Cover Story

Women Who Mean Business 2006

The Independent Weekly honors Acadiana's most influential and energized women professionals.

They are dynamos of dedication, engines of progress and power, the heart and soul of their communities. They are the 2006 recipients of The Independent Weekly's annual Women Who Mean Business honors, including three women we salute as Trailblazers for their pioneering spirit and longstanding dedication to Acadiana. Our honorees' accomplishments in education, law, health care, government, the military, law, publishing, banking and more are only matched by their tireless volunteer work.


In June, Acadiana lost a woman of style, grace, and integrity. Natalee Wood Farasey is remembered for her remarkable ability to make everyone who visited her home or her Oil Center shop, Natalee, feel as though they had been her friend for years ' and would remain her friend forever.

Farasey left her native Texas for Lafayette, where she became a member of the Lafayette Junior League, serving as president and area council representative. During her tenure with the League, she helped establish the Acadiana Arts Council. She also served as a director for the Episcopal School of Acadiana. And it was her decision to open Natalee in the Oil Center that helped spark its revitalization following the oil bust of the 1980s. Always an astute businesswoman, Farasey was chairman and majority stockholder of Southern Petroleum Laboratories, which grew under her leadership into one of the largest privately held woman-owned businesses in the greater Houston area.

She brought that business acumen to Lafayette in many ways. She was the first woman to serve on the Board of Directors of MidSouth Bank ' and was a founding member of the board ' and also the first woman to serve on the board of directors of the Lafayette Petroleum Club. The opening of her design and accessories boutique on Heymann Boulevard helped redefine the Oil Center as a major retail and entertainment area.

"Natalee loved to tell people that she hired me and [MidSouth Bank President] Rusty [Cloutier]," says Karen Hale, senior executive vice president at MidSouth Bank. "She loved to brag about that, and we loved to hear her say it." Hale fondly recalls Farasey's work in the MidSouth board room. "She was always fair, and she could be outspoken when it was needed. She could read someone very well ' she had a real intuition about people. I never heard her say anything bad about anyone."

Farasey's family grew over the years to include husband Jim, children Mark Brown, Kimberly Noble, Christopher Brown and grandchildren Britton and Nicholas Noble.


A native of Lafayette, Betty Lowry gained her education at some of the city's best known schools ' N.P. Moss and Mount Carmel ' before graduating from UL Lafayette. Her career has spanned such diverse callings as medical technology, stay-at-home mom and bookkeeper at Cathedral Carmel School. In 1981, she opened Lowry's Printing with her daughter, and the printing center quickly grew to be one of the top 10 franchises in the Kwik Kopy chain. When the Kwik Kopy franchise agreement expired earlier this year, the Lowrys (her husband, four of her children and two grandchildren work in the business) decided to continue as an independent operation.

That business has grown in stature over the years, in part because of Lowry's dedication and professionalism.

"Being around someone like Betty, who always does the right thing at the right time, is an inspiration," says Sharane Gott, director of the Better Business Bureau of Acadiana. When she first met Lowry, Gott chose her as a role model "almost without being aware I was doing it," she says. "Betty is very quiet and unassuming, but when she speaks up, you want to listen. She has a strong sense of community. Because of Betty the Better Business Bureau that serves Acadiana is what it is today."

Lowry's commitments to the community extend to service on several boards of directors, including the Lafayette Natural History Museum & Planetarium and Downtown Lafayette Unlimited. She is also involved with the Alexandre Mouton House/Lafayette Museum. Lowry has instilled the importance of community service in her children; daughter Marybeth is active with the Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission and Festival International de Louisiane, while daughter Mella serves on the St. Thomas More Foundation board.

But Lowry saves some of her deepest passion for her alma mater. "Betty has always been a leader in a quiet, low-profile kind of way, ever since she was in college," says Margaret McMillan, who was one of Lowry's instructors at UL. "Her family's love of and dedication to the university is apparent in their support for the Paint the Town Red contest and the UL Alumni Association."

Time hasn't slowed Lowry's passion for community service, a passion revealed in the many organizations Lowry's Printing lends its assistance to: the Miles Perret Center, Louisiana Bar Association, Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic, Festivals Acadiens, Lafayette Education Foundation and Lafayette and Comeaux high schools, just to name a few. "She has established a legacy of service to the community of Lafayette," McMillan says. "A legacy all her own."

