A father and son vacation

By Junior Johnson

juniorjohnson11-29-16-1In the summer of 1988 my son Kevin and I took a cross-country vacation.  We called it the “JUGS Trip” (Just Us Guys). He’d completed his school year with a 4.0 GPA and I thought this was a better way to reward his achievement than putting a “Terrific Kid” sticker on my car.

The ultimate destination was to be at my Aunt’s home in Huntington Beach, Cali.  Aunt Gayle had a son who was two months older than Kevin but they’d never met.  We loaded my little red Renault Alliance convertible and hit the road.

Our first stop was in Edmond, Okla. We experienced one of the first adventures: a tornado was spotted. We immediately headed to a storm shelter where we spent several anxious hours before an alarm sounded that all was clear. Kevin was impressed with the experience in the cave.  In Louisiana we had hurricanes to deal with but this was totally different.

The following day we toured the flight line at Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City. The Officers had Kevin spellbound with their stories.

The next leg of our journey was the Painted Desert and Petrified Forest National Park. We were in awe. The desert gave way to the forest. Our next stop was the Grand Canyon.

We took a mule ride down the canyon, a three-hour journey down a trail less than two feet wide, with almost 2,000 feet below us. The Colorado River looked liked a little blue ribbon below us.

Next stop…Las Vegas.

Kevin was excited about a 3-Ring Circus that performed INSIDE a hotel there.  The hotel was appropriately named Circus Circus. It was the most entertaining show we’d ever seen.

Arriving at our relatives home after the last leg of our journey, my Aunt and I prepared a picnic lunch and headed to Huntington Beach.  The boys had a great time boogie-boarding and flirting with the girls.  Kevin was very popular because they loved his accent.

We eventually said our goodbyes and began our journey back to Louisiana.

We stopped in El Paso, Texas and crossed into Juarez, Mexico. Border cities have a lot of poverty and Kevin saw this for the first time in his young life.

There were numerous children approaching our car wanting to sell their wares.  They were dressed in rags, with as much dirt on them as on the street. Kevin was almost speechless at the sight of these little kids.

I woke at some point during the night to the sound of sobbing.  Kevin couldn’t sleep thinking about those poor children.

To some, the expression, “God Works In Mysterious Ways” may seem redundant, but not for me.  Eight years after this amazing trip we lost our precious Kevin in a car accident.

I thank God constantly for giving us the opportunity to make this trip. There are many memories I cherish from the years Kevin was with me, but in my heart this trip was a reward for me to cherish through my life, however long that may be.

One day we will ALL JOIN OUR LOVED ONES AGAIN.

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NSU ROTC will hold awards, commissioning ceremonies

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Northwestern State University’s Department of Military Science will wrap up the Fall 2016 semester with a Dec. 1 awards program to recognize cadet accomplishments and a Dec. 16 commissioning ceremony for Cadet Gavin Bazer.

“NSU’s Army ROTC cadets are wrapping a very busy fall semester,” said Sid Hall, Military Affairs coordinator and ROTC program manager. “From field training exercises, to a commemoration ceremony honoring Vietnam veterans, to supporting student organizations and athletic events, they have certainly made a mark on campus.”

The awards program will begin at 3:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1 in the ballroom of the Sylvan Friedman Student Union. A reception will follow the ceremony.

Cadet Bazer will take the Oath of Commissioned Officers at 1:30 p.m. Friday, Dec. 16, also in the Student Union Ballroom. Guest speaker will be Colonel Nelson G. Kraft, commander, 6th Brigade, U.S. Army Cadet Command. The commissioning will take place in conjunction with Fall Commencement. A reception will follow the ceremony.

For more information or to RSVP for the ceremonies, contact Ed Kelly at (318) 357-5157 or kellye@nsula.edu.

90TH ANNUAL NATCHITOCHES CHRISTMAS FESTIVAL DECEMBER 3 610 STOMPERS FESTIVAL OF LIGHTS PARADE GRAND MARSHALS

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The 90th Annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival will take place Saturday, Dec. 3 in downtown Natchitoches.  The Natchitoches Historic District Business Association and the City of Natchitoches will usher in the holiday season with the Festival of Lights parade, live entertainment, food vendors, and fireworks.  New Orleans favorites, The 610 Stompers, will serve as parade grand marshals while Joe Stampley will headline entertainment for the day.

