Lisa Stafford, Dana Baker, Anne Darrah
The femmes of Festival International
Lisa Stafford, Dana Baker, Anne Darrah
The femmes of Festival International
When the last weekend in April rolls around and downtown transforms into the most celebrated cultural event in the region, one has to wonder how year after year, the five days of Festival International are fused with a transcendence that only festival goers could comprehend.
It's no surprise that the force behind the famed festival comprises a group of women working year-round to balance both long-standing traditions and new elements introduced every year to the hundreds of thousands of people who gather at FIL, one of the largest free Francophone music festivals in the world.
Whether it's fundraising, grant writing, securing contracts for world-renowned musicians or creating the visual effects that draw people to every corner of FIL's music stages, Women Who Mean Business honorees Dana Baker, Lisa Stafford and Anne Darrah are behind the scenes ensuring that "nothing you run into at festival is an accident."
"A lot of people have a perception that it's just a fun job, and it is," says Stafford, FIL's programming coordinator. "I can't imagine a more fun and rewarding job, but it's a business just like every other business. The part that people see is the five days of fun. People always ask, What's your real job? What do you do all year?' We're a very small staff. It takes all year to get it done."
Baker, FIL's executive director, started as the festival's marketing coordinator in June of 2000. A little more than a year later, she was named the youngest person to ever serve as executive director of the nonprofit, and she's been overseeing the festival's overwhelming growth ever since.
"We walk a fine line," Baker explains. "For a while we grew too fast. We had to slow down; we want it to be comfortable. You have to make it smart, so everyone feels the balance. Right now it's not about quantity but quality, just refining things as a whole."
Unlike Baker, whose background in public relations and marketing led her to the job, Stafford was a legal field professional turned stay-at-home mom who got involved with FIL largely because of her sons' early ties to the French Immersion Program.
For the past 13 years, Stafford has been a full-timer on FIL's staff whose job description includes, among countless other duties, signing and coordinating the hundreds of international musical acts that travel to Lafayette every year.
"There's a lot of networking, lots of people I've gotten to know over the years who book other festivals. You have to stay in constant contact with them," Stafford says. "This office has really become a conduit for young artists, helping to steer them. We're all a lot more experienced in the music business than a band just starting out, and they call for help. You give it when you can. Some of the bands who played our main stage are doing so well internationally."
Anne Darrah of New Iberia, who along with her husband owns Darrah Design + Marketing, is the woman behind every visual aspect of the event. Festival contracts with Darrah's design company annually for the graphic design and visuals, but Darrah has been a friend of the festival since 1993 when she served on the nonprofit's board of directors.
All three of the Festival WWMB honorees were volunteers of FIL before they began working there.
For Darrah, her work with Festival, her company's second largest client, means "being a part of something that has such a dynamic effect on Lafayette; it's turned into a touchstone about what this city is. It's known internationally, and to bring a visual aspect to that festival is important. It always sounded great. I wanted it to look great, too. Bringing all these colorful graphics, having a unified look, yet still trying to represent a lot of different parts of the world. Part of it is funneling people into certain areas to add to the beauty of downtown that already is."
And though meticulous planning and paying close attention to detail are both integral to the task at hand, a festival of this size also "takes a lot of muscle."
"We don't wait around for some guy to come around to ask them to pick up a table and chairs," Baker says.
Like any job, tensions run high at times in the FIL office that occupies a small space at the former City Hall on Jefferson Street. But even when "it turns into a madhouse, it's always a thrill."
"It's a season of Festival," Darrah says. "We're all really proud of what we do. It's such a positive event. It has a huge economic impact on Lafayette and the surrounding areas. At the peak of what Lafayette has become, it's filled with culture. It's such a happy event. We work really hard all year long, but it's special to be a part of something that has no downside." - Heather Miller
The PR lady at Our Lady of Lourdes knows how to get it done.
When Elisabeth Arnold was pregnant with her son Daniel, she was asked to serve as president-elect of Boys and Girls Club of Acadiana. At the time, she was mother to 3-year-old Meredith and had a full-time job. Her initial response was, "Are you kidding?!" But then, she thought about the kids at the club and developed a new personal motto: Tell me what you can do; don't tell me what you can't do.
It was that philosophy that spring-boarded Arnold's career to the top community relations position at the new Our Lady of Lourdes Regional Medical Center.
