Hemelt: Memories made special by local heroes, friends

Published 12:03 am Saturday, June 1, 2019

My first day at L’OBSERVATEUR was May 1, 2014. Within two weeks, I was able to interview former New Orleans Saints stars Rickey Jackson and John Fourcade.

They were in town for separate reasons — promoting youth involvement in faith-based activities and collecting relief supplies for tornado victims, respectively.

As a lifelong Saints fan, I naively thought working in LaPlace would allow me to meet a different Saints player each month.

Five years later, Rickey Jackson and John Fourcade are still the only Saints players I ever met. And that’s just fine with me.

Who I did meet were plenty of local stars, hard workers and community members, many of whom became my friends.

Their stories and interactions are the ones I’m going to miss.

Friday (May 31) was my last day with L’OBSERVATEUR. I’m not leaving the industry, just transferring within the company to another opportunity in Texas.

The last five years and one month have been an amazing ride.

My wife, children and I first settled in Vacherie for two years before the four of us moved into a house in Reserve in August 2016.

My children, God bless them, attended school at Vacherie Elementary, St. Peter Catholic School and John L. Ory Communications Arts Magnet, each time finding committed teachers, caring staff and willing friends.

Now, they’re on the move again, and so are my wife, Candace, and I.

St. John the Baptist Parish and the River Region has been such a great home for us.

Each week and new edition of L’OBSERVATEUR proved to be an adventure. Some were fun, others were heart aching and the vast majority were passionate.

One man called me at my house. He was so upset that our then sports editor 100-percent accurately reported his wife’s comments on a youth sports issue that he threatened to beat me up.

Although he refused to ever tell me his name, he told me he would meet me on my front lawn and fight me with my children in the house. As is the case with most similar situations, he never told me his name or showed up at my house.

Thankfully, 99 percent of other interactions with community members have been much better.

I can’t tell you how many times people have walked into our office as strangers and left as friends.

The first time I met Jo Ann Levet — in April 2015 — she told me the story of her son dying from cancer. She had come by the newspaper office to place a garage sale ad, alerting the public to the upcoming Perry’s Posse Huge Garage Sale.

Perry’s Posse is named after her son, Perry Levet, who died in 2014 following a year-long battle with leukemia. Today, it seems just about everyone knows Perry’s Posse raises money to help out River Region residents suffering with cancer. The group’s impact easily stretches into the hundreds, and when you add family and loved ones, it’s probably more than 1,000 strong.

However, back in 2015, Jo Ann patiently relayed the details of her son’s struggle. She talked about the strength he showed in the cancer battle and how so many responded to him with gifts and well wishes.

“We knew toward the end that Perry just wasn’t going to get better,” Jo Ann said. “The doctor had pretty much told us there was nothing left to do for him short of a miracle, which is what we started praying for.

“You will try anything to help your loved one through it. That is what we did. You don’t want to ever give up.”

Perry’s family never gave up, and although their loved one passed away, they continue to stay present in the fights for loved ones of friends and strangers, alike.

Those are the stories I’ll never forget.

Stephen Hemelt was publisher and editor of L’OBSERVATEUR. The office can be reached at 985-652-9545 or stephen.hemelt@lobservateur.com.