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2013 LOWA Annual Conference in Lafayette

General Motors, 2031 Annual Conference Sponsor

Cajun music, flying Asian carp and the best hospitality suite ever. Lafayette proved to be a great place for LOWA to hold their 2013 Annual Conference.

The Lafayette Convention and Visitor’s Commission arranged for a conference filled with music, dancing, great food, a little bit of history—oh yeah, and don’t forget the flying fish! Kelly
Strenge did a great job showing off all that Lafayette has to offer.

Special thanks to our 2013 Annual Conference Sponsor, General Motors, and their representative, Craig Eppling, who attended the conference. It’s always good to have Craig around and this year he brought a brand spankin new Chevrolet truck which several LOWA members got to experience firs hand.

Upon arrival on Thursday evening at the Holiday Inn Lafayette, it was quite obvious from the huge atrium that this was no ordinary hotel. The hotel is situated on 14 acres hidden behind some trees just off of the Evangeline Thruway. The atrium was just the beginning of an unbelievable conference hotel experience. The hospitality room was held in the Presidential Suite and boy did they get that name right! Two bedrooms, three and a half baths, kitchenette, living room, large dining room. It was the perfect setting for our after-hours gatherings. The meeting rooms and banquet room were just across the hall from the Presidential Suite. This made transitioning for different events very easy.

Breakfast…..don’t get us started on the complimentary breakfast! The great good and personable staff made for very pleasant mornings.

Finally, the staff deserves their kudos as well. Everyone at the hotel from the front desk staff, to the wait servers at breakfast, to the banquet staff was very professional, helpful, friendly and concerned that our conference was going well.

Enough about the hotel—let’s get to the swamp tour! On Friday, several of the members and spouses headed out for a day of swamp touring with Coerte Voohries of The Atchafalaya Experience guide service was like taking a step back in time when people lived off the land in LOWA members and some French tourists….yes they really were from France! The scenery was beautiful as we expected. Lush bald cypress trees were showing their intricate root system due to the low water. Then overhead they started appearing, almost as if on cue. First egret and ibises, then came roseate spoonbill and . . . .. wait for it . . . . . the very elusive (according to John Flores and Wendy Billiot), wood stork.

No swamp tour would be complete without sighting an alligator or two. What we weren’t expecting was the fish that were flying through the air like torpedoes. These flying Asian Carp were flying up about and into boats at an alarming speed. They could do some serious damages if they were to hit someone in the face. Thank goodness that Glynn Harris was in a covered boat, as one of the massive beasts struck the windshield right in front of his face. Had the windshield not been there, he surely would have broken his glasses and possibly some bones in his face. Check out the picture below which Wendy Billiot captured immediately after the event.

After a great day on the water with Coerte and his family, we had a few hours to rest before heading out to Vermillionville for some eating, drinking, Cajun dancing and touring. A Cajun fiddler greeted us as we entered the main hall at Vermillionvlile. Upon entering the hall, a full band was in full swing with the wonderful sound of of Cajun music. While some of the LOWA members and spouses mingled, others toured the rustic and historic homes of reflecting the Acadian, Native American and Creole cultures. At the end of the tour, a fiew of the members happened upon a ferry to get them back across the water. Propulsion was by pulling a rope strung from one side of the pond to the other. No worries, Craig Eppling and LOWA member Butch Thurmond were put to work ferring everyone across the pond.

Once back at main hall, a delicious dinner was served and Kelly Strenge of the Lafayette Convention and Visitors Commission welcomed the LOWA members to Lafayette. After dinner, the band got back to work and Gary Rispone danced. Okay, Gary wasn’t the only one, but he was the FIRST one to dance!

Back at the hotel, we convened to the hospitality suite where Gary Krouse and Joe Macaluso got all tropical with a blender and some margaritas!

Everyone was up early on Saturday to eat breakfast and get ready for a very busy day. Well, almost everyone was up early (Becky)!!

For the guys it was a trip to a fish hatchery.

For the girls, it started with a trip to the Farmers and Artisan Market at the Horse Farm. The ladies had a blast shopping all the freshly prepared foods, herbs, soaps and jewelry.

Next up a tour of the beautiful and historic St. John Cathedral, built in 1916, it is on the National Registry of History Properties. While it was too hot to tour the Cemetary, the ladies thoroughly enjoyed visiting the Cathedral and learning of its interesting history

The Alexandre Mouton House/Lafayette Museum was next on the tour. Here the ladies learned about Lafayette’s founder, Jean Mouton, and his family. Jean’s son, Alexandre Mouton, went on to become Louisiana’s governor from 1843 through 1846.

