2012 LOWA Annual Conference in Chalmette

 General Motors–2012 Annual Conference Sponsor

Isleños Culture, Battle of New Orleans intrigue, state-of-the art flood protection and the best baked macaroni in the world. There’s only one place you’ll find all these things—Chalmette, Louisiana–and they are just a few reasons why LOWA took their 2012 Annual Conference to St. Bernard Parish.

The St Bernard Parish Tourist Commission arranged for a conference filled with fishing, food, fighting, flood protection and fun. Gidget McDougal and Sherry Constance did a great job showing off all that St. Bernard Parish has to offer.

Special thanks to our 2012 Annual Conference Sponsor, General Motors, and their representative, Craig Eppling, who attended the conference. Even though Craig is a Metairie native, I’m sure even he learned a few things about Chalmette that he didn’t know before.

On Thursday evening, several members who were going to be fishing on Friday met up at the Best Western Plus and then headed out to local eatery, Tony’s Po-Boys, for an informal dinner. The members and spouses dined on just about everything from shrimp po-boys to chicken fried steak. And don’t get even Joe Macaluso started on the fried broccoli balls!

Early on Friday, several of the members headed out for a day of fish fishing. Sixteen members split up with LOWA members Rusty Tardo, Jeff Bruhl, Chris Macaluso, Captain CT Williams and one of CT’s guides, Captain Ted DeAgano. Everyone left out from the Delacroix area and had a blast catching a mixed bag of fish including trout, redfish, flounder and bass. If you want to experience south Louisiana fishing at its finest, St. Bernard is definitely the place to be!

The members then returned to the Best Western Plus to rest up for the evening festivities and the Board Members convened for the Annual Conference Board Meeting.

While the guys and Wendy were out fishing, some of the ladies partook in an informal tour of nearby New Orleans. The morning started with a streetcar ride down Carrollton and St. Charles Avenues. The ladies’ next stop was Frank’s Restaurant in the French Quarter where they sampled traditional New Orleans fare, muffalettas, corn and crab soup and gumbo! Next up was, what else–SHOPPING! The ladies visited the popular Crab Net shop on Decatur, as well as the flea market and some other surrounding shops.

Friday night’s welcome reception was hosted by the St. Bernard Tourist Commission and was held at the Los Isleños Museum in lower St. Bernard Parish.   Several members of the St. Bernard Tourist Commission Board, the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society and the St. Bernard Parish government gathered with the LOWA members, spouses and Supporting Members to celebrate a traditional Spanish meal of paella and flan prepared by Charlie’s Seafood Restaurant. The home-made sangria was lagniappe!

After a welcoming speech by Gidget McDougal and St. Bernard Parish President David Peralta, the members ate and then mingled with the Isleños Museum representatives, the St. Bernard Tourist Commission representatives, as well as our Supporting Member reps, Gerald Gaspard with Pure Fishing and Richie Bulot and Captain Kenny Kreeger with Category 5. Several members and spouses also took a tour of the grounds and other buildings which represent the Los Isleños Museum. The tour was presented by the President of the Los Isleños Heritage and Cultural Society, Lloyd “Wimpy” Seigne, and Dot Benge, the Society’s Past President, as well as the St. Bernard historian, William “Bill” Hyland. This triumvirate of historical information took turns imparting the story of the Isleños people who emigrated from the Canary Islands to St. Bernard Parish.

The evening was capped off in the hospitality suite with everyone agreeing that St. Bernard had their share of mosquitos and since there was no band, Gary Rispone’s hamstring was just fine!

Chris Holmes also informed the members that the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation had donated 30 salt-water tolerant Bald Cypress Trees so that each member could take one back home with them.

Early on Saturday morning, everyone met for a complimentary breakfast at the host hotel, Best Western Plus, and then it was off to the “The Great Wall of Chalmette” for the guys and a tour of St. Bernard for the ladies.