Betty and her husband Bill have five children, 11 grandchildren and one great-grandchild.


When Sandy Austin Mugnier talks about her professional and community work, she speaks of the "seasons of my life." Fitting for a woman who once brought the latest fashions from the runways of Paris, New York and Milan to Acadiana's more discerning shoppers.

In Sandy Austin Ltd., she operated a couture ladies' ready-to-wear shop on Johnston Street. A divorced mother of three, she didn't have the kind of management skills or collateral that made banks want to take a chance on her (she had a year and a half of college, pursuing a degree in merchandising and had worked in high-end ladies' ready-to-wear in high school and college). But she recognized her passion when it called to her and opened the shop, which prospered.

When the Mall of Acadiana opened, Mugnier made what she now calls a "quantum leap of faith" and moved into a 13,000-square foot space. Oil was booming when Mugnier made the move to the mall, so she added fine jewelry and lingerie to her lines of sportswear, dresses and evening wear. Then the oil bust hit.

Mugnier found herself back in school in what she calls Season No. 2 of her life, earning the bachelor's degree she started 40 years earlier. She went on to earn a master's degree in English and to join the faculty at UL as an adjunct professor. "My children thought I was a hero for finishing the race," says Mugnier.

Mugnier entered Season No. 3 by giving back to the community. She became president of the UL Friends of the Humanities and the Symphony Supper program, which supports the Acadiana Symphony Orchestra. "She becomes so focused on her goal or project," says Joyce Linde, who worked with Mugnier for UL Friends of the Humanities. "And she's always focused on doing good."

Among Mugnier's other undertakings, she was a member of the capital campaign for the Paul and Lulu Hilliard University Art Museum and is a member of the Curator's Circle at the museum. She and her husband Marshall are ardent supporters of the Acadiana Outreach Center and employ a number of the program's graduates at Marshall's, their Ambassador Caffery Parkway nursery.

Mugnier said she is now in Season No. 4 ' rediscovering her spiritual life. Always active in the church, that work has become central to her and Marshall's life. She says all the seasons of her life have been sustained by the support of her husband, three children and faith.

"I'm grateful for all the seasons of my life, and I can't wait to see what Season No. 5 will be," says Mugnier.



Van Eaton & Romero's Nancy Van Eaton served with Elaine Durbin Abell on the Citizens' Advisory Commission to the Metropolitan Planning Organization and quickly witnessed Abell's professionalism. "First of all, she's a lady, and second, she's brilliant," Van Eaton says. "She knows how to deal with people, and can grasp any situation or issue. She's not afraid of controversy and is honest in every way. She often is the one who says the things that need to be said."

Abell clerked for a Louisiana State Supreme Court justice after graduating with her juris doctorate from the Louisiana State University Paul M. Hebert Law School. She has been in private practice since moving to Lafayette to marry Edward C. Abell Jr. In addition to her law practice, Abell is co-owner of the Fountain Memorial Funeral Home and Cemetery and donates her time to a variety of civic, charitable and church activities. "The hours she puts back into this community are incredible," says Van Eaton.

Abell has served on the board of directors of Asbury United Methodist Church and currently serves on the boards of directors of IberiaBank and the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce, where she chairs the Education Governance Committee. She is a founding board member of Community Foundation of Acadiana and currently serves as its vice chairman, and also chairs the investment committee for the Woman's Foundation of Acadiana.

"I wish we had more citizens like Elaine," says Mike Hollier, planning manager for Lafayette Consolidated Government's Transportation and Traffic Department. Hollier works with Abell on the MPO Citizens' Advisory Committee. "She is extremely dedicated to doing her best for the community and has little tolerance for politicians who want to do their own thing, rather than serve the best interests of the community."

Abell has chaired the LSU Board of Supervisors and the Louisiana State Mineral Board, and has served on the executive committee of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools' Commission on Colleges. She's also been president of the LSU Alumni Association and was treasurer of the Lafayette Bar Association.

"She sees more potential for Lafayette and Acadiana than a lot of people do," says Raymond Hebert, executive director of the Community Foundation of Acadiana. "Elaine sees not just how things are done but how they could be done."


