and the first Bouillabaisse Festival kicked off July 26, 1974. That first fair grossed a respectable $15,000. Volunteers remember the event due to the rains that fell all weekend. Rene LeBlanc remembers digging holes under the tent to allow the water to drain, then using fire department pumps to pump out these holes to the front ditch. Past board member Bonnie Defelice says, “We were all in boots, and I was so disappointed in the weather that I cried and cried.” Other notable events from the first Bouillabaisse Festival included the festival queen selection on Friday night, a Saturday talent show, a bouillabaisse dress contest, and a potato dance contest. Sunday’s highlights included a bike parade, a noon Mass of Thanksgiving, and afternoon pirogue races. The name Bouillabaisse Festival was used for years, and led to a proclamation in 1977 by then Governor Edwards, proclaiming Larose as the “Bouillabaisse Capital of the World”.

Chapter 3

During the mid-1970’s Bayou Civic Club concentrated their efforts on fundraising and securing a piece of property which could house multiple sports fields, tennis courts, and a civic center. Father Malachy McCool, a dedicated Club and Board member recommended that the club look into leasing the land behind the church. It would be sometime before the lease would be executed, but the club operated a concession building at the Holy Rosary ballpark in the meantime. “Every club member was responsible for working a night and we had to clean the ballpark at the end of the night,” says former Board President John Rabb. “This was a big commitment by the membership.”

Immediately after the 1975 baseball season the club began planning for their 2nd Annual Bouillabaisse Festival to be held on the Holy Rosary School grounds in September. “It was the first time our festival grossed $10,000.00,” says Rene LeBlanc. “There was tremendous excitement under the tent. In fact, a cannon was shot every time an auction bid over $1,000 was made. I remember people saying how loud the cannon was and how far it could be heard.”

According to a letter sent to supporters by Board member Father Malachy McCool, in 1976 the club officially leased “20 acres of land between East 4th and East 5th Streets for community and recreational projects.” The letter mentioned immediate plans for the construction of two baseball fields with bathroom and concession facilities and noted that Bayou Civic Club’s 3rd Annual Bouillabaisse Festival would be called the LAROSE CIVIC CENTER FAIR to publicize more effectively the aims of the club. The festival continued to be held on the Holy Rosary School grounds through 1977.

In the year 1977 members of the Bayou Civic Club researched several grant programs in an effort to obtain construction funds for a civic center building, swimming pool, tennis courts, and a scout shelter. Board member Tanya Ditto noticed that under the Coastal Impact Energy Program, the federal government was beginning to return to the coastal states some percentage of offshore oil income. The amount to be returned in 1977 was to be 27 million Dollars, but only one group applied for the money. The 1978 budget would be 14 million dollars with the boundary set below the Intracoastal Canal. The city of New Orleans had just received $5,000,000 for 20 tennis courts. Further research would be done on this program. Another federal fund through the Department of Housing and Urban Development appeared to be a means for partially funding the tennis courts. Board members would pursue this lead in connection with the local recreation district. The Southeast Louisiana Girl Scout Council would make available, to a committee composed of Girl Scout Council volunteers, funding for the development of the scout shelter. There would be server building stipulations, including construction based on scouting standards. The Bayou Civic Club agreed to the stipulations and construction on the scout shelter proceeded. The club hosted their 1977 festival September 10-12, and a general membership meeting in November.

1978 was a banner year for the Bayou Civic Club’s efforts in site development. The baseball fields and new concession stand located on Bayou Civic Club’s new leased property would be completed. The HUD grant would pay for $32,000 of the $40,000 needed to construct 4 tennis courts. Bill and Tanya Ditto proceeded to work on the federal CEIP grant for the Civic Center construction funds. Tanya remembers, “Our first stop was at the South Central Planning Developmental Commission, where the chairman checked and nowhere in the fine print did it say that a private club could not apply”. An application with letters of support from 15 community organizations or public bodies was sent to Washington on March 4, 1978 for $850,000 of construction funds in the name of Larose Regional Park. The proposal stated that “because of the significant impact of the Outer Continental Shelf activity and the LOOP project combined with the poor financial condition of the Lafourche Parish Police Jury, assistance to this community project should be granted.”