Time to eat! The members and spouses met up at Dwyer’s Café for lunch. Even though the guys had eaten at the fish hatchery, they didn’t seem to have a problem eating yet another lunch. The portions were BIG and the food was good at Dwyers.

The members headed back to the hotel for seminars and their Board meeting while the ladies headed to the Sans Souci Fine Craft Gallery and then River Ranch Main Street for some shopping.

On the way back to the hotel, Kelly drove the ladies through the streets of the fascinating River Ranch development. Sprawling mansions sit next to Caribbean-style condos in this diverse community.

Saturday night at the LOWA Annual Conference means Banquet and Awards time! The banquet, was held in the Holiday Inn in their main banquet hall.

After a warm welcome from LOWA president, Lyle Johnson, and Executive Director, Chris Holmes, Kelly Strenge of Lafayette said a few words about what it means to Lafayette to have LOWA bring our conference to their fair city.

Next up was Craig Eppling with GM, our conference sponsor, who was happy to be back in Louisiana to attend the conference and pledged GM’s continued support of the outdoors and the writers’ endeavors.

After an invocation by Lyle Johnson, LOWA guests enjoyed a delicious dinner presented by Holiday Inn banquet staff.

The conference’s keynote speaker, Chris Macaluso, spoke about the historical impacts of the natural progression of the Mississippi versus levees and then factoring the new diversion plans which are on the State of Louisiana’s Coastal Master Plan. We sincerely thank Chris for taking time to come address our members during the seminars we well as addressing our banquet for the keynote speech.

The first award of the evening was Fish of the Year (FOY). This year we were fortunate to have both FOY winners. Fish Records Committee Member, Jerald Horst, presented the Rod and Reel award to Elliot Sale of New Iberia, for his 251 lb Yellowfin Tuna. Sale’s tuna eclipsed the previous record by 9.81 lbs and was caught at West Delta Block 122 in October of 2012.

Fish Records committee member, Don Dubuc, then awarded the Fly rod category to Chip Metz of Morgan City, La. Metz landed a 4.09 lb flounder that was caught in Four League Bay and it is currently ranked in 3rd place n in the state.

Next up was the presentation of the Youth Hunter Awards. YHA Chairman, Dave Moreland, thanked the award sponsors and then introduced Tony Vidrine and Scott Durham to present the awards to the two winners.

Tony Vidrine presented the 2012 Female Youth Hunter of the Year Award to Chloe Slater. Chloe’s monster buck and her story about the hunt and afterwards earned her this great honor.

The 2012 Male Youth Hunter of the Year Award was then presented to Brandon Fryar by Scott Durham. Brandon’s fascinating story of having his duck hunt interrupted to help save three boaters in a life and death situation earned him the top honors. The fact that he and his uncle were able to also bag some ducks was just lagniappe!

Next up was the presentation of the Youth Journalism awards. YJC Chairman, Joe Macaluso, presented the awards with the help of JYC Sponsors, Ron and Jackie Bartels, representing the Louisiana Chapter of Safari Clubs International. For the first time, we were fortunate to have all YJC winners present and accounted for. As always, there were a lot of proud parents and grandparents and the flashes going off as each child picked up their award sure must have made our YJC winners special.

For our final set of awards, Excellence in Craft Chairman, Lyle Johnson, 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 Joe Macaluso and Wendy Billiot did a great job selling tickets and enlisting some of the kids’ help picking tickets and delivering prizes!

As in years past, we had two guns (thanks to Remington and CVA). 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 Fish Fry products are always a big hit!

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. With the addition of a hunting video/TV game, the members and Becky Krouse kept themselves busy!

In closing, we can’t say enough about the hospitality that was shown to LOWA by the Lafayette Convention and Visitor’s Commission. Kelly Strenge went above and beyond in helping to make the 2013 LOWA Conference a great success. The staff at the Holiday Inn Lafayette did a great job welcoming our members and making them feel at home. The logistics of the hotel lent themselves to a great atmosphere for meeting, greeting and mingling.

LOWA would also like to thank the 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. In addition to being our conference photographer, Helmut Ermlich, also did some heavy lifting helping set up the hospitality suit, the banquet room and just being there when we needed him.