VFW auxiliary honored for lifetime of volunteering

For just a minute one day last week, a group of women chased “the world” as it rolled on the carpet across a banquet room.

The women were members of the Ladies Auxiliary of Gonzales Memorial Veterans of Foreign Wars Post 3693 and “the world” was part of the Lifetime World of Difference trophy the women had just received from Volunteer Ascension.

After realizing the trophy was not damaged, the women laughed and quickly put the trophy, which included a blue, glass globe atop a metal base, into its box.

The light-hearted moment highlighted the perseverance of the women, part of a group that has volunteered more than 30,000 hours to the community through various VFW projects.

The annual Volunteer Ascension Volunteer of the Year Awards banquet honored 18 individual and group volunteers nominated in four categories.

“We applaud your dedication,” Volunteer Ascension Executive Director Sherry Denig said as she started the luncheon program April 25 at the Clarion Inn in Gonzales.

The eight women accepting the lifetime achievement award were representing the club’s more than 100 members.

The VFW members have sponsored youth education programs, hosted fundraisers for cancer research and provided aid and support for countless veterans in the parish.

Also nominated for his lifetime of service to the parish was Thad Bellow, who has been a volunteer fireman since 1990, taught shooting sports to 4-H youths for several years and served an instructor for hunter education programs.

Winning the Community Services Volunteer of the Year Award was Johnnie LeBlanc.

LeBlanc logged 825 volunteer hours in 2012 at St. Elizabeth Hospital, program announcer Rosa Flores said. LeBlanc has served as president of the hospital’s volunteer auxiliary for 13 years. She’s helped produce hundreds of stuffed bears each month and is the designated driver for all hospital volunteers attended off-site events. LeBlanc and her husband partnered with Ascension Parish government to organize and conduct an after-school archery program.

Nominated in the Community Services category were Gwendolyn Hilliard, Warren Croom, John Raines and Robert Siears.

Twin brothers Thurman and Torrence Thomas, 23, won the Education/Youth Services Award for their efforts to provide swimming lessons to 60 children.

The brothers, Southern University students and Dutchtown High School graduates, said they were troubled by the number of “senseless” drowning deaths of minority children.

The Thomas brothers’ “Tank Proof Give Back” program sold tank-top shirts during performances of their band Ask the Thomas Brothers.

They said plans are already underway to raise the money needed for more children to take swimming lessons this summer.

Donna St. Pierre, Gretchen Soniat, Val Lambert and Bret Hughes were also nominated for the Education/Youth Services Award.

St. Amant High School sophomore Edmond Rachal was awarded the Youth Volunteer Award for volunteering more than 144 hours last year.

The 16-year-old volunteered at the Gonzales Health Care Center, for the March of Dimes, at the Knights of Columbus Tootsie Roll Drive, the Walk for diabetes and during the North Ascension rotary Club’s canned food drive.

Also nominated in the youth division were the Gonzales Police Explorer Post; David, Grace and Johnathan Drummond; John Ryan Denig; and Rachel Cusick.