Leadership Tangi tours "hidden treasures"
By: Sandy Yaeger and Michael Tomlinson
Leadership Tangipahoa Class of 2020
Tuesday, November 19, dawned as an absolutely beautiful day and set the stage for a day long Leadership Tangipahoa journey into the Arts, Culture and History of Tangipahoa parish and the name of this journey was “Hidden Treasures.”
The Leadership Tangipahoa group set out from the Tangipahoa Parish Convention & Visitor's Bureau (TPCVB) office after an introduction and brief overview of tourism from Carla Tate, Executive Director. Dana Crosby, Visitor Center Supervisor and Emily Matisse, Director of Sales, were introduced. The TPCVB facilitated the Hidden Treasures discovery day and stayed with group the entire day, in the person of Dana Crosby. The Leadership group boarded the two Tangipahoa parish government provided buses and set out. Our first stop, The Independence Italian Cultural Museum.
Upon arrival at the Independence Italian Cultural Museum, located at 524 Pine Street, Independence, Louisiana, we were greeted by the volunteers that manage the museum, Donnie Orlando, President, Libby LaMarca Rose, Curator and their Assistant, Sena Gulotta. The museum is housed in the former Mater Dolorosa Catholic Church that was built in 1908 by the resident Italian community that lived in the area. Donnie Orlando spoke about the history and purpose of the museum. The museum is filled with old photographs and artifacts, that documents the memories of religious celebrations and events that are a deep-rooted part of the area and its Sicilian heritage. The museum was launched in 1980 and presents many events such as Cucuzza Day, A Night in Little Italy - Sotto Le Stelle, Sicilian language classes and is an anchor for the annual Independence Sicilian Heritage Festival. The museum is a work in progress with a planned outdoor pizza oven and a new outside canopy. Recently some art work was donated by Myra Gullet Cannino and there was a beautiful, full-sized “gala” cart that was handmade and decorated with art work by Larry Calmes. The group came away with a deeper appreciation for the rich Italian heritage of the Town of Independence and the surrounding region. The museum is open Monday through Saturday, from 9am to 1pm. When you visit make sure you leave with a Fava bean in your pocket!
From the museum we travelled to Amite City to visit and learn about the marvelous St. Helena Catholic Church, located at 122 S. First Street, Amite. Upon arrival at the church we were greeted by Erica Casey, Public Relations person for the church and we subsequently were treated to a very thorough and informative tour of the church development and grounds. To say this is just a church would be a disservice as it is far more than that. Visiting this location is an experience and education. The original church was built in 1868 and in 1890 was destroyed by a tornado and a second replacement church was constructed in during the 1910-1912 timeframe and that church was again destroyed by a tornado in 1940 The third church, and existing church, was built in 1941.
Erica Casey proceeded to give a comprehensive and engaged personal tour of this facility and the many components of the church grounds that includes but not limited to the following: The Reliquary that features a display of 151 verified and sealed sacred relics, The Repose Room that offers a quiet place to pray and reflect, The Garden of Gethsemane that features a remarkable original sculpture of Jesus Christ Praying, The Adoration Chapel which also offers a quiet and peaceful place to pray, St. Peters Courtyard that features six-foot tall replicas of the Apostle sculptures and a seven-foot tall St. Peter sculpture, The Jewish Roots of the Eucharist garden with thirteen stations providing a perspective on Holy Scripture through ancient Jewish eyes, multiple conference rooms, the Parish Hall that can seat up to 275 people and the wonderful Full of Grace Gift Shop offering a variety of Catholic statutes, art, sacramentals and other gifts. A new addition is a new coffee shop that will be open in the next few weeks. There is also a beautiful Priest House on the church grounds that consists of 4 apartments for retired priests, 2 visitor rooms on the second floor, a chapel and a great room. Erica Casey did a remarkable and heartfelt job conducting the tour.
The St. Helena Catholic Church is shepherded by Father Mark Beard, and he has been in this position for 9 years and personally addressed the leadership group near the end of the tour and provided an overview of the development process and what it has taken to accomplish this building project from a church that has just 500 families in its flock. Father Beard pointed out that there are 29 churches in Amite City area. The church center provides Retreats and Tours and enjoys roughly 5,000 visitors a month and has become a visitor’s destination. The church also offers religion classes that each last about two weeks. It is worth noting that one of our very own Leadership Tangipahoa group, Brandon Phares’ family-owned business, Sherman Glass, provided the glass work in the Reliquary and other areas.
