30 year retrospective
The challenge in compiling a list of people who have made a difference in Baton Rouge over the past 30 years is in trying to determine not who should be on the list, but who shouldn't, because so many people are deserving of mention, and 30 is such a limiting number. But even if we featured a list of 300, we would have to omit someone noteworthy, and even that limit wouldn't be easy. This is not a complete list nor does it attempt to be. There are countless business and civic leaders, elected officials, community volunteers, entrepreneurs and small business owners who have done meaningful and important things in and for the Capital Region. This list is in no way intended to diminish their contributions and accomplishments. But the individuals we are spotlighting particularly stand out in our minds because their projects, visions, plans, actions and personalities have left a long and lasting mark on this community—one that won't be forgotten.
Click here to see a slideshow of these influential people.
John Barton Sr.
Looking back on the life and career of John Barton Sr., it's hard to surmise just how influential and important the businessman and philanthropist was to the Baton Rouge community. He helped found the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, was a founding board member for the Pennington Biomedical Research Foundation, sat on the board of the Greater Baton Rouge Chamber of Commerce and directed the fundraising committee for the Mary Bird Perkins Cancer Center, to name just a few of the more noteworthy philanthropies with which he was deeply involved. There were dozens of others. Professionally, Barton may be best remembered for owning and operating Barton Investments and Barton Farms. However, one of his per- sonal favorite career positions—a side job he held for 30 years—was as co-owner and president/CEO of the Jack's Cookie Co., which operated in Baton Rouge from 1949 to 1981.
Jim Bernhard is founder, chairman and CEO of Baton Rouge's only Fortune 500 company, The Shaw Group. He has remained fiercely loyal to his south Louisiana roots, keeping the company headquartered in the Capital City even though dozens of its key executives live out of state and its projects take it all over the world. Earlier this year, however, he sold the firm to Houston-based CB&I for about $3 billion. Bernhard has been extremely successful in growing The Shaw Group from just a handful of employees 25 years ago to 30,000 employees and $5 billion in annual revenues today. It is a respected industry leader and innovator that offers a broad range of engineering, construction, and technology services to the energy, chemical, environmental, infrastructure and emergency response markets. But Bernhard is not just known for his corporate and engineering acumen. He maintains an active role behind the scenes in state Democratic politics and is frequently mentioned as a potential candidate for higher office, though he keeps his cards close to his vest.
With more Than 30 years of policy and legislative experience, consultant Mark Drennen is an expert in the administration, finances and operations of state and local government. But his most lasting legacy to Baton Rouge is to the downtown skyline, which is forever altered since his eight years as chief administrative officer under Gov. Mike Foster. It was Drennen's vision and drive in large part that made possible the reconsolidation of state government downtown. With the construction of several new state office buildings in the late 1990s and early 2000s, the decades-long revitalization of downtown Baton Rouge finally gathered steam, a process that has intensified and continues today. In 2008, he joined Cornerstone Government Affairs, leading the firm's operations in Louisiana, managing the Baton Rouge office and providing state government relations and business consulting services. He remains active in the community and serves on the boards of various arts and philanthropic organizations.
Mary Frey Eaton
To hear some describe her, Mary Frey Eaton is beyond an institution. She has been a community leader, an activist and a philanthropist in the community for several generations. A co-founder of Community Fund for the Arts, and founder of Keep Baton Rouge Beautiful Inc., Eaton has been involved with the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, the Arts Council of Greater Baton Rouge and the LSU Museum of Art advisory board, to name a few. She remains active in the arts community today. But her influence extends beyond the nonprofit world. She has worked tirelessly to effect change in the community and, as such, has served in the political arena. From 1989 to 2000 she was a member of the Metro Council and from 1997 to 2000 she served as Mayor Pro Tem. Always a voice of reason and moderation, Eaton is respected for forging coalitions and using a firm but gentle approach to get things done.
Though John Folse isn't the first chef to bring Louisiana cuisine to the world, he has arguably been the best at it. For the past four decades he has shamelessly—and effectively— promoted not only his own cuisine but that of his native Louisiana. In characteristic fashion, Folse catered a Cajun-Creole feast for the International Olympic Committee in London during the 2012 games, and he has been recognized with countless culinary awards, including "Louisiana's Culinary Ambassador to the World." While Folse is an accomplished chef, he has long been recognized for his success in marketing his brand, Chef John Folse & Company Inc. Founded in 1991 and based in Gonzales, the company started with Lafitte's Landing Restaurant and has since incorporated a culinary institute, food manufacturing, catering, and publishing businesses throughout the United States.
