The City of Natchitoches presented this year’s Natchitoches Treasures at a luncheon Thursday, Oct. 25 at the Events Center. Emcee Louie Bernard introduced each new Treasure with information on their background, contributions to the community, professional and civic accomplishments and personal anecdotes.
Former Mayor Wayne McCullen began the Treasures in 2008 to recognize those with exemplary service to the Natchitoches area. Treasures have touched lives through thier profession, whether it be State Senator, cafeteria manager or educator, and through their passions for children, seniors or animals.
The recipients of these awards embody the heartbeat of Natchitoches by giving back, volunteering and making a difference. All Treasures, from the 2008 recipients of Merry Jo Grayson, Pearl Payne, and the late Bobby DeBlieux, Terrel Delphin, the Rev. Joseph Dupree, Troy Durr, Betty Jones, the Rev. G. Stanley Lewis and Saidee Newell, to the 2018 recipients shown here, have left their mark on the lives of so many.
DR. ROBERT ALOST
By alphabetical order, the first inductee is Dr. Robert Alost. He served for a decade as president of Northwestern State University, leading the school to unprecedented growth in enrollment. The student population increased from 5,272 to more than 9,000 during his tenure. That substantial increase in enrollment laid the foundation for progress in academic achievement, success in athletics, enhancement of facilities, the establishment of one of the largest marching bands in the south and other accomplishments that provided ongoing growth and stability for the university after a period of declining enrollment and fiscal uncertainty. A Northwestern alumnus, Alost served on the faculty and as a department head and dean for a number of years before leaving in 1982 to become co-founder and director of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts.
The progress and positive momentum that Alost created both as president of Northwestern and director of the Louisiana School has been a major factor in the continued growth and success of both the university and LSMSA. Alost has received numerous honors for his leadership in education, including induction into Northwestern’s Alumni Hall of Distinction, or Long Purple Line, in 2005.
Earlier this month, our next Natchitoches Treasure celebrated her 93rd birthday. Irene Johnson has served the Natchitoches Community with a spirit of excellence and with love for more than 70 years. Johnson served as the cafeteria manager for both Central High School and Natchitoches Central High School for more than 30 years. During this time, she touched so many students’ lives with encouraging words of wisdom and her infectious smile. She always made sure that every student would get enough to eat. She served the Bailey Heights Community in countless ways.
She has worked tirelessly to the keep the Bailey Heights Community clean and won several Yard-of-the-Month awards. If a family’s home burned down, Johnson was always the first in the community to gather food and clothing for the family. Further, she would pitch in to help grieving families, by providing words of comfort, food and desserts during their time of need. Johnson is known for looking out for the children in the community. She and her husband worked to ensure their children got a good education, and instilled that in their grandchildren and other children in the neighborhood as well. She would always encourage them to strive to be the best people they could possibly be to make everyone proud of them. Sometimes she would fix the girls’ hair for free to increase their level of self-esteem. She also has a strong connection with the young men in her community.
For achieving something great, she would always reward them with her delicious home-cooked foods and her famous Jelly Cake. Johnson was married to the late Deacon Henry Johnson Sr. for 70 years. She served the St. Paul Baptist Church for more than 50 years and is presently still a member of the choir.
Former Senator Don Kelly became one of the most prominent, powerful and respected members of the Legislature during his five terms in the Senate from 1976-96. He served under three governors and was one of the most effective floor leaders in the history of the Legislature because of the esteem in which he was held by colleagues and his knowledge of the legislative process and expertise in state government issues. There was a consensus among colleagues that he could have gained the position of Senate President but preferred to focus his efforts and influence on obtaining programs and projects that enhanced his North Central Louisiana District.
During his tenure in the Senate, he was at the forefront of obtaining millions of dollars for upgraded facilities at Northwestern, new roads, bridges and office buildings and numerous other enhancements. A successful attorney for nearly a half-century, Kelly was a major force in the establishment of the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts. His many honors include membership in the Hall of Distinction, or Long Purple Line, at Northwestern and the Louisiana Political Museum and Hall of Fame in Winnfield.
Juanita Murphy has worked tirelessly to improve Natchitoches Parish not only for the animals, but the people who live here. She gives her all to any organization she joins and any endeavor she undertakes. She does not wait for someone else to make things better; she steps in and does what needs to be done in promoting education, civic responsibility and community involvement. She may not be able to change the world, but he has certainly changed the world for many abandoned, abused and neglected animals throughout Natchitoches Parish and many of the students and adults she has worked with throughout the years. Murphy served on the St. Mary’s Spring Fling Annual Fundraiser Committee and St. Mary’s Halloween Carnival Committee for years while her children attended school there.
Additionally, she was founder of St. Mary’s Homecoming Honey. She is a Sustaining Member of the Service League and was involved in the production and photography of the Cane River Cuisine Cookbook. She is a member of the St. Denis Garden Club, PEO and American Society of Interior Design. However, her passion is saving animals. For the past seven years Murphy served on the Board of the Louisiana Animal Welfare Commission and for the past five, served as President of the Natchitoches Humane Society where she has saved hundreds, if not thousands, of animals’ lives. She is a force to be reckoned with, and Natchitoches is very fortunate to have had her and a contributing member of the community for over 40 years.
At the ripe young age of 89, Packard is in every way a perfect “Natchitoches Treasure.” He has been described by many as a faithful volunteer and an amazing Christian man giving all to help others in every way. During his 55 years in Natchitoches, Packard served the community through various organizations. For 69 years he has volunteered at the Phoenix Lodge and received The Daily Points of Light Award, given to those with youth-focused goals who volunteer their time, talent and energy working to make a difference in the lives of others in their community. He has served the community as Natchitoches Masonic Lodge Grand Mason for 50 years, as a Lyons Club member for 23 years, and has been involved in the Boy Scouts of America for 30. Packard touched many students’ lives throughout his career as an educator. He received many educational awards while teaching science at Natchitoches Central High School where he retired in 1986.
EDWARD WARD JR
Ed Ward has served the community for many years as the Funeral Director and General Manager of the Winnfield Memorial Funeral Home. He is known as a trusted consultant and adviser as he comforts grieving families. He always goes above and beyond to fulfill the needs of others, even providing his musical services at no charge whenever needed. Ward has served the Natchitoches community by volunteering his time to many boards and organizations including serving as a board member for the Natchitoches Community Improvement Foundation Inc., serving on the State Board for Civil Rights Museum, being an active member of Asbury UMC and founder and Director of Natchitoches Interdenominational Choir.