Cheryl Taylor Bowie founded Right Angle in 1988 and today is the sole owner and creative director of the full-service advertising, marketing and public relations firm that's earned many awards over the years. The honors include being named Electronic Producer of the Year and winning the Silver Medal from the Acadiana Advertising Federation, and receiving the prestigious Ethics Award of the Better Business Bureau.

Married to Ed Bowie, executive director of Acadiana Open Channel, she is stepmom to two and grandmother to a 4-year-old grandson. She is also a practitioner of feng shui, instructing and consulting throughout the Gulf Coast region on the ancient Chinese philosophy concerning the flow of energy and how it can enhance one's life.

Taylor Bowie's clients tend to stay with her firm for many years, and many end up becoming friends. Elise Bouchner, a co-owner with Christina Harper of The Training Source, commends Taylor Bowie's ability to understand a client's needs. "She truly helped us define our business in the beginning," Bouchner says. "She took the time to understand our philosophy, which is really key to what we do. She really got it.

"And no one knows this community like Cheryl," Bouchner continues. "She has great professional judgment and is very honest, even if what she's telling you is not what you want to hear." Bouchner credits Taylor Bowie with being a mentor. "She gets to know people, not just professionally but personally, and that's because she takes a genuine interest in people."

Taylor Bowie's knowledge of the community comes from her direct involvement. A Leadership Lafayette graduate, she has served on the board of directors of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and also served on the board of the Lafayette Education Foundation.

"Cheryl volunteers so often," says Pam DeVille, assistant director of the Cajundome, "and everything she does, she does to the best of her ability. She has handled promotion for the Cajun Heartland State Fair for many years and is an integral part of its success. She's always there for us, no matter what we need, and she always makes a point of following up every job, to be sure that everything has been taken care of. You don't see that often enough today. She is a person of her word."


St. Martinville native Sydnie Mae Durand has never strayed far from home, but her influence is felt across the state and country through her legislative and volunteer work.

After a 37-year career spent mostly in the oil industry, Durand decided to follow in her father's footsteps, entering politics by becoming the first woman elected a police juror in St. Martin Parish. During her dozen years on the jury, she served as president, vice president and chairman of Public Works and Industrial Park.

She moved on to state government with her election to the District 46 seat in the Louisiana House of Representatives, where she has served on a variety of committees and commissions. Durand serves on the boards of Acadiana Regional Development District, Southwest Louisiana Area Health Education Center, New Start Center and Southern Mutual Help Association Inc. She's also a member of a such civic organizations as Kiwanis, Civitans, Breaux Bridge Crawfish Festival Association, St. Martinville Chamber of Commerce, Ducks Unlimited, National Organization of Women Legislators and the National Women's Political Caucus.

"Sydnie is very civic-minded," says longtime friend Georgie Blanchard, who says Durand's love of the land extends to its people. "She's one of the most honest people I know. She's never going to sell herself or her constituents short. If you know somebody who needs something, even if it's just advice, Sydnie is there."

Durand's dedication to duty is reflected in her many legislative appointments. She is a member of the Children Families & Health Committee of the National Conference of State Legislatures' Assembly on State Issues, of the Fiscal Affairs and Government Operations Committee of the Southern Legislative Conference, and of the Women's Policy and Research Commission. She serves on the Governor's Commission on Disability Affairs, the Nursing Home Quality and Efficiency Board, Commission on Men's Health and Wellness, The Energy Council and the Working Uninsured Task Force.

"Her whole life is about serving the public," says Mayor Eric Martin of St. Martinville. "She puts her heart and soul into making life better for us all. You spend an hour with her and you see a hard-working, dedicated person, trying to make life better for her constituents."


Lafayette native and UL graduate Michele Ezell fell in love with the ambiance of Lafayette's downtown while in college and working as an office assistant for the law firm of Goode, Skinner and Shullaw in the FNB Towers. She tucked away that love while she built a career in broadcasting that led her to the post of operations manager with the Galloway Radio Group. Overseeing Planet Radio, KTDY, 97.3 The Dawg, KPEL news/sports, KROCK and KROF for six years prepared her for the biggest challenge yet ' opening Tsunami, a sushi bar in downtown Lafayette.