During his six-year tenure, from 1999 to 2005, as chancellor of LSU's A&M campus, Mark Emmert arguably did more than any of his predecessors or successors to attract top-flight faculty and administrators to the university by creating the National Flagship Agenda. The longrange plan for achieving national prominence recognized LSU's unique role, scope, and mission as the leading academic institution in the state, and it articulated goals to achieve regional and national recognition in a number of areas. Emmert fought for faculty pay raises and put academics on a par with— if not ahead of— athletics. He was lured back to his native Washington to head the state university system there and is now chairman of the NCAA; but he remains a favorite in local circles, and rumors regularly resurface that he will return to Baton Rouge to once again lead LSU.
Mary Joseph has been referred to as an ambassador for Baton Rouge, where she has been a tireless champion of the arts, a volunteer and a civic leader, and a successful attorney. A member of the Baton Rouge law office of McGlinchey Stafford, Joseph specializes in banking law, a field in which she was one of few female attorneys locally for many years. But she is best known for the passion she has brought to fundraising for influential umbrella organizations like the Capital Area United Way and the Arts Council. She has served on the boards of several foundations and nonprofit organizations and has been recognized not only for her contributions to the community but for advocating for the advancement of women.
Since foundIng Cajun Constructors Inc. in 1973, Lane Grigsby has been one of the most active and successful leaders in the Baton Rouge business community. But his influence extends far beyond the circles of industrial construction, where Cajun remains one of the largest companies in the region. Rather, Grigsby has injected himself into the political arena, both locally and statewide. He has served as campaign manager for elected Metro Council members and as finance manager for former Mayor Tom Ed McHugh. He has established and bankrolled journalistic websites dedicated to uncovering political corruption and government waste and to promoting greater accountability among elected officials. More recently, he has turned his considerable energy and financial support to education reform initiatives and candidates at the state level.
As head of the Big Buddy Program in Baton Rouge in the 1980s and 1990s, Jim Geiser touched the lives of countless, at-risk youths. But he made an even bigger impact on the Capital Region—and the state as a whole—as the father of the charter school movement in the 1990s and helped pass the enabling legislation. Back when terms like "charter schools" and "school choice" were foreign to many, Geiser believed that parents exercising choice is central to the systemic change needed for true and sustainable education reform for children from all demographics. He helped found and was the first principal of Children's Charter School in Baton Rouge. It served as a model for dozens of other schools. He also helped start the Louisiana Association of Public Charter Schools.
If you want to get a proJect done in Baton Rouge, Charles Landry is your go-to guy. The local attorney at Jones Walker is an expert on the complexities of real estate development, planning, zoning and land use. Perhaps more importantly, he is chairman of the city-parish Zoning Advisory Committee, an influential kitchen cabinet of advisers to the East Baton Rouge Planning Commission director and staff. Among the deals that got done with Landry's help are Capitol Park, Baton Rouge Community College, the Shaw Center for the Arts and the College Drive Walmart and Albertsons. He is a leading proponent of so-called smart growth and has been instrumental in drafting ordinances in nearby municipalities for the development of traditional neighborhood developments, which have become popular in Baton Rouge in recent years.
In the past decade, Stephen Moret has taken economic development in the Capital Region and Louisiana to the next level. As president and CEO of the Baton Rouge Area Chamber in the mid-2000s, Moret grew the regional chamber of commerce into a national economic development organization and tripled its revenues. He also founded a 50-organization coalition dedicated to ethics reform in Louisiana, a key component to successful economic development. Over the past four years, he has brought his high-intensity, no-nonsense style of leadership to Louisiana Economic Development, where he serves as secretary. He has worked tirelessly to build regional cooperation between the New Orleans and Baton Rouge business communities and to target narrowly defined subsectors for economic growth where Louisiana has the potential to shine. He has also concentrated on identifying and developing shovel-ready sites for the booming industrial construction sector and focusing on improving job-readiness for the state's undereducated workforce.
Brace Godfrey, who dIed In March 2010, may be remembered in the history books for being the first black lawyer to serve as full-time professional staff in the Legislature. But those who knew him remember his passion for civic activism and determination for making Baton Rouge a better place to live. An attorney at Adams and Reese, Godfrey was also the founder of Cyntreniks, a consulting firm that renovated several historic buildings downtown. He was a founding investor and member of Business First Bank in Baton Rouge, and served on prominent boards such as the Baton Rouge Area Chamber and the Baton Rouge Area Foundation. But it was with groups like 100 Black Men of Metro Baton Rouge, of which he was founding president, that Godfrey found his time best spent, and those who knew him well remember him as a role model and leader—not only for African American men but for the entire community.
