NATCHITOCHES – Loletta Jones Wynder, director of the Creole Heritage Center at Northwestern State University, and members of the Monette family of Natchitoches were honored with the Preservation Awards from the Creole Hall of Fame at the annual event held in Lake Charles on October 20. The award was given to Wynder for her work with the Creole Heritage Center, presenting and documenting Creole culture.
Also recognized was the late Felix “T-Fra” Monette Jr., who was honored with a Language Award for knowledge and preservation of the Creole dialect in the Cane River community.
The event was hosted by Sean Ardoin, member of the famous musical Ardoin family. Others honored that night included Alphonse “Bois Sec” Ardoin, Stanley “Buckwheat” Dural, and Deacon John for Music Award; Leah Chase for Culinary Award and Herbert Wiltz for Radio/Language/Education Award.
Wynder joined the staff of the Northwestern State University Creole Heritage Center (CHC) in 2003 as project coordinator. The duties and responsibilities of that job meant that she was responsible for coordinating conferences, meetings and workshops as well as balancing the budget, handling the mountains of paperwork involved in funding through NSU, the Cane River National Heritage Area, and other granting agencies; in addition, maintaining the records for the memberships, donations, and pledges.
Wynder coordinated and presented conferences not only in Natchitoches and the state of Louisiana, but also in Las Vegas, California and Chicago. During her tenure at CHC, she has produced Creole conferences such as looking at Spanish roots in Creole culture, Creole language, Creole music, and others. Wynder coordinated the project with Artist Gilbert D. Fletcher to document on canvas his version of the Cane River Creole Legacy through 20 oil paintings. She even rescued the paintings from the ravages of Katrina in New Orleans, when it was thought that the paintings had been destroyed. Wynder has done outreach for Creole culture in California, Texas, Illinois, Alabama and Louisiana. She has also connected with the international Creole community through the International Magazine, Kreol.
After the retirement of the CHC Director in 2011, Wynder remained on staff as the Project Coordinator working diligently to keep the center going by wearing the hat of the Director as well as that of her own job, Project Coordinator. In July 2017, her job title was changed to CHC Director – combining the duties and responsibilities of both jobs into one position. Wynder’s fifteen years of working at the Creole Heritage Center has kept the Center going. During her tenure, she has worked hard to document and present Creole culture – in all of its diversities.
On September 13-15, 2018, about 350 individuals participated in the Creole Heritage Center’s 20th anniversary celebration. “Struggles and Persistence: But Still We Rise” was the theme for this magnificent event. According to Wynder, “It is evident that no “one” person can be credited with the Center’s success; it has definitely been a group effort”. Wynder concluded, “Despite everything, the Creole Heritage Center is still Alive and Well.”
The Monette family attended the awards to represent their family patriarch, who grew up in the Creole community in a time when his friends and family commonly spoke a broken dialect of French. A born story-teller, he loved meeting people and telling jokes. In his later years, he worked at the Creole Heritage Center on the campus of Northwestern State where he educated many people about Creole Heritage, from small children to scholars, politicians and business executives with jokes thrown in en fracais.
After his death in 2017, the Monette family established a scholarship at Northwestern State in his memory. The scholarship benefits a sophomore or junior pursuing a degree in history with a concentration in folklife. Preference is given to a Louisiana native.