With the grant application on its way for initial review by federal officials, the Bayou Civic Club wasted no time in planning a trip to Washington to secure support from Louisiana Congressmen. Officials with the LA State Department of Transportation would also have to approve the project. An initial presentation took place with DOTD in Baton Rouge on May 8, 1978. Later that month board members John Rabb and Tanya Ditto flew to Washington. In June 1978, Tanya reported back to the board that “the trip to Washington was a success. Bennett Johnston, David Treen and Russell Long were contacted and sent representatives to the meeting which helped our situation”. This same month the Board of Directors appointed a committee to study how long board members would serve.

Bayou Civic Club members were continuing to run the baseball concession throughout the summer. Over $1,130 was deposited into the bank during the first week of baseball season. Board member Eddie Blanchard requested thank you notes be sent to the South Lafourche welding class, South Lafourche FFA, and several local companies for donations of work which completed the concession stand and dug-out area.

News of the civic center construction grant being approved arrived in a letter dated July 10 from the DOTD Baton Rouge Office. WOW! There would be lots of planning to do now. The need for funds to operate a building was evident. Enthusiasm was high going into the 1978 festival. The festival tent site would be moved once again.

Chapter 4

The good news of $850,000 to be awarded to Bayou Civic Club in 1978 for construction of a civic center building came with a few stipulations from the federal government, the most important of which was that the group should secure a fifty year lease on the property they intended to build upon. The Board of Directors immediately pursued this request to obtain the required lease. The club would finish 1978 activities with their annual festival. The festival date was moved to October, with the site moved to Bayou Civic Club leased property alongside the Holy Rosary Cemetery.

Realizing that federal grant funds would not pay for building furnishings, the club began positioning itself to borrow money for the furnishings. In the spring of 1979, approximately 100 club members pledged to co-sign a loan for the Bayou Civic Club, each being liable for $1,000 should the club not be able to pay back the commitment. WOW! This commitment showed extreme dedication to making the civic center project a success.

On May 2, 1979, the Bayou Civic Club opened three sealed bids for the construction of the civic center complex. Rittiner Engineering Company of Metairie produced the lowest bid which included; $1,079,000 for the central part of the facility, $437,000 for the pool wing, $276,000 for the library wing, and $58,000 for the food service equipment. The project had come in at one million over the amount available in the grant! Almost immediately club officials enlisted the late Senator Leonard Chabert to assist them in persuading DOTD officials that the additional dollars should be appropriated to complete the entire project. A well planned presentation followed, and in a letter to Leonard Chabert dated June 1, 1979, DOTD officials approved an additional one million dollar allocation! “We held our groundbreaking ceremony in July 1979, and were not surprised to learn that there was much more to be done.” says Tanya Ditto.

Not included in any of the bids however, were architectural fees, which were based on 7% of the building contract. Gossen-Gasaway & Associates of Thibodaux had worked closely with the Bayou Civic Club in planning the facility, and an invoice for the $93,600 arrived on July 20th. Because the club was successful in getting the amended construction grant to pay for the majority of interior furnishings, club officials informed their recent pledges that they would instead use a loan to pay the architectural fees. The loan would be pursued days after the October 19-21, 1979 French Food Festival. The Bayou Civic Club paid the architect in late October, and according to financial records, had $96,000 in accounts payable and $78,600 in their checking account on October 31, 1979.

Ironically, at the end of 1997, 24 years later, the Bayou Civic Club was in about the same position. Although that original note was paid, the club borrowed money to purchase the property from Holy Rosary Church. The original loan was paid, the architect was paid, and the building was furnished within two years after the dedication. The citizens who pledged to back up the original loan met one night at the civic center and burned (really shredded) their pledges.

1980 activities began with the advertisement for a paid recreation Director. The advertisement stated that the position would be available on July 1, 1980, and that the position’s salary would be $18,000 per year. The club received 21 applications by March.

February brought some not so positive news. Someone had run the club’s tractor with no oil resulting in extensive damage. A new tractor would be bought in April at a cost of $8,643 and years later, that tractor was still used to maintain the grounds. Through the years, countless volunteers have sat on the tractor while voluntarily maintaining the grounds.

In April of 1980 the Bayou Civic Club hired Mickey Gomez, a man who had earned a Master’s Degree at LSU in Parks and Recreational management. “Mickey Gomez was a smart, active professional who guided our thinking those early days.” says Tanya Ditto. “The question of the year was financial solvency: building maintenance, insurance, air conditioning and heating bills and sundry expenses ate a hole in our budget faster than we could backfill it.” That question loomed large to the early boards. How would the center ever get out of a financial hole?

