Natchitoches Treasures honored with ceremony and tribute wall

From left are Rebecca Blankenbaker, accepting award for Cynthia Sutton, John Dale Ropp, Jack McCain Jr. and Johnnie Emmons Jr., accepting for Johnnie Emmons.

The simple definition of treasure is “to value something very much”

By Hannah Richardson, Lifestyle Editor

The Natchitoches Treasures for 2019 were honored during a recognition ceremony Friday, Oct. 25 at the Natchitoches Events Center. Since 2008, a selected few that have made a lasting contribution of generosity in the community are nominated as Natchitoches Treasures. This year, the Natchitoches Treasures are Johnnie Emmons, Jack McCain Jr., John Dale Ropp and Cynthia Sutton.

“This year, we had an overwhelming response to our call for nominations for Natchitoches Treasures, all of whom had varying distinctions and shining qualities,” said speaker Louie Bernard, who introduced the four Natchitoches Treasures.

On front row from left are Lori Tate, 2012; Jewel Presson, 2016; Dr. Colleen Lancaster, 2013; Margie Pierson, 2010;, Edwina Lewis, 2014; Merry Jo Grayson, 2008; and Lucetta Rogers Anthony, 2017. On second row are Henry J. “Buddy” Maggio, 2016; Idell Snowden, 2009; Marilyn McMurtry, 2010; Margaret Berry, 2015; Adele Scott, 2015; Juanita Murphy, 2018; and Sharon Gahagan, 2018. On back row are Sonny Evans, 2010; Wayne McCullen, 2017; John Dale Ropp, 2019; Jimmy Berry, 2016; Paul Morgan, 2011; Dr. Ron McBride, 2017; and Jack McCain, 2019.

Emmons, who is still considered one of Northwestern State’s greatest athletes and one of the most iconic athletic figures, grew up in Mansfield and earned his college degree at NSU. He was a football and baseball star, as well as a competitor in field and track. Emmons holds several athletic records at the school to this day and is also part of the N-Club Hall of Fame and went on to coach at the school some time after graduation, and still loves to support the athletics well after his retirement. He is an active member of Trinity Episcopal Church and the Walter P. Ledet Coffee Club. His son, Johnnie Emmons Jr., who accepted the award, said it was such an honor to his father to be named a Natchitoches Treasure.

McCain has provided a lifetime of service to the city. He has worked to make Natchitoches a better place to live by serving on the City Council for 24 years, from 1988-2012. He was named Man of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce in 1983, and became its president that following year. He also served with the Natchitoches Council on Aging Board, the 911 Board and the Airport Commission Board. “I have had some adversity in my life, but this is one of my crowing achievements to get this award. I appreciate it very much,” said McCain.

Ropp has received numerous service awards and is well known for his poetry, having published several books. He enjoys entertaining with his ventriloquism at several group meetings in the community, including nursing homes, assisted living facilities, hospitals, church groups and schools. Ropp also coached at several different school levels and was also named to the Bossier High School Hall of Fame and the NSU N-Club Hall of Fame. Ropp said after he was named a Treasure, he looked up what it means to be a “treasure” online. After reading the definition of “someone who is very much valued,” he said he preferred to read that definition backwards. “The City of Natchitoches and the citizens of Natchitoches are very much valued to me,” he said, and delighted the crowd with two poems.

Sutton, who passed away in July, was a retired president and CEO of the Cane River National Heritage Area Inc. She was a passionate advocate for the regions’ people and their diverse cultural traditions during her time with the CRNHA. She helped to create partnerships with the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers and the Louisiana State Parks System that allowed the Grand Ecore Visitor Theater and the Los Adaes State Historic Site to remain open to the public, and was an advocate for the creation of new parks in the area for all Natchitoches children. Sutton was a partner in the Natchitoches Riverbank Redevelopment Project and was a guide to ensure the project kept with the historic character of the city. She also served as the chair for the Natchitoches Tricentennial Commission from 2012-16 as the city celebrated 300 years. Sutton was involved with the Natchitoches Historic Foundation, the Association for the Preservation of Historic Natchitoches and the Natchitoches Historic District Development Commission. Executive Director of the CRNHA Rebecca Blankenbaker, who accepted the award on Suttons behalf, said Sutton was her mentor and a friend. “She was a passionate advocate not only for the city’s history, but for its living culture traditions and she has passed that on in our organization, community partners and our friends,” said Blankenbaker.

A touching tribute to the late Carol Wells, a 2014 Natchitoches Treasure, was also made. The vibrant red spider lilies that you may have seen in several areas in town were especially beautiful in front of Wells’ home, the Tauzin-Wells House built in 1776. Sharon Gahagan called local photographer Chris Post, who took photographs of the spider lilies in front of the historic home. Gahagan presented one of the photos to Mayor Lee Posey in honor and memory of “a true treasure – Carol Wells.”

There is also a tribute to all Natchitoches Treasures in the hall of the Events Center, where anyone can view their names in frames along the wall.

The Natchitoches Treasures are commemorated with a photo display along one wall in the Natchitoches Events Center. Photos by Hannah Richardson