Woman of the Year Maggie Thevenot Eades (middle) receive their plaques from the Chamber of Commerce Executive Director Renee Brown (right). (Gazette photos by Tony Marks)
A youthful experience
With the dawning of a new day for the Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce on the horizon, area individuals and businesses were honored Wednesday night for their efforts in making the community a unique place to live. Some of these efforts include feeding an NCAA Division 1 football team to paying off a bond project for a local high school.
Besides sharing the same ideal of promoting the community, most of the honorees for Man of the Year, Woman of the Year, Business of the Year, Business Person of the Year, and Farmer of the Year all shared a youthful vision to move the parish forward.
“The theme of the night has been our young people taking over, and that’s what we need today,” said master of ceremonies Evangeline Parish Clerk of Court Randy Deshotel as he prepared to introduce the Woman of the Year Maggie Thevenot Eades. “We need that youth in our community. We need the people that will promote our community and make us better than who we are today.”
As for Eades, she is the wife of Pat and mother of Andres. Her community involvements include: teaching home economics for five years where she sponsored cheerleaders, brought her students to visit the nursing homes, and organized school fundraisers for St. Jude’s Hospital; volunteering for and sponsoring Relay for Life; donating time and store props from her business to Girls’ and Boys’ Place; donating store props and time to Sacred Heart School and Foundation; current board member of Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce; promoting Ville Platte through volunteer work, donations, and sponsorship for all organizations and churches; and generously feeding community members in need who come to her business asking for food.
Eades graduated in 2011 from Louisiana State University with a degree in design. In 2014, she opened Cottage Couture while still teaching at Ville Platte High School. She and her husband renovated the 1902 historic home on South Soileau Street to serve the people of Ville Platte. She quit teaching to run the store and cafe full time. She then expanded Cottage Couture to include a bed and breakfast to further serve the community and, in the process, renovated yet another home to hopefully give Ville Platte something unique to offer its visitors.
“I’m really honored to be nominated with all of these wonderful women who I’ve learned so much from and continue to learn from everyday,” Eades commented upon receiving her plaque.
Man of the Year honors went to Kenneth Ardoin, who is married to Carleen and is the father of Reicous, Cody, and Kendall. He has been an Evangeline Parish School Board bus driver and owner of Ken’s Car Care for the last 25 years. He also owns LaFleur’s Landing and is a bus driver for the City Summer Feeding Program. He has been the director of Evangeline Parish Youth Basketball for 30 years and is the vice president of Antioch Baptist Church’s Usher’s Board and Male Delegates and a member of the Eastern Seventh District Association.
Among his many volunteer positions with EPYB and Anticoch Baptist Church, he also feeds the Tulane University Football team four times a year because his son is on the team. He also annually donates to the Lion’s Club, Ville Platte High School Athletic Department, Sacred Heart, the Girls’ and Boys’ Place, and softball and baseball teams throughout the community.
“I’m grateful to be selected Man of the Year for the City of Ville Platte,” Ardoin said as he fought back tears. “I thank God for this opportunity. As a businessman and a youth leader, I strive to make a difference in our community. I have a passion for helping people because helping people means you are demonstrating love. My parents taught me to help others unconditionally, and I will always be thankful for that.”
There was a tie for Business of the Year between Industrial Service and Supply and Pine Prairie Energy Company, LLC.
Industrial Service and Supply is owned by Matthew Soileau and was started in 1992 by his parents Anita and Brent Soileau. It was located on the corner of Main and Chataignier before merging with Cary’s Sporting Goods. It is the hub for Chicot State Park for fishing licenses, camping gear, hunting supplies, and sporting goods. It also supports the community through sponsorship, donations, and services.
Donald Fontenot is the plant manager of Pine Prairie Energy, which is a $6 milllion facility and is the largest natural gas storage facility in the country. It stores 80 billion cubic feet of natural gas in five salt dome caverns and has the room for 12 more caverns. It has generated $20 million in sales taxes for the parish since its opening and has paid off a $3.2 million bond for Pine Prairie High School.
Business Person of the Year was Luke Deville. He is married to Amanda and is the father of Levi. His community involvements include sponsoring fundraising events for Disabled American Veterans, Ville Platte Knights of Columbus, and Relay for Life; a member of the Ville Platte Rotary Club; president of the Ville Platte Chamber of Commerce; and volunteer, cook, and sponsor for Le Grand Hoorah.
Deville graduated from the University of Louisiana at Lafayette where he majored in accounting in 2009. He now works with his father Chris and assists him in managing their family owned specialty meat and grocery business started by his grandfather in 1955.
While receiving plaques in honor of being named Businesses of the Year and Business Person of the Year, they also received Certificates of Congressional Recognition from United States Congressman Mike Johnson in recognition of Small Business Week.
The Farmer of the Year nod went to Lauran Attales. He is married to Ashley and has three children, Anna Claire, Laura, and Jack.
He is a third generation farmer after his grandfather Lawrence and father Wayne. He has been farming for over 21 years, has belonged to professional organizations like Young Farmers and Ranchers Association, and has served as a rice board member for the Rice Dryer. He has also been featured in a magazine article for his successful hybrid crops.
While spotlighting those individuals and businesses that are moving the parish forward, the audience heard from guest speakers who are two younger business owners who are promoting the city and parish through Slap Ya Mama Cajun Seasoning.
Jack and Joe Willy Walker shared stories of early days of the company that started in the kitchen of their parents Tony and Jennifer. The younger Walkers took over the company in 2007 after moving back to Ville Platte upon finishing college in Baton Rouge and soon began marketing the company on a national stage.
“Social media and Web based marketing is what really allowed us to grow our brand,” Jack said. “The way we really try to grow it through social media is trying to be interactive. If people are liking or commenting on our product, it’s a matter of just talking to them because, really and truly, they’re trying to grow a relationship with the brand.”
“That’s how you make them loyal to that brand because, in the seasoning industry, people are really loyal to their brand of seasoning,” he continued. “It takes a lot of effort to talk to those people, to interact with them, and to help educate them on how to utilize the product.”
New social media marketing ideas for the Walkers include filming cooking videos in their show kitchen located inside the old Perrodin building in Ville Platte. “We’re going to utilize those videos to try to create more awareness about Slap Ya Mama, more awareness about Ville Platte, and more awareness of our Cajun culture,” Jack said. “That’s what people really want, and they want to feel like you’re giving them something that’s authentic and something they can grab a hold to and have a relationship with.”
The Walker brothers also encouraged other business leaders in the community to evolve and adapt.
“Things are going to change,” Joe said. “What’s going on right now may not be the same thing five years from now. There may be some other marketing trend that’s taking place, and people are going to be gravitating towards that. So, you have to evolve.
He concluded by also encouraging other members of the community to start their own small business. Joe said, “Take that leap, start that business, and start marketing it. Thankfully, today you can market it at a very low cost with social media.”
The night began as Chamber President Luke Deville outlined his vision for the Chamber becoming parish wide. “We’re on the right path to that now,” he stated. “Being a parish wide Chamber will give us a better, louder, stronger voice for the legislature to get improvements done to our roads and drainage systems, and we’ll be able to work as one with the police jury. Another great reason of being a parish wide Chamber is we can pull together resources from our whole parish, not just Ville Platte, and we can be a very valuable resource to our members.”
“We’ll be able to promote our local businesses and attract new businesses with a united parish wide Chamber, and, also, the Chamber will be able to work closer with One Acadiana as they strive to promote and improve our region and bring new businesses and improve our quality of life,” he continued. “I believe that we have great things coming our way for our Chamber as we move forward to a parish wide Chamber.”