The Christmas Festival of Lights parade will begin at 1 p.m. at the corner of Jefferson Street and University Parkway.  The parade will feature floats of reigning queens such as Miss Merry Christmas and the Christmas Belles as well as commemorative floats celebrating the 60th Anniversary of the Miss Merry Christmas and Belles program.  Also featured in the parade are marching bands, dance lines, Santa Claus and parade Grand Marshals, the 610 Stompers.  The 610 Stompers are “Ordinary Men with Extraordinary Moves.” Hailing from New Orleans, they strive to return the ordinary man to the glory of dance. The parade will travel along Jefferson Street to Front Street, turning left onto Lafayette Street and Second Street, and ending at University Parkway.

Musical entertainment begins at 3 p.m. with a performance by Johnny Earthquake and the Moondogs, followed by headliner Joe Stampley.  Stampley is a Nashville recording artist and member of the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame.  For over four decades he has performed at Country Music Award shows, concert halls, casinos, clubs and festivals, and his musical career includes over 60 charted records. Stampley will perform from 4:45-6 p.m.

At 6:00 p.m., the festivities will be capped off by a spectacular fireworks display over beautiful Cane River Lake and the lighting of thousands of Christmas lights.

Admission to the festival is $10 for adults 12 years and older.  Children under 12 are admitted free to the festival. Armbands may be purchased day of the festival from ticket booths located throughout the Downtown Historic District beginning at 6:30 a.m.  Discount armbands may be purchased in advance online at http://www.NatchitochesChristmas.com and select Natchitoches businesses.

All festival vendors inside the gated area will require tickets to purchase food and/or merchandise.  Tickets may be purchased from all ticket booth locations as well as at automated ticket machines on festival day.  Tickets may be purchased in advance at any pre-sale armband locations.

For more information on the 90th Annual Natchitoches Christmas Festival, please visit http://www.NatchitochesChristmas.com.

Fleur De Lis Christmas Craft Market

By Kevin Shannahan

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The Fleur De Lis Christmas Craft Market, an annual tradition in Natchitoches since 2005, was held Saturday, Nov. 26 at the Natchitoches Events Center. A capacity crowd filled the venue and enjoyed the day shopping at 113 vendors from throughout Louisiana and Texas. The vendors sold a variety of handmade items with no commercial items allowed. Natchitoches Hope for Paws returned for a third year as a vendor, selling pet related crafts and raising awarness of animal adoption.

Grant will help City make healthy choices easy ones

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The City executed a grant agreement with The Rapides Foundation for the 2016 Healthy Behaviors Program Grant Award. The Rapides Foundation offers grants to non-profits and local governments promoting healthy behavior by creating or improving opportunities for adults and youth in Central Louisiana to engage in safe, accessible activity and by increasing accessibility of healthy foods.

“I think this will be a great benefit for the Natchitoches community,” said Main Street Director Samantha Bonnette.

The $300,000 grant award will be dispersed over a three year grant term, ending Oct. 31, 2019.

Shawna Straub, assistant finance director wrote the grant.
According to Dallas Russell, Community Programs and Outreach Manager for the City,  the grant and the City’s involvement illustrates the many components that are coming together.

A $25,000 Healthy Behaviors Mini Grant from The Rapides Foundation went toward upgrades at the Ross Williams Park on Dean Street. The City is upgrading several parks in an effort to encourage healthy living among its residents.

“There’s tremendous potential in Natchitoches,” said Mayor Lee Posey. “The City is happy to be a part of anything involving healthy behavior. We’re trying to fit this theme into our parks by incorporating walking tracks.”

The City applied for the grant to accomplish the following goals:

Grow the Cane River Green Market by implementing a new mobile market which involves hiring someone full-time to organize the Green Market under the direction of the Main Street Office. It will also provide funds for the Kids Club at the market, which ran out of funds from its original grant. The city will purchase a vehicle for the mobile market.

New portable playground, will promote increased outdoor recreational opportunities by providing games for residents of all ages: jump rope, football toss, horseshoes, sack races, obstacles courses, volleyball, etc. The City will purchase a vehicle and the grant will provide funds for hiring someone part-time under the direction of Dallas Russell.

Mayor’s Health and Fitness Council comprised of community leaders who will address legislation and healthy initiatives. A part time staff will also be hired to help run the coalition and will be managed by Russell.

The implementation of these goals will help provide access to fresh, local produce to encourage healthy eating and access to play spaces to encourage physical activity.
“It’s about making healthy choices more accessible,” said Russell.

Bank sponsors Christmas Festival 

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Sabine State Bank is a  $500 Festival Partner for the Christmas Festival that will be held Saturday, Dec. 3.

From left are Marilyn Brungart, Lacy Merrill, Jill Leo ,Meagan Bonnette, Kathy Jones and Felecia Bell.