Due to rain, no construction activities were taking place, for this reason the LOWA members were able to tour the actual wall site. There was also a fact presentation by Chris Gilmore, project manager with the US Army Corps of Engineers. The Surge Barrier, or “Great Wall” as it is called locally, is the most expensive construction project ever undertaken by the Corps. Designed as a result of the devastating flooding from Hurricane Katrina, the massive flood wall ties into an extensive levee system designed to protect St. Bernard and New Orleans. All who attended were impressed by the magnitude of the project and the technical aspects of the construction.

Meanwhile, Gidget McDougal picked up the ladies at the hotel for a whirlwind tour of St. Bernard Parish. On the way to Arabi, Gidget gave the ladies an overview of the history of St. Bernard from the Battle of New Orleans. A bus tour of the historic homes of Arabi, Domino Sugar and then LeBeau Plantation was capped off with a stop at the St. Bernard Seafood & Farmers Market for some retail therapy!

Next up for the members and the spouses was a catered lunch at Rocky & Carlos. Good thing “Ladies Invited!” Lunch included some of what Rocky’s is known for…baked macaroni, eggplant dressing, baked chicken and Wop salad.  LOWA Executive Director and St. Bernard native, Chris Holmes, explained the history of the food and of the Rocky’s legacy to some of the members. He was so passionate, that Kay Harris vowed that when she returned to Ruston, she would educate her friends as to the correct pronunciation of the word “Muff-a-letta”….it’s “Mooff-a-lotta!”

The members headed back to the hotel for some great seminars and the annual membership meeting. Our line-up of speakers provided some valuable information and lots of material for stories. The always entertaining Larry Reynolds, LDWF Waterfowl Study leader, spoke about Louisiana’s new Three-Zone Duck Season which is a departure from the 30-year-old Two-Zone framework and held a great questions and answer session about the 2012-13 waterfowl seasons.

New for LOWA was a great presentation by Luke Lewis with the National Wild Turkey Federation spoke on the latest NWTF initiatives for Louisiana. NWTF is a great supporter of LOWA and Luke brought the members up to date on all the exciting projects they are conducting in the state.

Chris Macaluso with the National Wildlife Federation gave us an update on the great progress of the Vanishing Paradise initiative and the passage of the Restore Act.

Next up was Joey Shepard, LDWF Marine Biologist, who provided great information on the Department’s new three marine league limit and the proposed state offshore fisheries permits and reporting system.

Last and certainly not least was Clay Norris, Senior Brands Product Manager for fishing lines at Berkley. Clay spoke to LOWA members at our conference a few years ago and was summoned back by popular demand. Clay came all the way from Iowa to speak at our conference! Clay provided a riveting talk with everything you ever wanted to know about fishing lines. Members were provided with several line samples and learned tons of inside information that will be invaluable in writing about the technical aspects of today’s modern lines.

After these informative and entertaining speakers, the members convened to the General Membership Meeting to discuss LOWA business.

While the members were enjoying their seminars, the spouses boarded the bus and headed to Docville Farms for a tour of the beautiful main house, grounds and barn. St. Bernard Parish historian, Bill Hyland, once again joined the ladies for a historical tour of the home. Also joining in on the tour was Bill Haines, one of the homeowners’ nephews.

Once the home tour was complete, the ladies headed to Local Flair for some more shopping before heading back to the hotel.

Saturday night at the LOWA Annual Conference means Banquet and Awards time! The banquet, which was held at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center, was opened with a warm welcome from Gidget McDougal and Sherry Constance of the St. Bernard Tourist Commission. Next up was Craig Eppling with GM, our conference sponsor, who was happy to be back in Louisiana to attend the conference.

After an invocation by LOWA member, Pastor Rusty Tardo, LOWA guests enjoyed a delicious dinner presented by the Civic Center’s catering staff.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Robert Barham, the Secretary of the Department of Wildlife & Fisheries, spoke about the continuing impacts of the BP oil spill, and his hopes for a good duck season. We sincerely thank Secretary Barham for taking the time from his very busy schedule to attend our banquet.