The Metairie native came to Lafayette on a scholarship to UL Lafayette. Once she arrived, she fell in love with the Hub City and never left. While working on her degree in mass communication, she shuffled among several jobs - waiting tables, laying out ads at Abdalla's, working at a PR firm. "I'm definitely of the mind set that while you're in college, you need to find part-time or intern work in the type of field that you are interested in to get a hands-on feel of what goes on in the day-in-the-life of that type of position," she says. "If you have some type of work experience, it really does give you a leg up when you interview out of college."
The latter job launched her career in advertising/public relations/marketing. At the tender age of 25, Arnold joined a newly formed ad agency called aka owned by Kiki Frayard (another of this year's honorees). There, she learned the PR business from the ground up. "There was no, This is your job, this is someone else's job,'" she recalls. "I learned about copy machines, printer bids, making sales calls - I was soaking everything up at that level, because anything they would let me do, I would do."
It was this early experience that proved the most valuable. After aka was bought out, Arnold got married and landed a dot.com job. That business eventually went bust. "I learned to take risks," she says. "You can always brush yourself off and start over."
In 2001, she landed a marketing job at Lafayette General Medical Center. Seven years later, she took on the demanding position of community relations director at Lourdes during its transition from the old St. Landry Street location to the sprawling new center off Ambassador Caffery Parkway. "It was such an amazing opportunity to do something that I may never have had another opportunity to do in a market this size, unless I wanted to move," she says. "And I love Acadiana. I love Lafayette."
During the 18-month process, Arnold served on the 14-member transition team, working with the architects and design team to open the hospital. "I worked on everything from the marketing and communications to the signage to the events we rolled out to open the hospital," she says. "It was a phenomenal experience. We walked away with such a sense of accomplishment of what we were able to do for the future of Acadiana. Because this hospital is going to be open for many, many years. So, I think that for me and for the folks who worked on this, we are just really proud of the fact that we were able to get it done - on time." - Lisa Hanchey
A lifelong learner as well as a teacher, she pours herself into her profession.
Ever since Dolores Cormier-Zenon took her first steps into a classroom as an educator, she has lived and breathed teaching. Her inspiration to become a teacher started after she watched her mother teach a class and saw how excited her students were about what her mother was sharing with them and her overall ability to engage her students.
"I felt the energy in the room, and at that point it was like watching an art," she says.
Cormier-Zenon has worked as a curriculum coordinator at Carencro Middle School for the past three years servicing and supporting teachers, providing professional development and surrogating data.
"I love what I do and I can't think of any other profession that so intricately influences or encourages a child to dream and achieve [their] dreams, and I believe we participate in that," says Cormier-Zenon. "It's a part of me. Teaching just so contributes to our future, and our children are a part of that."
Cormier-Zenon's early career consisted of teaching at various elementary and middle schools in her district, where she says she was always a teacher who "believed in the power of the parent and the power of what we could provide in helping children."
She then decided to leave the classroom to work at the state Department of Education, serving as a distinguished educator and working hand-in-hand with teachers, district personnel and principals in low-performing schools and providing professional development and data analysis to help improve student scores.
"It was very fulfilling work because I had an opportunity to see three schools come out of corrective action as a result of all the work that we did to impact student achievement," she says.
Her skills of course eventually led her to N.P. Moss Middle School where she served as a curriculum coordinator before the position was eventually closed, allowing her to transfer to Carencro Middle.
Cormier-Zenon holds a master's degree in education and is working on her doctorate in educational leadership, saying that it is important for teachers "to learn and to continue learning to improve our effectiveness."
She's also a national board-certified teacher, winner of the 1999 Teacher of the Year in elementary education, a Governor's Environmental Grant and Educational Endowment recipient and a member of the Who's Who Among Teachers and Who's Who Among Outstanding Professionals. She has also been recognized as an outstanding distinguished educator by former Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Another of her accomplishments was the founding of several school newsletters and programs like Dream A Wish that allowed teachers to better connect with students by making them Secret Santas to disadvantaged children during the holidays.
She says she's thankful for everything she has learned and continues to learn from parents, teachers, colleagues, students and, of course, from her most important teachers - her two children, Christian and Corey Zenon. "I'm just really blessed to be a mother and next to that being a teacher.