Hans and Josef Sternberg
Few people leave an enduring business legacy in one community. Hans Sternberg has done it twice. Sternberg and his late brother, Josef, who died in 1990, inherited Goudchaux's—Baton Rouge's most beloved department store—from their parents, taking it to incredible heights with 24 locations before selling during the recession of the late 1980s and early 1990s. He then established Starmount Life Insurance Co., which has spread to 48 states and twice made Inc. magazine's list of the 5,000 fastest-growing companies in the United States. You could say business has always been in their blood. The Sternberg brothers' aggressive expansion tactics and no-interest credit policy—which was revolutionary at the time—kept their business a success while other department stores were failing, and their downtown flagship location was at one time considered the world's largest department store. In 2011 Hans Sternberg completed a history of the family and their business entitled We Were Merchants.
Though he wasn't a native of Louisiana, the late Chuck McCoy would become one of the bestknown and influential businesspeople in the Capital Region, where he served as CEO of Louisiana National Bank, which later became Premier Bank. Earning a reputation as an innovative banker that won him national honors, McCoy built the world's first successful drive-through bank in Ohio and later installed the first computer of its kind in his bank in Louisiana. He also fought to improve public education in the state and served as the architect for the campaign for Academic Distinction, the first endowed local education foundation in the country. He will also be remembered for forever changing the Baton Rouge skyline by building the tallest building in downtown—the Chase Bank Towers.
To many, Lucy Priddy will be remembered as a trailblazer for women in Baton Rouge. She was one of the first women to ascend to the corporate offices of Albermarle—where she worked her way up in her 40-year-career from clerk typist to head of community relations—one of the first women to be invited to join the prestigious Baton Rouge Rotary, and the first woman to serve as its president. But Priddy never set out to be a leader of the women's rights movement and that's not why most people who know her love her. Rather, it is because of her tireless dedication to dozens of causes and her willingness to roll up her sleeves and get involved with volunteer organizations throughout the community. Over the years, Priddy has dedicated her time and talents to virtually every significant volunteer organization in Baton Rouge. She was an early organizer of Swine Palace, served on the advisory board for the Arts Council and spent countless hours as a volunteer for Junior Achievement. Throughout, she maintained a self-deprecating demeanor and a down-to-earth sense of humor that has endeared her to people of multiple generations.
Few people have Done more for women's health care in Baton Rouge than Teri Fontenot, who has been president and CEO of Woman's Hospital for two decades. Since joining the institution in 1992, Fontenot has overseen an era of unprecedented growth for the hospital, and under her leadership Woman's recently completed the planning, construction and relocation to its new $327.7 million complex on Airline Highway. Fontenot is known for her quiet but firm leadership style and for her tireless dedication to her industry, institution and community. She serves on the boards of dozens of local nonprofit organizations and is also active in national health care associations, where she has been honored as a leader and top executive in her field.
For two Baton Rouge mayors in the last three decades, Walter Monsour was the man behind the scenes who made things happen. As the powerful chief of staff for Mayor Pat Screen in the mid-1980s and for Mayor Kip Holden during his first term (2005-2009), Monsour played a key role in making local government more efficient, reorganizing city-parish departments, and instigating the city's Green Light program. For the past three years, he has been equally influential as CEO and president of the East Baton Rouge Redevelopment Authority, an increasingly powerful organization that is quietly acquiring massive tracts of land throughout the parish for infill and redevelopment projects.
Though John Davies did not establish the Baton Rouge Area Foundation, he has come to define it as its public face and most influential personality. Since coming to Baton Rouge and taking over as BRAF's president and CEO in 1988, Davies has increased the profile of the nonprofit organization and helped grow its assets from $3 million to more than $600 million today. His tenure at BRAF has produced important initiatives for the improvement of the Baton Rouge area, including: Plan Baton Rouge, which has been key in the redevelopment of downtown; partnership to create the Shaw Center for the Arts and the Manship Theatre; rehabilitating the Capitol House into the Hilton Hotel; and raising $45 million after Katrina for recovery and the long-term rebuilding of south Louisiana.