The first award of the evening was Fish of the Year (FOY).  This year only the Rod and Reel award was chosen. Even though FOY winner, Paul Heidemann, was not able to attend the banquet, Fish Records Committee Member, Don Dubuc, made the award to Paul for his a 28.44lb Freshwater Drum.

Next up was the presentation of the Youth Hunter Awards. Since YHA Chairman, Dave Moreland, was busy accepting the QDMA Al Brothers Professional Deer Manager Award, he enlisted the help of Luke Lewis the National Wild Turkey Federation to bestow the Youth Hunter Awards.

The 2011 Male Youth Hunter of the Year Award was presented to Joseph “Scooter” Hayes who told of his fantastic squirrel hunt with his mom, Jessica.

The 2011 Female Youth Hunter of the Year Award was then presented to Emily Williams. Emily couldn’t wipe the smile off her face as she recounted the story of her big buck and the admiration she received on the trip home with the trophy in the truck!

Next up was the presentation of the Youth Journalism awards. YJC Committee members John Flores and Deb Burst were joined by Karen and John Korn, who represented YJC sponsor Louisiana Chapter of Safari Clubs International, to present the awards. Eight of the 11 YJC winners were present to accept their awards. As always, applause was thunderous and the flashes from the cameras were blinding!

Presentation of the Bob Dennie Lifetime Achievement award was next up with Lyle Johnson recounting his memories of both Bob and of the 2012 award recipient, Charles Frank. Charles’ wife and daughter, Jean and India, were on hand to accept this posthumous award from Bob’s widow, Gail Dennie. Everyone agreed that both Bob and Charles are sorely missed.

For our final set of awards, Excellence in Craft Chairman, Bo Boehringer, took to the podium to introduce all the category sponsors and present the awards to the LOWA members. The EIC award recipients represent the “best of the best” in LOWA and earn the awards for their outstanding work as outdoor communicators.

The raffle topped off the night and was enjoyed by one and all. Raffle Master Todd Masson returned to his annual job selling raffle tickets, and with Wendy Billiot’s help we had our best raffle yet!

As in years past, we had two guns (thanks to Remington and CVA), as well as some beautiful hunting boots from Le Chameau. Pure Fishing donated so many prizes, we can’t mention them all! The prize tables were filled with great items donated by many generous supporters of LOWA. The Louisiana-shaped gift baskets donated by Louisiana Fish Fry were a big hit, as always!

Once the banquet was in the bag, the members retired to the hospitality suite for a final chance to catch up with old friends and to bid each other farewell. But before the night ended, we sang Happy Birthday to Ada Bruhl and we then had to wear sunglasses to shield our eyes from the huge birthday ring Jeff gave her—Great job Jeff!

In closing, we can’t say enough about the hospitality that was shown to LOWA by St. Bernard Parish!   Gidget McDougal and Sherry Constance of the St Bernard Parish Tourist Commission went above and beyond in helping to make the 2012 LOWA Conference a great success. The staff at the Best Western Plus did a great job welcoming our members and making them feel at home. Also, the staff at the Frederick J. Sigur Civic Center set out a wonderful feast for the banquet.

LOWA would also like to thank the St. Bernard Wetlands Foundation for their donation of the Bald Cypress Trees for each member.

Special thanks to our Supporting Members and all others who contributed to LOWA to make our conference a huge success. As always, we appreciate the generous support of General Motors and Craig Eppling in their commitment to LOWA and the art of outdoors communication in general.

As always, several LOWA members lent a hand to help make the conference a great time for all. Special thanks to Joe and Cheryl Macaluso for their usual assistance in making the conference a success.   As you can see from the pictures below, Helmut Ermlich, our conference photographer, did a great job capturing the special moments from the conference.