"What better way can you think of that we can contribute to our society and become involved in shaping our society?" she adds. "I wanted to help children to realize that. I wanted to help them realize all that they could be and to be all that they could be. I just feel honored and blessed that I'm able to be such a teacher." - Wynce Nolley
Geralyn Shelvin: One supreme lady
It took a recent on-the-job injury - a fall at work resulting in a gash to the head that required stitches, with a bruised hip thrown in for good measure - to force Dr. Geralyn Shelvin to slow down, and when she spoke with ABiz even the wounds and pain medications did little in that regard.
"My husband's already fussing at me because I'm been getting in and out of this bed - I can't sit still," Shelvin says. "He and my sister are riding herd on me right now because I can't sit still."
It's little wonder: In addition to her day job as the manager of Nursing Services at the outpatient Veteran's Administration health clinic in Lafayette serving about 7,000 former service members, Shelvin is also the Supreme Lady - akin to national director, along with her male counterpart, the Supreme Knight - of the Ladies Auxiliary of the Knights of Peter Claver. It's the nation's predominant black Roman Catholic lay organization comprising about 18,000 members in the U.S. and Colombia and one that will require her to attend a dozen out-of-state conferences in 2012.
"My mother was a 60-plus year member, my father was as well," she says, adding that she's working toward her own membership in the six-decade club: "I have been in the organization since I was 7 years old - been in the senior division since I was 18 - so it's been about 33 years."
Throw in a heavy workload of eucharistic activities at her church, St. Paul the Apostle, and membership in several other religious, cultural and professional groups including the National Black Nurses Association, Delta Sigma Theta sorority and the board of directors of the National Black Catholic Congress, and Geralyn Shelvin, it's fair to say, is a perpetual motion machine.
"If I join something I want to be involved and not just a dues-paying member or on the roll," she says. "I always try to tell everybody, Let's work smarter and not harder.' So if somebody else is doing something, how can we piggy back on them and get together and all do it and make it even bigger - pull all the parties together because we're all working for the same thing?"
A graduate of Cathedral Carmel High School and UL Lafayette, Shelvin says she entered nursing "to be of service and help others."
The V.A. clinic in Lafayette offers primary care, nutrition services, social work and mental-health services for veterans from all over Southwest Louisiana - from World War II up to the present military operations in Iraq and Afghanistan.
For some of these veterans of the conflicts in the Middle East, the wounds of war are fresh and debilitating, both physically and mentally. Shelvin deals with soldiers suffering from post traumatic stress disorder on a regular basis. And although she eschewed her mother's profession in teaching because of the home work, she admits it took her a while to learn how to leave the stresses of her job at the office.
"When I first started practicing, of course, I didn't, but you have to control how you react to things so you don't wind up just as sick as your patients," Shelvin says. "I have learned to compartmentalize, and you have to if you're going to stay healthy. So while I'm at work, work's there, but when I'm gone, I'm gone." - Walter Pierce
Mary Ellen Henry
Mixing work and pleasure is in the bag.
When she was in college, Mary Ellen Henry imagined she would be successful, but running an industrial packaging company was not even in her periphery. Now the CEO of JohnPac Inc., Henry walks the fine line daily of embodying both the role of a boss and a friend to her co-workers and to the community.
"I can still have fun, but if there's a problem with someone on the team - if I have to terminate someone due to a lack of performance - it's just business. I'm very good at having to compartmentalize what's fun and what's work," she says. "I think it's very unique for a leader to have fun with her people and also hold them accountable It's not always pretty."
Peter John, co-owner of JohnPac, agrees.
"She has repeatedly demonstrated the ability to create spirited work environments while being able to make tough business decisions and take action where others won't," he says.
A Tennessee native, Henry attributes her success to her family and upbringing, describing her mother as a "trailblazer" and her father as "her hero." She came to JohnPac from Storsack, now Greif, the world's largest industrial bulk bag company, where she served as vice president of sales and marketing for North America. Once she came to JohnPac in 2006, named Louisiana Bag Company at the time, she immediately laid out goals and visions for the company, one of which was changing its name.
As a national operation, Louisiana Bag Co. needed re-naming and re-branding because its name stifled its national image, Henry says. While Peter and his brother, co-owner David, were on board from the beginning, Henry says she met some opposition to the name change from staff because of the company's long withstanding culture, but once she explained the need for re-branding, the whole company came on board.
Her role now is devising strategies and goals for the company, along with dabbling in sales, marketing, financial security, hiring, quality, safety and boosting company morale. Henry has a plethora of leadership training, which she says is great to fall back on when she is unsure how to approach a situation or employee.