J.T. "Tommy" Spinosa
Tommy Spinosa may have as many detractors as he has supporters, as a result of the legal problems that seem to ensue with every major project he develops. But like him or not, there's no getting around the fact that Spinosa has made his mark on commercial and retail developments in Baton Rouge by taking risks and undertaking projects that were the first of their kind for the market. JTS Realty Services, which he founded in 1980, built CitiPlace and Perkins Rowe and is now involved in developing the Rouzan TND, a mixed-use neighborhood in Southdowns. He has also developed apartment complexes and condos throughout Louisiana, Mississippi and Texas, and manages to defy the odds, even when they appear stacked against him.
Claude B. "Doc" Pennington
In the early 1950s, Claude B. "Doc" Pennington, an optometrist, uncovered an untapped store of wealth: oil. Over the years, he became the patriarch of one of Baton Rouge's most prominent families and the father of a legacy of giving back that still touches the lives of almost every resident of Baton Rouge every day. The Irene W. and C.B. Pennington Foundation, established in 1982, supports local organizations ranging from the Greater Baton Rouge Food Bank to the YMCA, to the Louisiana Art & Science Museum. The family's name can be found on buildings throughout south Louisiana. Among them is the Pennington Biomedical Research Center, founded in 1980 with a gift from the benefactor. The center today is one of the leading research institutions for diabetes and nutrition in the world and is one of the shining stars in the state's economic development portfolio.
William "Bill" Jenkins
SInce he came to LSU in 1988, there aren't many key positions within the LSU System that Bill Jenkins hasn't held. During the past two decades he served as dean of the vet school, provost and chancellor at LSU before being named president of the LSU System in 1999, a position he now holds again on an interim basis. That Jenkins is perhaps one of a few leaders on the LSU campus who has the ability to get along with a wide variety of constituent groups helps explain his staying power. He is intensely well-liked and respected. But he has also been successful at fundraising for the LSU System and in overseeing years of growth and achievement during otherwise challenging economic times for the state.
Since the early 1900S, when Charles Manship Sr. purchased The State Times and later started The Morning Advocate, the Manships have reigned as the first family of the Baton Rouge media scene. Today, Manship's grandchildren run the empire he created, with Doug Manship Jr. and later David Manship serving as publisher of The Advocate (The State Times folded in 1991) and Richard Manship serving as president and CEO of Louisiana Television Broadcasting, parent company of WBRZ-TV. But the airwaves and the power of print are only the most obvious of the many ways the Manship legacy continues to touch the Capital Region. The Manship School of Mass Communication at LSU, renamed in 1984 after the family made a major gift, is training the next generation of journalists through some of the most innovative degree programs in the country. Gifts from the family, which also includes sister Dina Manship Planche, have also helped establish the Cox Academic Center for Student Athletes at LSU, the Manship Theatre in the Shaw Center for the Arts, and the Manship YMCA, which have gone a long way toward enriching the cultural fabric of the community.
Milton J. Womack Sr.
Milton J. Womack Sr. raised the bar for commercial construction, founding in 1964 what would become one of the premier commercial contracting companies in the region. Among the many iconic projects his company built are the Mall at Cortana, Earl K. Long Medical Center, Baton Rouge General Hospital—Bluebonnet, and the former Hilton Hotel, now the Marriott. But Womack is also known for his generosity and philanthropic largesse. He served as chairman and a member of the LSU Board of Supervisors, and also on the boards of the LSU Foundation, LSU Alumni Association and LSU Medical Center Foundation.
The giant white crosses on Interstate 10 west at Siegen Lane that have become icons of the Baton Rouge landscape are the product of megachurch pastor Larry Stockstill, who has become an institution in the city's faith-based community over the past three decades and a leader among the large, evangelical congregations. From 1983 to 2011, he headed Bethany World Prayer Center in north Baton Rouge as senior pastor, a position he took over from his father; and under his leadership the church grew from 2,000 members to more than 5,500. In 2001 he opened a second branch of the church, Bethany South, which has drawn another 5,000 members. Last year, he passed the torch to his 30-year-old son, Jonathan, who now leads the Bethany congregation. But the senior Stockstill continues to be influential both within the institution and in pastoral circles, where he has inspired a younger generation of megachurch pastors.