"I thought I was efficient and organized until I met Michele," says Mike Grimsley, general manager of the radio group now known as Regent Broadcasting. "She is so efficient she made me feel bad."

The enthusiasm Ezell brought to the restaurant includes an enthusiasm for the revival of downtown. The success of Tsunami continues to grow; a second, highly successful location opened in Baton Rouge in March 2005. Ezell still finds time to be involved in her community as president of Downtown Lafayette Unlimited, and as a member of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce and the Louisiana Restaurant Association. She volunteers with Downtown Alive! and is especially fond of the Independent Mardi Gras Parade, which she's nurtured for years.

"Michele saw that parade's potential immediately," says Grimsley, who asked her to take over promotion for the parade while Ezelle was working in radio. "At the time, the parade cost the Southwest Louisiana Mardi Gras Association money to stage. Well, Michele got everyone together ' the association, the police, city officials, public works, everybody ' and came up with new guidelines and procedures that made the parade grow bigger than ever. She single-handedly made the Independent Mardi Gras parade what it is today."

State Sen. Mike Michot also commends Ezell's attention to the political landscape. "She takes the politics of her community very seriously," he says. "She works behind the scenes quite often, as well as giving financial support, and I think that's because she's the mother of small children and a business owner. As a mom, she's concerned about the future of her community, and as a business owner, she knows that electing the right leaders to office will have a great effect on her business ' and the future of her children."


For a woman juggling two high-powered careers, Stephanie Finley still finds time to work with civic, charitable and church organizations to build her community. An assistant U.S. attorney in U.S. Attorney Donald Washington's office for Western District of Louisiana, Finley is also a major in the U.S. Air Force Reserves, and serves as a senior staff judge advocate, primarily with the Judge Advocate's office at Barksdale Air Force Base in Bossier City.

Washington counts Finley as one of his "bright stars" on a staff of stellar performers. "She is tenacious in the courtroom," he says, "but compassionate about whether or not to take a particular case to court. I consider her the consummate professional."

Outside the courtroom, Washington has watched Finley make a difference in the lives of at-risk children. "The last project we worked on, we were talking to at-risk kids at the Sheriff's Academy," he says. "She talked to the kids about how quickly they could ruin their lives in the drug trade."

A magna cum laude graduate of Grambling State University, Finley was named a Distinguished Graduate of the Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps. With the U.S. Attorney's Office, she handles crime cases involving drugs, violence, fraud, civil rights and gun crimes. With the Judge Advocate's office, she exercises her experience in Uniform Code of Military Justice, Environmental, Contracts, Claims, Law of Armed Conflict and Legal Assistance, and also an Article 32 Hearing Officer (the mechanism for determining if enough evidence is presented in a particular case to order a court-martial or alternative action).

"She is one of the best reserve judge advocates I've met," says Lt. Col. Dave Dales. He's not only witnessed Finley's courtroom abilities but also her ability as an officer. "She is the whole package," he says. "She is not just a skilled attorney ' and she is certainly that ' but she is an outstanding officer. And that's something that's hard to teach; you either are [good] or not good at command. She's good. She also serves as a mentor to the young attorneys on our staff and does so without me having to ask her to take on that role. The best way to describe her is she's a leader, in every aspect of her judge advocate service."

Finley devotes much of her time away from these jobs with service as an examiner for the Louisiana State Bar's Criminal Section, as a member of the Lafayette Parish Bar Association and of the Louis A. Martinet Society. She is also a member of the Southern University Law Center Chancellor's Alumni Advisory Board and a life member of the GSU Alumni Association.


Ouida Forsyth has made a career of championing the right of every child to excellence in education. The UL Lafayette grad earned her master's degree and an education specialist's degree from LSU and is now pursuing her doctorate at UL. She has worked with the Lafayette Parish School System and the Louisiana School for the Deaf High School, as well as the public schools of St. Charles and St. James parishes.

"The thing about Ouida is that she truly believes every child should have access to the best education we can offer them," says Angie Simoneaux, who worked with Forsyth in setting up the Lafayette Parish Schools of Choice program, where Forsyth serves as director. "Not everyone feels as passionately or works as hard directly toward this goal.