Our next stop on this beautiful day was the Covey Rise Lodge located at 24009 Singing Waterfall Road, Husser, LA 70442. This 600-acre retreat, which was expanded due to a recent 200-acre acquisition, combines both a retreat and lodging and gun-club/hunting experience and a farm-to-table agricultural enterprise.
The Leadership group hopped onto a flatbed wagon of sorts and the farm tour commenced. Grady Seale conducted the farm portion tour and explained that the agriculture aspect utilizes 50 to 70 acres of the Covey Rise property and provides farm-fresh produce to area restaurants in the New Orleans, Baton Rouge, Houston, and the Northshore region as well as a Produce Club with area residents as members. Restaurant chefs drive what the Covey Rise farm grows, and produce is delivered directly to restaurants on a regular schedule.
After the farm tour we were taken to the Covey Rise Lodge and treated to a delicious and nutritious lunch while James “Jimbo” Geisler, the founder and owner gave a brief history and overview of the Covey Rise Lodge operation. The Covey Rise Lodge operation was started in 1999 and now offers lodging for a corporate retreat or a private family getaway. A total of 16 cabins currently surround the 14-acre lake. Some of the cabins are available to rent and some are permanent residents at Covey Rise. Additionally, offering a gun club, youth group camps as well as quail and duck hunting, skeet and clay shooting stations. Covey Rise also offers non-hunting related activities such as fishing, hiking, cooking lessons and farm tours. Membership costs to Covey Rise are very reasonable with a one-time initiation fee of $500 and $60/month. This wonderful, back to the earth experience, is located right here in beautiful Tangipahoa Parish.
Carla Tate, Executive Director of the Tangipahoa Parish Convention & Visitor's Bureau also briefly spoke during our lunch break at Covey Rise Lodge regarding the importance and impact of tourism for Tangipahoa parish. 4,000 hotel room nights so far in 2019 due to sports tourism, 3,816 room nights generated in 2018 by film projects, $2.53 million dollars in local sales tax are generated by tourism and the impact generated by tourism and events will continue to grow. Tangipahoa parish is lucky to have Carla Tate and her team on the job. They do make a difference!
Our fourth stop of the day was to visit the Louisiana Renaissance Festival site, located at 46468 River Road, Hammond LA 70401, and we met and listened to Alvon Brumfield, whose brainchild is the Louisiana Renaissance Festival. The Louisiana Renaissance Festival normally begins on the first Saturday in November of each year and runs for 6 weekends, each weekend with a different theme. The prior weekend boasted the Battle of the Bayou, Solo Pipe and Drum Competition, and the Renaissance Festival was a perfect setting for this competition. Some of the different themes for the Renaissance Festival are Celtic Weekend, Mask Weekend, The Travelers, Weekend of Romance, Heroes and Pirates, and the festival finishes with a weekend of fireworks.
Alvon Brumfield provided a personal guided walk-through tour of the Renaissance Festival grounds, taking time to explain what the many different permanent structures were and their purpose. It was interesting to learn that the Louisiana Renaissance Festival is one of a very few such festivals that have permanent structures that stand year-round. Alvon Brumfield explained that the Renaissance Festival was significantly impacted during the flood event in 2016 and the local community came out strong to help get the Renaissance Festival facility back on its feet so that it could continue as a festival venue. The Renaissance Festival has over 50,000 visitors per year and 85% of that number are “destination tourists”. The actual park itself is 16 acres and sits on a 100-acre tract of land. Brumfield made note of one popular attraction, the Battle Arena, and that this year features a female battle knight and she is only the second female knight ever to earn this title. The Renaissance Festival also entertains school children on three dedicated days each season and roughly 15 to 20 thousand school kids come each year to enjoy a healthy and wholesome day of fun and events. The Renaissance Festival is a remarkable destination tourist asset and it is well worth investing the time to go visit this event.