NPD responds to armed robbery call

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Natchitoches Police Department officers responded to an armed robbery call in the 400 Block of McDodson Way at 4:30 a.m. Nov. 27. Officers spoke to the victim who said that she when arrived home she was approached by a black male wearing a black hoodie and black pants. The male subject had a handgun and demanded that the victim give him money. The victim did not have cash but gave the suspect her purse and her cell phone. The victim was not injured and was able to get inside and call police.
The victim described the suspect being approximately 5’9” and weighing approximately 150 pounds.

Anyone with any information about this incident should call the Natchitoches Police Department Investigations Division @ 352-5609.

Downtown music will play year round, Holiday music for Christmas season

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Santa and his City helper approve of the music that will now fill downtown Natchitoches will Christmas cheer and rockin’ hits throughout the year. The Historic District Business Association (HDBA) funded the purchase of speakers that were installed by the City to add to the ambiance of the Natchitoches experience.

“It makes a big difference on the street,” said HDBA member Sandra Dickens. Music will play from 9 a.m. – 7 p.m. daily. Christmas music will play during the holiday season and oldies will play throughout the rest of the year.

Elite Radio Group programs the music for the City of Natchitoches Radio Network.  If you or  your business would like to record a liner on the network, please call Sandra at 318-352-1993

Anyone who’d like to tune in and listen to the music from computers or mobile devices can click on the link below.

City of Natchitoches Radio Network – Christmas

City of Natchitoches Radio Network – Oldies

* If you can’t stream these channels, please call 318-354-4000 between 9am and 5pm; M-F. Ask for Bill.

A Place Like No Other

By Rogers W. Loche III, NSU Demon football senior, 2011

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When I first encountered Northwestern State University and the Natchitoches area, I didn’t initially realize the impact this place would have on my personal and professional life trajectory. See, I was a 19-year-old kid transferring from the University of Mississippi to play football for the NSU Demons. Upon my arrival, I was a bit regretful due to the fact I was giving up the bright lights of SEC competition and everything that came with it. However, through many experiences, I discovered the beauty hidden inside Natchitoches and Demon Football.

It’s my belief that there’s a learning opportunity available in everyday life. Although true, a person must possess an open mind to the experience in order to obtain a valuable lesson from it. I obtained a humbling lesson during my first day of practice. As I put on my cleats and strapped my shoulder pads, I said to myself, “These boys ain’t got nothing on me!”

A bit cocky for me to have had this thought? Sure it was. I was convinced that my skill-set was greater due to the level of competition I was coming from. Let me tell you, this thought didn’t last very long.

Shortly after team stretch and warm-ups, I heard the words “SUDDEN CHANGE” rip through the air.

The linebackers coach yelled, “Get in there, Loche!,” and without hesitation, I buckled my chinstrap and charged onto the field. I quickly went through my progressions and took off like a missile! My eyes widened as I quickly approached the tailback. My adrenaline skyrocketed as I knew I was about to make an everlasting impression. At full speed, I was prepared to make a form tackle and then… “BOOM!” I was pancaked by an offensive tackle. When I rolled over, I saw this huge shadow and the person said, “Welcome to the Southland Conference!” It was Demetress Bell, who at the end of that season, went in the seventh round of the 2008 NFL Draft to the Buffalo Bills.

I called this a “rude-awakening experience” and I said to myself, “These boys can ball!” I quickly became aware of the tradition, passion, and culture that encompasses Demon Football. The culture of the unwavering work ethic passed down from former NSU greats was the platform I used to tackle not only football, but my personal and professional life as well.

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Photos courtsey of NSU

LSMSA Art Gallery hosts reception for local artist William Beier

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Natchitoches, LA –A reception was held on Thursday, Nov. 17, in the lobby of the Center for Performance and Technology at the Louisiana School for Math, Science, and the Arts in recognition of the art work of local artist William Beier. Beier’s art work will be on display in the art gallery at LSMSA through Wednesday, Dec. 7.

The art gallery is open from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday.

Llorens, Hussey represent NSU on All-Southland Conference squad

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De’Mard Llorens walked onto the Northwestern State football team as a freshman in 2013, and ran onto the All-Southland Conference team as a first-team selection at running back.

Llorens, a senior for the Demons, led the Southland in rushing overall and in conference play this season. He was rewarded by the 11 head coaches and their sports information contacts, who voted on the all-conference squad.

Senior center Cameron Hussey was a second-team All-Southland pick. He was the top performer on an offensive line that paved the way for the Demons to average 204 yards rushing in league play, second in the conference.