Well, over 25 years and several directors later, the question still exists. However, board members and executive directors through the years have grown accustomed to living with large debt. The debt peaked at about $120,000 after Hurricane Juan wiped out the 1985 fair and the next several months of activity at the civic center. Flood waters covered most of the park - including half of the tennis courts! The community, as well as the Bayou Civic Club, recovered.

Through the years, the volunteer efforts by the citizens of the community have enabled the Bayou Civic Club to be successful. Whenever faced with crisis, the troops come out and push harder. Local corporations support the Bayou Civic Club generously, and when the civic center needed $135,000 to qualify for a match to a state grant, they banded together to meet those requirements. In another instance, individual citizens joined together to form the club’s $10 Plan to provide park and building improvements. That project has continued to be a great resource for the community’s involvement with the center. That combination of local companies and private citizens has made the organization what it is today.

Chapter 5

The $10 Plan, the brainchild of Tommy Robichaux and a committee of forward-thinking individuals, began its place in the center’s history books in 1992. Because the idea was so simple, community citizens embraced the concept easily. Donating to the plan did not “buy” individuals anything … what it did do was make individuals feel as though they “owned” a part of the place and had a stake in its success.

Committing to the $10 Plan meant receiving a monthly newsletter as well as updates on how their donations were to be used. A slate of projects presented to the donors allowed them vote to determine priorities, with completions of those projects as soon as funds were received.

By 2002 the results were amazing. Remember, these $10 Plan participants were regular citizens who appreciated having a place for entertainment and recreation that they could find available in their own community of Larose.

$30,000 cemented, half mile walking trail
$6,000 wooden playground structure and other playground equipment
$10,000 built the outdoor basketball courts
$2,500 new nets and painted tennis courts
$8,000 built a storage shed for the facility tractor & other equipment
$3,000 custom made canvas for the Civic Center’s entranceway
$7,000 new lane ropes & a timing device for the swimming pool
$9,000 paved the entrance to the Civic Center parking lot
$7,000 limestone overlay for the road to the tennis courts
$8,500 restored the gym floor and walls
$15,000 phase 1 of the drainage system culvert project
$19,000 phase 2 of the drainage system culvert project
$3.500 new sewer pumps for lift station
$5,000 locks & other hardware for applications for around the facility
$15,000 electrical system improvements to facilitate the backyard festivals
$8,500 canopy to provide shade on the swimming pool’s deck area
$6,000 colorful new playground equipment
$9,000 funds to match $30,000 from BP for 80 tons of new air conditioning equipment for the gym
$4,000 30 eight-foot tables & metal folding chairs
$1,500 floor buffer
$12,000 72” diesel mower for our park area
$12,500 funds for brick re-mortaring of the building
$1,000 kitchen service equipment
$4,000 Vulcan stove for our kitchen
$800 mats for the lobby
$9,000 covered pavilion for BBQ pits and cooks
$12,000 asphalt area under FFF tent in parking lot
$7,000 mower
$4,500 playground equipment
$2,500 tennis court repaving
$14,000 FFF booth wiring & electrical hook-ups
$3,500 water fountains for the lobby
$4,500 audio equipment for gym (grant match $2,500)
$1,500 gym light bulbs (25)
$500 cement kitchen porch
$2,000 4 fryers
$1,000 5 utility carts
$1,000 banquet supplies
$7,500 pool heater (matching funds)
$7,000 steamer for kitchen
$2,000 sewage system (plus grant $10,000)
$2,000 walk-in cooler
$15,000 pavilion fund (matching funds $10,000)
$3,500 playground equipment (matching funds)
$2,338 12 round tables
$1,100 podium
$5,000 re-mortaring fund
$950 12 round tables and cart
$4,600 catering package
Donated $10,000 kitchen package
Donated Scout shelter roof replacement
Donated ceiling fans for the pool deck
Donated 2 food warming ovens
Donated air pump
Donated funnel cake fryer
Donated $10,000 storage building
Donated air compressor

What a wonderful community to have accomplished so much with each individual’s small contribution of $10 a month! But the $10 Plan did not stop in 2002; the participants are still supporting the community year after year.

Chapter 6

The year 2005 was one of celebration with the Parish Council’s approval of the Larose Center’s donation of land for the new Larose Branch Library. The library, housed in the center’s main building for 25 years, was forced to search for a larger space. Wanting the library to remain a part of the center’s complex, the center offered a 24,000 square foot poolside lot to the Library Board, and the Library Board and the Parish Council, a few years later, began the process of building the structure that would house the branch library.