"Ouida is especially cognizant of children in poverty," Simoneaux continues. "She knows that if the playing field is ever leveled, it will be in the schools." Working toward that goal has put Forsyth on loan to UL this year, where she is project director for the university's Center for Child Development, researching and evaluating the Louisiana4 curriculum.

"The program prepares children for kindergarten," Simoneaux says. "It's a favorite project of Cecil Picard [Louisiana's state superintendent of education] and is offered free to students who receive free or reduced lunches." The program has been so successful in Lafayette that children who don't qualify are attending its classes by paying a fee. "It's that good," Simoneaux said. "It gets kids ready to be students, helps them learn things like standing in line, working as part of a team."

Dr. Billy Stokes, director for UL's Center for Child Development, cites Forsyth's "drive, professionalism and humor" as being of special value to him and the center.

"Her work in Lafayette, developing early childhood and kindergarten level programs that use the Montessori Method ' the only parish in the state to do this in the public schools ' is outstanding," Stokes says. "We'll see the final results of her work in the years to come, as these students make their way through the full 12 years of public school curriculum. But it doesn't stop there. Through her work with the program, first in Lafayette and then statewide, this is going to attract national attention. Ouida will make a difference in thousands of people's lives with this work."

Stokes also credits Forsyth's dedication and determination with bringing the center to a higher level. "She's working now on a parishwide plan for education," Stokes says, "while going back for her Ph.D. and being a mom to two children. That kind of work is pushing the center to the forefront. We'll be putting up a building in the university's Research Park ' we've already seen the first architect's renderings ' in no small part because of Ouida."


At a time when many of her peers are considering how to enjoy their retirement after years of hard work, Lou King Patin has set a new career objective for herself: She wants to do fund-raising for charities throughout Acadiana, using her contacts "with the generous people" she's worked with over the years.

UL Lafayette graduate Patin has worked in the employment staffing industry throughout her career, culminating in the creation of King-Patin Staffing Ltd. in 1985. She also became affiliated with Right Management Consultants of Houston as a teacher and consultant in 2001. The reason she was recruited by one of the largest career transition firms is obvious to her clients.

"From day one, I saw that Lou was very professional and insightful," said Bryan Hanks, owner of BETA Land Services LLC. "When she's matching the needs of clients with job candidates, she more than works with you. And she stays with you, through ups and downs, through changes ' she's very flexible. She's helped me with my staffing needs for 20 years and always given every assignment her personal touch."

Hanks has also been called upon by Patin to lend his support to various charitable causes over the years, and he never hesitates.

"She's instant credibility for whatever charitable group she's associated with," he said. "She's very involved in that work, based in part on the professional relationships she's built up over the years."

That community involvement is as varied as Patin's interests and includes chairing the American Heart Association's Celebrity Waiter event, serving on the AHA Board of Directors and as a State of Louisiana AHA volunteer. She is involved in the Louisiana Association of Personnel Agencies, the Louisiana Association of Staffing Agencies, the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic and the Silver Bell Soiree, which supports the clinic.

Patin has worked tirelessly with Our Lady of Fatima Foundation and Our Lady of Fatima Altar Society, chaired Our Lady of Fatima Blue and Gold Campaign, and served as fundraising chair for the St. Thomas More PTC Board. She continues to develop professionally and personally, as she garners additional certifications in her field and allies herself with organizations such as Prevent Child Abuse's Night of the Child. She's also active in Mardi Gras, serving on the royal court of the Krewe of Bonaparte in the past and being a founding member of the Krewe of Rio. She's also a member of the Krewe of Troubadours and has served on the board of directors of the Krewe of Versailles, the children's Carnival group.

She is quick to credit her staff with helping make many of her accomplishments possible and still retains a strong devotion to her career. "It is the placement of good people with good companies that excites me more today than it ever did," she says.


Dr. Juliette 'Tina' Stefanski was already a well-known figure in Lafayette and Louisiana before the 2005 hurricane season. She was the point person for the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals on West Nile virus and other headline-grabbing health crises. But in the wakes of hurricanes Katrina and Rita, she became a household name in a lot of displaced households.

"She was wherever anybody needed her, whenever anybody needed her," said Fred Mills, a pharmacist and member of the St. Martin Parish Council. "It didn't matter what time it was, if someone needed something, Tina saw to it."