Four other NSU players received honorable mention recognition: senior punt returner Shakeir Ryan, junior safety Austin Balthazor and junior kicker Eric Piccione, and sophomore offensive lineman Chris Zirkle.

Llorens (5-11, 213), a Natchitoches native and Natchitoches Central High School standout, led the Southland with an 85-yard overall rushing average in 10 games (12 yards better than the second-ranked runner) and a 99-yard average (nearly 17 yards ahead of No. 2) in eight conference contests. That included an abbreviated outing at Central Arkansas where on his second carry, he sustained a shoulder injury that benched him for the rest of that game and the next contest.

Eighteen men compete during No Shave November

no-shave-flyerThe No Shave Natchitoches fundraiser for the American Cancer Society and the Relay For Life of Natchitoches Parish is in full swing. This year, 18 men have committed to letting their beards grow for the month of November.

The ACS is asking the public to go online and vote for their favorite candidate. Visit http://www.relayforlife.org/letitgrownatchitoches to donate on their behalf. Voting ends Dec. 6.

These men will serve as Ambassadors for the American Cancer Society throughout this campaign and help direct others seeking to find information on early detection, cancer screening, and living a healthy life.

This initiative was created to raise awareness for cancer. Many patients lose their hair during treatment for cancer so with this campaign, awareness is raised and conversations are started.

Thanksgiving dinner served to over 150 Natchitoches area residents

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This year’s third annual ‘Come Give Thanks’ luncheon, organized by NSU alums Phillip Jean-Louis Jr. and Carlos Hartwell, was a success again. The volunteers stayed busy from 11 a.m. – 3 p.m., feeding over 150 Natchitoches area residents, if not more. The food was awesome and people took home as many goodie bags as they could. Everyone left the skybox at the MLK Center with a smile. Jean-Louis and Hartwell expressed their thanks to the Zeta Phi Beta sorority for their time and all the other volunteers that helped make the event a success.

“We just want to thank everyone who donated, volunteered or helped out in any way,” they said. “The Gloria Project just gave everyone the opportunity to do what their hearts naturally desire, and that’s to be servants of the Lord.”

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Chicken on the Bone to Play Tonight on the Riverbank

By Kevin Shannahan

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The veteran New Orleans band “Chicken on the Bone” will bring its signature sound to the Natchitoches Riverbank Saturday, November 26th at 6:00. This year will mark the popular band’s third trip to Natchitoches for the Christmas Festival.
Third year lead singer Darren Paul summed up the band’s eclectic style “You never know what’s coming up next-Journey to Fats Domino.” Paul said he enjoys the small town atmosphere and that the fireworks display is amazing. John Heindel, the band’s other lead singer, likes Natchitoches’ small town atmosphere and said that the band loves its enthusiastic Natchitoches audience and considers its trip to Natchitoches a mini vacation after the hectic pace of the French Quarter. “We love it and counldn’t wait to get here. We’re here to make them scream, holler and smile.”

The Holiday Shuttle returns to Natchitoches

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For four weeks, beginning Nov. 26, the Leachman Links Holiday Shuttle will offer flat-rate service from the hotels out by the I-49 to downtown Natchitoches. The goal is to help alleviate some of the traffic congestion from downtown. This will allow more visitors and locals to enjoy the 90th Natchitoches Christmas festival. For more information email Kacey Rodgers at leachmanlinks@yahoo.com or find the Leachman Links Holiday Shuttle on Facebook for more details.

It Was a Hack Job. So Be Careful

joedarbyFor those of you who read my column this week, I want to let you know that my old friends who were supposedly stranded in the Philippines are safe and sound in Baton Rouge.
I’d gotten an email claiming that they were robbed in Manilla and desperately needed money to pay hotel bills and airfare home. As I suspected it was a scam.

I talked to my friend’s wife Friday and she said that not only did the hackers hijack their emails, they completely destroyed all of their computer files. She’s been told that it was probably done through Wi-Fi, very likely using her Kindle reader.

So, another lesson. In addition to hesitating before helping stranded “friends” overseas, be careful where you take your Kindle. The bad guys are out there waiting.

Authorities respond to LA. Hwy. 9 crash near Creston

truck-crashNatchitoches Parish Sheriff’s Deputies, State Police, Natchitoches Regional Medical Center EMS and Natchitoches Parish Fire District #2 responded to a single-vehicle crash Nov. 25 at 7:02 a.m. involving an overturned loaded log truck on La. Hwy. 9 near the Weaver Cemetary Road near Creston.

The 46-year-old Ringgold operator of the 2016 Caterpillar truck was transported from the scene by EMS to NRMC with non-life threatening injuries.