The year 2005 was also one of transition. Henri Boulet, 7-year veteran as Larose Civic Center’s director, accepted a position at the Greater Lafourche Port Commission, and the center began its search for a new director.

The year 2005 saw no end to the community’s struggle with the Postal Service for recognition. For decades the community had been denied its identity as Larose. Mail addresses were Cut Off or Lockport while deliveries to homes and businesses resulted in confusion. The Postal Service consistently resisted the community’s united struggle to be recognized.

In August the board selected Brian Detillier as its new director. With no period of orientation, though, Detillier was plunged into the devastation of Hurricane Katrina and the stream of evacuees who were brought to the Larose Civic Center for shelter. People from Grand Isle, the entire bayou area, New Orleans, and Harvey found their ways to the center. The community responded as it has always done; debris in the park was cleared and necessities such as mattresses, clothing, and cleaning supplies appeared. As usual, a schedule for volunteers was established to meet the constant need for help.

Evacuees would stay in Larose for another month. Eventually, agencies resolved difficulties with trailers provided by FEMA, and the civic center could return to the usual business of staging its French Food Festival. In the turmoil of the post-storm activity, there was a core group that continued to work on the preparations for the activities which would help the community’s journey back to normalcy.

Chapter 7

Director Brian Detillier’s stewardship ended April 2006 and Jasmine Sauder, a long-time employee of the center, stepped into that position. Jasmine had grown up at the Civic Center – as a child in recreation and as an adult working at the center. One of the jobs she undertook was as assistant director under Henri Boulet’s direction. Therefore she was able to move into the leadership of the Larose Civic Center seamlessly.

As always, the center’s board planned repairs and improvements. One of the projects was nearing completion; brick re-mortaring of the building’s exterior was one of those and finally ended in 2008 with a $70,000 expenditure which the Parish Council funded. In the meantime, Hurricanes Gustave and Ike severely damaged the roof of the facility. Solar panels that had been placed on the roof were taken down after Katrina, but the holes left in the roof had not been repaired; now the interior of the building felt the wrath of Gustave and Ike.

The FEMA saga began. Reimbursement for that repair was denied again and again until a request for a face-to-face meeting in Washington, D.C. was agreed to by FEMA in 2011. The meeting included FEMA, Jasmine Ayo, and representatives from the offices of Vitter, Landrieu, and Landry but the appeal led to another dead-end.

The day-to-day business continued with pool heater problems plaguing the center, but the director and the center’s board soldiered on. During 2007 campground permits showed progress. And the Larose branch of the public library was being built next door. Plans for the permanent pavilion were slowly coming to fruition.

Chapter 8

The year of 2008 seemed to have a blue horizon for the civic center. The Larose Branch Public Library had moved to their new facility, and work on the space they had vacated proceeded. The Bouvier family, a long-time supporter of the civic center, took on the funding of the room. The room was the right size to appeal to clients searching for a venue that did not require the dimensions of the gym. And appeal it did! The room was ready for rental in December, and it has been in constant demand since then.

November 2008 marked the calendar with the U.S. Postal Service’s approval of Larose having its own identity. At last, people could use the correct zip code for mail deliveries.

But September’s Hurricane Gustave would again send evacuees to the Larose Civic Center for safety. That storm and Hurricane Ike would cause major damage to the building’s roof. Remember, that was the time in the center’s history when the FEMA process began and ended in 2011 with a denial of their claim that it was eligible for reimbursement. The LRD3 ballpark was still in need of repairs in 2009. The Larose Civic Center proceeded to open bidding on roof repair and accepted a bid of $74,143 in September 2009.

And the pool still leaked, with many ideas as to the cause and no viable solutions. But the Board of Directors would not to give up. Their search continued.

It was February 2009 that Phase 1 of the Pavilion began with permits for the slab. By August all permits had been approved, ground was broken and Picciola Construction Company began the work of making the dreams of the community a reality.

Of course, as the main building aged, repairs could be expected. In April BP America provided funds for a new gym air-conditioner. Now the many recreational programs for our young people could function in a cool environment.

The campsites received their permits in 2009 and work could be finalized to make 6 sites available for the 2010 French Food Festival. The foundation funding those campsites was pleased with the results and immediately pledged that 6 more campsites should be opened. However, this phase, according to the permitting office, would require that a restroom or dressing facility should be provided. Plans would go forward.