What also made this an extra special stop of the day was that it was done in concert with the Robert Business Group, a business-oriented grassroots group comprised of local Robert area businesses. The Robert Business Group was introduced by Ginger Cangelosi, Executive Director of Tangipahoa Economic Development. Barry Fernandez, with the Robert Business Group and Subway shop owner in Robert, spoke to the group and stressed the importance of communication and collaboration with the business community throughout the parish. Peggy Gautreaux, with Total Family Medical and other business group members additionally welcomed the Leadership group. Melissa Bordelon with the Greater Hammond Chamber of Commerce was in attendance and briefly spoke and welcomed the group. The elected officials in attendance were newly elected Council persons Brigette Delatte Hyde, District 9 and John Ingraffia, District 2. Returning council person David Vial, District 8, was with group as well.
After being entertained with a singing minstrel, most notably the Sandwich Song, the Leadership group boarded the buses one more time for our fifth and final destination of the day, Gnarly Barley Brewing, LLC, located at 1709 Corbin Road, Hammond, Louisiana 70403.
Ryan Davis, the Taproom Manager, was our personal host and speaker and has been with the company from almost the first day. He explained that Gnarly Barley Brewing, LLC is owned and operated by, Zac and Cari Caramonta. Zac and Cari are Florida parish natives and Southeastern Louisiana University graduates where they first met. Zac began home-brewing beer in their garage and soon Zac and Cari launched a microbrewery, Gnarly Barley Brewing, in 2014. Gnarly Barley Brewing has won numerous awards including the 2017 Lantern Award for manufacturers presented by the Governor of Louisiana, John Bel Edwards. The Brewing Association named Gnarly Barley Brewing among the top 50 fastest growing breweries for 2017 and 2018. Gnarly Barley Brewing is continually working to grow their business and now have twelve 60bbl (barrel) tanks and three 30bbl (barrel) tanks. Their primary markets are the Northshore, Greater New Orleans area, Lafayette, Baton Rouge, and Houma. Their most popular brew among the many they beers they brew is the Jucifer IPA. Their most recent expansion is the brand-new parking lot they how have across the street that compliments their on-site retail activity and the events they host on Fridays and Saturdays. Most importantly though, Gnarly Barley Brewing makes some of the finest beer in America and they are located right here in Hammond, Louisiana in Tangipahoa Parish!
The final takeaway from this wonderful and beautiful Leadership day touring some of our “Hidden Treasures” is that for everyone we visited there are many more hidden treasures out there and we only regret that we could not experience them all. Get out and take advantage of everything this great parish has to offer as it has been said that the “Whole is often greater than the sum of its parts” and that is certainly true for Tangipahoa parish. We are lucky and blessed to have a plethora of hidden treasures to explore, discover and enjoy in Tangipahoa parish. The real hidden treasure is indeed the people of this parish.
We would like to sincerely thank all the people, businesses, church, non-profits and groups that hosted and fed us on this day and to write that we are very grateful for your time and for teaching us about what your enterprise or group does. You are indeed a “Hidden Treasure” and we thank you! We have a special thank you to our great bus drivers that were with us from start to end. Thank you for safely getting us through the day.
A big thank-you goes to Nick Gagliano who serves as our Leadership drover and mentor. Nick is always with us from start to finish and makes sure we get to our destinations on-time and prepared.
We would also like to also thank Northshore Technical Community College and the Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation for their student sponsorship this year since it has made it possible for our learning so much about our parish, its businesses and groups and the people that make it all possible.
About the Authors:
Sandy Yaeger is the Dean of Campus Administration at Northshore Technical Community College - Hammond Area Campus. She has worked in higher education for 13 years and loves helping students along their educational journey. She moved to Ponchatoula from New Orleans with her husband in 2012.
Michael Tomlinson is an Economic Development Specialist for Tangipahoa Economic Development Foundation/Tangipahoa parish government since 2018. Michael has primarily worked in economic development since 1988 with an electric utility company and a number of economic development organizations before his current position. Michael is a Certified Louisiana Economic Developer (CLED). Michael has also worked as a federal investigator performing field work for national security clearance needs as well as in software sales. Michael is a graduate of L.S.U. and attended Ruston & Captain Shreve high schools. Mike served in the United States Navy from 1970-74.