Adopted daughter of Louisiana touts culture

Missy Jandura isn’t a native of Donaldsonville or even of Louisiana, for that matter, but she has become a passionate champion for the rich culture and business opportunities in the small town that is her adopted home.

As executive director of both the Donaldsonville Downtown Development District and the Main Street Donaldsonville program, Jandura, 40, of Galvez, works to promote historic preservation, downtown development, beautification and the programs offered to entice residents and businesses to the river city.

The Illinois native moved to Galvez with her family when she was in the third grade.

She soon realized south Louisiana was nothing like the farming village she had left.

“This place is so beautiful and rich with history,” she said. “When family could come down for a visit and we would show them around, I got to see it from a brand new perspective every time.”

Jandura took a long and winding career path before landing her Donaldsonville jobs.

She should have had a hint she was destined for the tourism industry when, at 15, she landed her first job, as a tour guide at Houmas House Plantation.

The $2.85 an hour job, which required her to wear an antebellum dress, fascinated the Northern-born teen. She also worked at Tezcuco Planation while in college.

She quickly learned many local residents “have no idea of what we have right here in our backyard.”

After studying at Southeastern Louisiana University, she pursued a career in radio, working on a morning show for 12 years.

She moved around, eventually returning to Louisiana to work in the nonprofit sector.

For fun, Jandura was part of Baton Rouge’s first roller derby team.

She said her outgoing personality helps her try new things.

In 2010, an online job posting for the DDD caught her eye.

“They didn’t even know the job was on that site,” she said. “It was just meant to be.”

A longtime DDD and Main Street board member, Tammy Dale, calls Jandura “the package deal.”

Dale said Jandura possesses “a love for this town and the smarts to go with it” and credits Jandura with increasing the city’s online presence.

“She’s an executive director who carries a hammer and shovel and pulls weeds when needed,” Dale said.

Mayor Leroy Sullivan said Jandura has used her energetic personality to push forward with existing projects such as the city’s 3rd of July celebration and annual Avenue Evening Stroll, during which business open late for shoppers and musicians and community groups perform along Railroad Avenue.

Sullivan said he’s been particularly pleased with her emphasis on litter cleanup programs, held at various times throughout the year.

The board overseeing the two agencies is appointed by the Donaldsonville City Council, but the agencies get no revenue from the city, she said.

The annual budget for the two agencies is $75,000 and is funded through a portion of the hotel/motel tax levied in the city and supplemented through grants from Louisiana Main Street and other state and federal agencies.

Jandura said she uses her grant-writing skills, gift of gab and the ability to “never meet a stranger” to organize community cleanups, promote the town to the movie industry and organize community events.

With no money coming from city coffers and with state funds dwindling, Jandura has been successful in getting grant money to buy the tools and equipment needed for frequent city beautification projects, for a project to photograph and record every property in the town’s historic district, and a $950 grant from Main Street Louisiana for the Avenue Evening Stroll set for November.

Jandura credits her board with supporting and volunteering for projects such as the litter cleanups and a school garden at a local primary school.

Jandura also works with property owners who want to take advantage of programs to preserve historic buildings. She said the state and federal rehabilitation tax credit programs help make the preservation of historic downtown Donaldsonville buildings more affordable for many and can prevent the city from losing historic treasures.

In the midst of all that activity, Jandura is preparing to move to a new office this month.

The sale of the Grapevine Restaurant, the owners of the office she is housed in, is forcing Jandura to find new digs.

“We’ll move our stuff and keep rolling,” she said. “Donaldsonville is on a roll.”