"I'm a big cheerleader for the 120 coworkers that we have," she laughs.
Henry says she hopes under her direction, JohnPac will quickly grow to $100 million through organic sales growth and acquiring companies while hiring top-notch employees. As a passionate person, she says she wants to hire other people with that same passion who can complement her and the company in every area. She says she is not threatened by hiring someone who has aptitudes in areas where she does not - it challenges her and makes her better.
Working at JohnPac is a long-term opportunity, Henry says, and she hopes her hard work, enthusiasm and open-mindedness will surge JohnPac into the future as an even more competitive business. - Andrea Gallo
Holly Boffy: In it to win it
When Holly Boffy decided earlier this year to run for the District 7 seat on the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education - the state school board for public education - one of the first people she clued in was her 4-year-old son, Pierce.
"As a matter of fact, he comes to vote with me. Before I told a few people I told him and explained that when we go vote, I'm going to put my name in and it'll be on the ballot," Boffy recalls. "And he asked me what for and I told him for an education school board, and his response was that he would get the parents at his day care to vote for me."
Pierce, it turns out, may have a future in campaign management. "We did a Fourth of July parade in Erath and he threw cups and hollered, Boffy for BESE.' He's very much a part of it," the 2010 Louisiana Teacher of the Year recalls with a laugh.
Boffy earned the coveted Teacher of the Year nod for her work teaching social studies to gifted students at Paul Breaux Middle School in Lafayette. The honor put her in the running for the national award, which meant a lot of travel in 2010. In January of this year Boffy left the public education arena and took a position with Associated Professional Educators of Louisiana, a statewide educators' group for which she serves as director of professional development and university programs. Boffy took the job in part because the flexibility of the position - she works from home when she isn't organizing and attending professional-development workshops and seminars - allows her to spend more time with her family.
An alumna of Abbeville High School and LSU, where she earned bachelor's and master's degrees in education - Boffy has taken a leave of absence from pursuing her doctorate through Walden University while she runs for BESE - the top-notch teacher actually pursued an education degree to become a principal. Early on at LSU, however, she realized the classroom was more suited to her talents.
The East Texas native moved to Vermilion Parish when she was a fourth grader, but her sense that teaching is a vital service to society was instilled early on. You might say it's genetic.
"My grandfather was the superintendent of a small school district in East Texas," Boffy explains. "He was an educator, and when I was growing up - he passed away when I was 2 - he was a hero to everybody that I knew, so he made education look like a noble profession. My grandmother was a first-grade teacher, and people in the community had so much respect for them. After he passed away, maybe I was 7 when the town honored him with an award, and the plaque for that award hung in my grandmother's house, and every time I passed by it I was reminded of the difference people can make as educators."
The BESE District 7 covers most of southwest Louisiana - Acadia, Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron, Jeff Davis, Lafayette, Vermilion and a few precincts in St. Landry - and campaigning in such a wide swath of the state is time consuming, to say the least.
"It's a large district - we have a lot of ground to cover," she admits.
Throw in a full-time job and being a wife and mother into the mix, and there's little time for anything except family, work and the campaign trail.
"Every waking minute is devoted to one of those," Boffy acknowledges. "And I think like all mothers you have 16-hour days and you sleep at night. But with a campaign in particular, there's not time for anything else." - Walter Pierce
From a space in a corner to cornering the market, she takes retail by the tail.
Owner of Kiki in River Ranch, Kiki Frayard isn't just a savvy retail businesswoman. Her knowledge and sense of fashion rival her business sense, and combined the two traits have made for a successful second career. Frayard's background in advertising isn't a bad thing to have in the mix either, nor is her partnership with her daughter, Katie.
Frayard started out in the local world of advertising with The Graham Group. She had her own agency at one point and worked her way up to creative director with Graham. She says retail was her favorite type of account, so when friend and shop owner Molly Finnegan of Molli in the Oil Center mentioned she had some extra space in her store, Frayard decided to take her interest in retail a bit further.
Frayard didn't quit her day job at first, but began to fill her space with carefully chosen handbags and jewelry. She and her daughter had plans to open their own store in New Orleans when Hurricane Katrina hit, so the project got relocated to Lafayette.
"The timing was perfect," Frayard says. "River Ranch's commercial development was just beginning. Bonefish Grill was here, and I was the next store to actually open, right on the heels of Ann Taylor Loft and JoS. A. Bank. I knew that this was where the growth was, definitely by far the place to be, and my instincts were right."