Milford "Mike" Wampold III
To see the impact Mike Wampold has had on Baton Rouge, one needn't look far. His influence can be seen in neighborhoods throughout the city. His commercial construction company, Wampold Companies, has renovated or built major office buildings downtown, including City Plaza I, City Plaza II and Chase North Tower. It has also constructed thousands of residential units—including significant developments like the upscale Crescent Condominiums on Stanford Avenue—and redeveloped properties like the old Jimmy Swaggart Bible College dormitory shell into the swank Renaissance Hotel on Bluebonnet Boulevard. Now Wampold is turning his attention to the last frontier for growth in East Baton Rouge Parish: the hundreds of acres he owns in the Bluebonnet extension corridor in south Baton Rouge. Wampold has an ambitious master plan: An initial 525 acres called Longwood Plantation will include commercial, residential and retail components, as well as a community center, church and school.
Though Charlie Valluzzo did not bring the first McDonalds restaurant to Baton Rouge—his father, Rocco, did that in 1963—most people don't know that. The name Valluzzo is nearly synonymous with McDonalds in Baton Rouge, and over the past 40-plus years, Charlie Valluzzo has grown the franchise business his father first brought here into an empire of more than 30 outlets bearing the golden arches. He is known for creating efficiencies in the fast-food industry that have been copied around the country, and for also giving of his time and resources to countless needy nonprofits in the area. In more recent years, Valluzzo has turned over day-to-day operations of running the company to his son, John, and this year the family divided into holdings among various siblings and relatives. Still, the senior Valluzzo retains the title of chairman of the board, and continues his involvement with the many charitable and civic organizations with which he is affiliated.
Bert and Sue Turner
As founder and chairman of Turner Industries, one of the region's largest industrial construction companies, Bert Turner made a small fortune and established himself as a scion in the Baton Rouge business community. But it was as a philanthropist and advocate for the arts that the late Turner and his wife, Sue, made such a lasting mark on the community. It is a legacy Sue Turner and the Turner children continue today. The Turners have been tireless advocates for preservation and were instrumental in the renovation of historic Magnolia Mound Plantation. They were also leaders in the development of the Louisiana Art & Science Museum. Both served on the boards of dozens of nonprofit organizations, and Sue Turner has continued to endow the arts in Baton Rouge and, especially, at LSU.
Rev. T.J. Jemison was one of the early leaders of the Civil Rights movement. Years before Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks emerged on the scene as national icons, it was Jemison who, in 1953, led a bus boycott in Baton Rouge, which would serve as the inspiration for the better-known Montgomery bus boycott. He was president of the National Baptist Convention and, later, one of the founding members of the Southern Christian Leadership Conference. Even through the 1980s and 1990s, however, he remained an influential African American leader throughout the South and particularly in Baton Rouge, where he helped galvanize black churches and harness the power of the pulpit for social and political causes. He also led a generation of African American preachers, teaching them how to mobilize their congregations and was among those who championed the landmark school desegregation suit that changed the face of public education in East Baton Rouge Parish.
Huey Wilson was born and raised in Depression-era Louisiana in a large family with modest means. Working together with his wife, Angelina, he would become one of the most successful businessmen in the region and one of the most generous philanthropists. In 1957 Wilson founded H. J. Wilson Co., a catalog showroom retail business that eventually went public and grew to encompass 80 stores throughout the South. At the time of its sale in 1985, H. J. Wilson Co. had become the largest company headquartered in Baton Rouge, employing 10,000 people in 13 states. Wilson also co-founded Gulf Island Fabrication Inc., an oilfield service business that is today the largest fabricator of offshore production platforms in the United States. It is for his considerable generosity that Wilson is best remembered, however. He founded the Huey and Angelina Wilson Foundation in 2000, which has awarded millions of dollars to nonprofits in Baton Rouge in the areas of health care, education, human services and prison release.
The Reilly Family
The Reillys made their fortune in the outdoor advertising business with their 110-year-old family-owned company, Lamar Advertising, which is one of the largest billboard companies in the country. But the Reillys have also made their mark on Baton Rouge in art and philanthropic circles, where they have given generously of their time and considerable talents as well as their financial resources. Among the cultural gems in the community that bear their name are LSU's 500-seat Reilly Theater and the Reilly Center for Media and Public Affairs within the Manship School of Mass Communication. Moreover, the Reilly Family Foundation has supported countless artistic and educational projects and endeavors around the Capital Region. Individually, the Reillys have served in state government—Kevin Reilly Sr. was a longtime legislator and state secretary of economic development, while son Sean was also a state representative and leader of the LSU Flagship Coalition—and together with their spouses have served on the boards of numerous foundations and philanthropic organizations.
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