Mills remembers Stefanski taking a pro-active approach to the evacuees' medical problems. "She called me at the height of all this and asked what we could do to help people, because they weren't getting their medications. I put her in touch with some local pharmacists and they set up portable pharmacies at the Heymann Center."

A member of Our Lady of Fatima Catholic Church, she is regional administrator/medical director for Region 4 of DHH's Office of Public Health. Stefanski is a board member for the United Way of Acadiana and supports many local charities, especially those that promote the welfare of children. And she's quick to point out that she is "such a small piece of what public health is. Our public health staff ' nurses, clerks, environmental staff ' are really the individuals who make such a difference in our community. I am fortunate to work with such dedicated professionals."

But it's Stefanski's voice that reassures an anxious public when a health scare hits home. She was the one calming alarmed parents, students and educators and explaining what meningitis was and how it could be contained when an outbreak swept UL. "No matter how long her day is, she has to be ready at a moment's notice to respond in times of a public health threat," says Alice Landry, DHH attorney for the Acadiana region. "And she is always prepared."

A native of Crowley, Stefanski received her medical doctorate from Louisiana State University School of Medicine, after graduating summa cum laude from LSU's zoology program. She did her pediatric residency program at LSU School of Medicine's Medical Clinic of Louisiana in New Orleans and Children's Hospital in New Orleans before joining DHH. She chairs the Region 4 Louisiana Emergency Response Network and is on the board of directors for the Louisiana Emergency Medical Response Unit.

Stefanski is also on the Institutional Biosafety Committee at UL and a member of the Lafayette Parish Medical Society, chairing its Physicians' Health/Public Health Committee. She also holds memberships in the Lafayette Parish Pediatric Association, the Louisiana State Medical Society and Louisiana Public Health Association.


As founding publisher and CEO of Faith & Soul magazine, Melinda Sylvester knows what it means to be dedicated to work. The monthly publication's mission is "to connect the Black/African American and Creole cultures of Louisiana, Texas and Atlanta in a professional and positive manner," and is circulated in southwest Louisiana, parts of Houston and Atlanta. Every day she hears from readers who are touched by the stories it tells.

Sylvester is also president and founder of Tel-Mel Media & Publishing LLC, a "creative ink-on-paper resource" that develops ad campaigns, designs logos and creates products. She has served as treasurer of the Louisiana Black Publishers Association and is the treasurer of the Tri-County Black Chamber of Commerce. A strong supporter of the local business community, she chairs the Greater Southwest Louisiana Black Chamber of Commerce.

Her counterpart is Donna Landry, chairman of the Greater Lafayette Chamber of Commerce. Landry, chief operating officer for Lafayette General Medical Center, works closely with Sylvester on a variety of Chamber initiatives.

"We talk regularly and often," Landry says. "We are always looking for joint projects for our organizations to participate in, and we work to align the Chambers' positions, whenever possible, on important issues and elections. Right now we're sending out a letter to churches and candidates in the three districts that will elect School Board members Sept. 30. We are working to set up a forum sponsored by both Chambers so these candidates can speak directly to voters."

Landry cites Sylvester's "very strong knowledge of and commitment to community issues" that is evident in all her work. "Melinda lives in Breaux Bridge, but you would never know it from the way she works so hard for Lafayette and the greater Acadiana area. She's very high-energy, and she's a strong supporter of such areas as improving education and seeing Interstate 49 completed as a hurricane evacuation route."

Her community work reflects her strong beliefs and includes serving on the advisory board for Court Appointed Special Advocates, being a member of St. Francis of Assisi Church and the Ladies of Auxiliary, and presiding over Good Food For Kids and the local chapter of Women N Power, an international organization. Through her publishing and business work, she has met most of Acadiana's state government delegation and Louisiana's Congressional delegation, as well as such dignitaries as the Rev. Jesse Jackson, President Bill Clinton, the Rev. Al Sharpton, Sen. John Kerry and Gov. Kathleen Blanco.

2006 Women Who Mean Business Awards Luncheon
11:30 a.m. Wednesday, Sept. 20
River Oaks Catering & Events Center, 520 E. Kaliste Saloom Road
Tickets are $25 a person or $215 for a reserved table of eight.
Tickets are available by contacting

Drue Kennerson at 988-4607, ext. 118 or [email protected].