Honoring our unexpected heroes

Published 12:00 am Saturday, April 30, 2022

Each May, L’OBSERVATEUR publishes a Hometown Heroes edition that puts the spotlight on the nurses, EMS workers, police, firefighters and teachers that serve our community. It’s my favorite edition to write each year because it shines a light on the unsung individuals who form the backbone of our River Parishes community.

Celebrating our heroes casts light in a world darkened by negative news. Given everything our community has endured through the COVID-19 pandemic and Hurricane Ida, we put the spotlight on our heroes once again in a special Spring 2022 edition of River Parishes Magazine. Instead of dedicating each story to a specific type of first responder, we considered the idea that anyone in the community can step up as a hero in difficult circumstances.

Please call Christine Browning at 985-233-0809 if you would like to obtain copies of River Parishes Magazine from our office, located at 118 Newspaper Drive in LaPlace. We are continuing to rebound from the damages of Hurricane Ida, much like our local schools and the East St. John Special Education teachers, who were voted “Best Local Hero” in the inaugural Best of the River Parishes online contest.

Through two years of unforeseen changes, the special education staff at East St. John High School has been the only constant for students who thrive on stability. The dedication they displayed during the COVID-19 pandemic was exemplified once again as Hurricane Ida damaged the East St. John campus and forced several transitions in school time and location.

The special education students and teachers found their way home to the main campus on March 23, 2022, seven months after Hurricane Ida disrupted their lives.

“It’s been a long time coming, trying to get back here,” Department Chair Rhyshique Williams said. “It looked like every week, something was changing, and our kids did a good job of adapting to the change,” Williams said. “Everybody had to learn to adapt – even the teachers. We try to communicate with the parents as soon as we find out so they can prep them before the change takes place. When they get to school, they already have an idea of what’s going to happen.”

Here’s a preview of a couple of the other stories featured in the River Parishes Magazine Heroes Edition:


Neighbor’s act of bravery saves veteran’s life –There were no warning signs before U.S. Air Force Veteran Clarence Tassin collapsed to the ground on August 14, 2019. It was like someone flipped a light switch. If it weren’t for his neighbor, Kevin Smith, administering CPR until paramedics arrived on scene, Tassin wouldn’t be alive to tell the tale. In a way, saving Tassin’s life saved Smith, too. His wife, Pamela Smith, departed Ochsner Hospital on angel’s wings after succumbing to her third valiant battle with cancer in March 2019. The grief was overwhelming, and Smith was trapped in a dark place. “I was thinking that I was in that room with death again, and this time, I could fight it,” Smith said. “I was grateful because I didn’t have that chance with my wife.”


Det. Henry’s birthday tradition helps the homeless Det. Keniel Henry’s only birthday wish is to lend a helping hand to those in need. For the past 10 years, Henry has dedicated his birthday, July 9, to preparing and distributing meals to the homeless population under the Claiborne/I-10 overpass in New Orleans.

The birthday tradition is close to his heart and serves as a reminder to never let the hustle and bustle of daily routines overshadow compassion for fellow mankind. Growing up in Jamaica, Henry knew he could find a support system within his community when times were tough. Sharing was second-nature, whether it meant knocking on a neighbor’s door to exchange eggs for milk or being ready at a moment’s notice to give the shirt of his back. That desire to help others in need persisted even after he immigrated to the United States in 2011.


River Parishes Magazine Heroes edition also highlights how students in the community step up as heroes every day. Featured bonus content includes photos of local faces, as well as a historic photo feature from the 1960 Reserve Centennial submitted by one of our readers.

We hope to continue celebrating the people of the River Parishes by telling stories of resiliency, encouragement and triumph.


Brooke R. Cantrelle is news editor for L’OBSERVATEUR. She can be reached at brooke.robichaux@lobseravteur.com.