Nov. 1 will mark five years in business for Frayard, and she's come a long way since her corner at Molli. A year after opening in River Ranch, her shop expanded to Baton Rouge, and next year will bring a large expansion to the Lafayette store. "I'm going to take over another 2,400 square feet next door and expand the mix of products," she says.
Kiki has created a niche in Lafayette for designers like Marc Jacobs and Tom Ford, and Frayard definitely seems to know what women want. Whether it's the latest designer handbag, pair of sunglasses, Bond No. 9 perfume or special piece of jewelry, Frayard aims to create a shopping experience rivaling that of New York.
Frayard's advertising background is evident in the business's branding, from the pink logo to the business cards, shopping bags and forthcoming iPhone app. "I really wanted people to come in and know they were in Kiki. I wanted people to feel like they were not just in another accessory or women's store," she says.
Kiki is the No. 2 specialty store in the United States selling Marc Jacobs handbags and in the top five in the country for sales of Bond No. 9 perfume. Relationships with vendors are just as important as those with customers, says Frayard, and exclusive deals with designers have helped her shop elevate its specialty status.
An elegant blonde, Frayard's personal style philosophy goes hand in hand with her business one. "Unless you back over it in your car, a handbag that you buy here should last you, well, forever. I have handbags that I've had for 20 years and the same thing with the jewelry," she says.
Frayard measures her success not in terms of dollars, but in wanting to go to work each day. "Even when I'm not feeling physically well or it's pouring down rain, I still want to come here," she says about Kiki. "I love living in Lafayette, and I get to work with my daughter every day."
Frayard also admits she gets a rush seeing her products on the arms or necks of women around town. "I imagine if you were a rock star and you hear your song on the radio, you'd get a thrill," she says. "I love when I look over and see two or three handbags that I know people bought in my store." - Erin Z. Bass
A bright smile and positive attitude have given her staying power in Lafayette's real estate industry for more than 30 years.
For Barbara Rogers, being a Realtor for Van Eaton & Romero Real Estate is about more than just earning another commission; it's about helping families through the most pivotal point in their lives: finding a home.
"I think the joy of not so much selling, but being in real estate is that you're able to share with other people and enrich their lives and make a difference. It's exciting; I get pumped up," she says.
Rogers, a New Iberia native, has served as a real estate agent with Van Eaton & Romero for more than 20 years. While she originally attended UL Lafayette to major in elementary education, it was actually her sister Nancy who convinced Rogers to take a real estate course at UL to save her from taking it alone. While Nancy eventually left the real estate industry, Rogers stuck with it and says she couldn't think of doing anything else.
"I think when you have pride in the job that you're doing, you find great joy in that," says Rogers. "It makes working a pleasure and I look forward to coming to work, especially working with people. I've met some outstanding people in the 30 years that I've worked in real estate."
Her list of achievements include being the president of Realtors Association in 2005 and Realtor of the Year 2011. She also won the 1997 and 2010 Peer Awards that were voted on by her fellow Realtors - her most prized honors.
While Rogers may work with people in some of the most traumatic times of their lives, whether it is the death of a husband or wife or even a divorce when a family is forced to downsize, she says there is also great pleasure in selling real estate to new couples looking to buy their first home or families thinking about their dream home. "It's stressful, but I think if you focus on working with the individual family and how you can help them that they remember that."
She also dedicates her time at Van Eaton & Romero to encouraging young agents whenever they come into the fold however she can. "We have such bright and talented young people coming into the real estate business; I see a really positive future for the real estate industry," she admits.
"Lafayette is such a unique place to live," Rogers says of the city's financial climate. "I feel that Lafayette has a can-do attitude, that we make a difference. I don't think that we wait on the government to influence our economy. The local government works with Lafayette to help us to bring progressive, wonderful growth into the community."
She is also very active in her community as both a member of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the First Baptist Church of Lafayette where she moonlights as a Sunday school teacher of a couples' class.
For Rogers, a parallel can easily be drawn between real estate and teaching, because whether she is helping new agents or listing someone's home for the first time and explaining to them how to make it easier to sell, she is always helping those around her better understand the process of making a home for someone.
"Every time you go to a closing, and the people are so grateful because a home is, most of the time, the largest investment that a person has and...to be able to help them through that process," Rogers sighs, "every day it seems like Christmas whenever you're able to help someone." - Wynce Nolley