The year was a busy time at the center with BP’s commitment to fund the pavilion’s completion. The Gulf of Mexico had experienced the oil spill with all of its repercussions, and BP was a constant presence. The company leased one of the center’s spaces for an office, and the ties to the center’s commitment to the area became theirs also. Larose Civic Center had a long-standing relationship with BP and they seemed to understand the needs of the community. They gladly joined our other committed supporters: Clara & John Brady Foundation, Shell, Bollinger Family Foundation, Edison Chouest Family, Chevron, Kevin Gros Offshore, Workplace Staffing Solutions, Frank’s Supervalu, Apache Louisiana Minerals, Galjour Oil Company, John and Angela Picciola, Vision Communications, Capital One Bank, Williams Discovery Employee Donation, and Phillip and Judy Plaisance.

Life is Still Good!

Aaron Breaux, board member and a good neighbor who had adopted the Larose Civic Center, stepped in one day with a plan for the much-needed cooler and freezer. After gathering prices, a few of the loyal supporters thought they could put a cooler/freezer together that fit the center’s specific needs. By August 2011 those men were able to produce a cooler/freezer for $25,000. It was a wonderful addition to the complex.

Another cause for celebration was the delivery of the metal that would complete the pavilion. The delivery was made on September 8th & 9th and the anxieties about completion in time for the French Food Festival were allayed. We still spoke of the festival as being under the tent, but after decades of watching the tent being erected, worrying that the tent would spring a leak, or that the tent would suffer damage if a storm occurred it was a wonderful feeling that this gigantic structure was on the property and we could proceed with our festivities.

BP America was at our side during this preparation of the 2011 French Food Festival, lending a hand in the dedication, and helping to coordinate the many corporate sponsors that we support the civic center on an annual basis.

Chapter 9

Some people might think a garage sale is a minor event, but the Larose Civic Center considers it one of those events that does indeed involve the entire community. Every household has the opportunity to clean attics, closets, sheds, cabinets and garages. The discards from people’s homes begin to fill the center’s storage areas in late spring.

As the August three-day event approaches, the gym is filled with their donations. A family is able to spend the entire day in an air-conditioned environment and children can enjoy the playground right outside the back door. The center’s kitchen serves a delicious plate lunch as well as a concession.

Who is in charge of getting it organized? Our volunteers, of course. The Larose Senior Citizens, housed in one of the building’s wings, spearhead the garage sale and look forward to this annual event.

Chapter 10

As we approach “present day” we look back to some of the other annual events of the Larose Regional Park which have been so instrumental in the everyday funding of the facility.

For instance, over 20 years ago a few men who wanted to compare notes about their hunting and fishing trips gathered at a warehouse to cook their bounty. Year after year these men met for an annual celebration until the numbers grew too large. At that point some of the leaders asked if the Larose Civic Center wanted to adopt the event. A stipulation would be that the net profit would be added to the Endowment Fund which had been established to ensure the longevity of the park’s operational funding. Of course, the center was anxious to provide that service, and the Wild Game Supper thrived from the beginning.

In 2011 a new phase was added to the event. Awards were given to dishes in three categories – fin, feather and fur. An Icon Award was given in this first year to the two gentlemen who were in that small group that gathered at their warehouse. John Brady and Pat Brady were recognized that evening as pioneers of the popular Wild Game Supper.

So … from the warehouse and a gathering of a few men we come to the growth of the event. Once upon a time, the gym was sufficient. Then other spaces in the building were utilized. The gym, auxiliary rooms, as well as pool side became dining rooms. The newest space to open up was the permanent pavilion with over 900 diners in attendance.

Chapter 11

Festivals are wonderful places to sample other ways of cooking. The French Food Festival and its sister fair Family Fun Festival serve up some super food items. What better way to share some of these recipes than a cookbook?

In the early 80’s a committee took that concept and created “Down the Bayou.” The book was filled with festival recipes as well as good old home cooking ideas. Each section was highlighted with a vignette of the area’s culture and history.

That cookbook has proven extremely popular locally, nationally and internationally with the book having gone through many reprints. Then in 2006 a follow-up cookbook was published. “Down the Bayou…and Back Again” contains a collection of new recipes with the inclusion of some of the area’s newest residents. So the cookbook appeals to those looking for Mexican, Vietnamese, health foods, and the ever popular Cajun foods.


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