The People's Tribune

Efforts Are A Family Affair Across A Half-Century

Cindy Blaylock remembers first talking about Louisiana’s 2018 bicentennial four years ago.

In reality, she had two role models who likely ingrained the aptitude for community service long ago.

Blaylock is co-chair with Michelle Niedner of the committee that will stage the 200th birthday party June 30 to July 4. Her father, John Sitton, was a member of the group that put on the sesquicentennial celebration in 1968. Her mother, Sue, has a long history of volunteering.

To the many who know the family, the altruism comes as no surprise.

“I love Louisiana,” Blaylock said. “It is my home. My family lives here and I want my kids and grandkids here. Help comes in all shapes and sizes. Simply ‘paying it forward’ in any small way makes us all better for it.”

“I’ve always tried to support the community and be a part of it,” Sitton said. “I remember the drive for the public swimming pool. That was a perfect example of what community is. We realized a vision and made it happen. The same thing could happen today if people would just give a little bit of their time, natural resources and money.”

Blaylock’s first idea was to have the Louisiana Chamber of Commerce sponsor the bicentennial and hold it during the city’s annual two-day Country Colorfest in October. That idea morphed into plans for a five-day summer festival.

Blaylock did not intend to be co-chair, but quickly fell into the role after an initial meeting to discuss activities.

“I have served on the board in organizations over the years, including Colorfest, so I have a little knowledge of planning,” she said. “So, maybe it was just karma?”

Blaylock quizzed her father about how things went 50 years ago.

“I brought out the sesquicentennial souvenir book and was shocked to see so many on the planning committee,” she said. “It actually kind of scared me. I counted over 70 people working on various committees for that celebration. At our first meeting (for 2018 planning) we had 55, so I was excited about that. For the last year, we have had about 15 who have consistently showed up at planning meetings.”

Sitton was serving as an auxiliary police officer and volunteer firefighter in addition to working a full-time job in 1968, and recalls being on the finance committee for that year’s celebration. He saw participation as a way of giving back to the community he loves.

“I do remember that as a businessman in the community, I have always felt an obligation to give back to the people that supported me and my business,” he said. “To this day, I believe that. We would not survive if not for the local community support.”

Blaylock and her sisters, Sherry and Chris, grew up watching their parents get involved. Sitton served with the Elks, the Masons and Louisiana Rotary, and currently is on the Trimble House board. His wife has been on the board of the chamber, Pike County Memorial Hospital, Trimble and First Baptist Church. She also was a Girl Scouts leader.

“I think it must just be in the genes,” Blaylock said.

Though frustrated that more volunteers have not come forward, Blaylock is looking forward to the diverse activities that offer something for just about everyone. She is especially grateful to all of the many donors and contributors.

“I hope that people enjoy and appreciate what we have put together,” she said. “Our very small group of volunteers has raised nearly $40,000 to put this party on.”

Sitton hopes people will take away the same type of great memories he recalls from the 1968 celebration. And while time changes just about everything, one old-time event has caught his eye.

“The resurrection of the beard contest is kind of a testimony to the success of the sesquicentennial,” he said.

So, when the bicentennial ends, will Blaylock start planning for the quartermillenial (250 years) in 2068? Not exactly.

She serves on the chamber board, which sponsors Colorfest, and claims she’s been told by Unified Economic Development Director Maggie Neff that planning for this October starts July 5.

“I’ll likely play a smaller role, though,” she adds. “I’m getting older, slower and wiser.”

Once again, Sitton has advice for his daughter, although it’s something he rarely followed himself.

“Just say no,” he jokingly says.

Destinies To Be Featured In June 30 Bicentennial Parade

Fortitude and expectations will be showcased in the parade that kicks off Louisiana’s 200th anniversary.

Grand marshals are Mary Alice, Clay and Walter Logan and Mayor Marvin Brown. The event is at 10 a.m. Saturday, June 30. It starts at Main and Georgia streets and runs west on Georgia to Louisiana High School.

The Louisiana Bicentennial Committee chose the Logans and Brown as a way of bringing to life the theme of “The Past Looking Forward.”

“We will pay tribute to the past and look toward the future with the kind of optimism that has always driven Louisiana forward,” said Cindy Blaylock committee co-chair with Michelle Niedner. ”We are grateful that we can highlight people who have been such an important part of our history and a city leader who has a vision for bigger and better things.”

Walter Logan said he and his brother have an affinity for history because of Stark Bro’s Nurseries & Orchards Co., which was founded by James Hart Stark in 1816 — two years before Louisiana was formally organized.

Stark brought with him apple tree scions, which Logan said were “grafted onto native crabapple trees growing here.”

The company was an American success story, starting small and growing to become synonymous with apples and other fruits and plants. Cutting-edge ideas led to development of the Red Delicious and Golden Delicious apple varieties.

There were tough times, too, but Logan says downturns can offer lessons for the course of time.

“Whether the hard times were brought about by weather extremes, economic times, political/family turmoil or ill-timed decisions made, the family weathered these storms and persevered,” he said. “This is something we all need to learn from, as it seems to me perseverance is not as commonplace as it once was.”

Stark Bro’s was in the family until 1994, when it was sold to the horticultural catalog company Foster & Gallagher. It was purchased out of bankruptcy from Foster & Gallagher by Cameron Brown and Tim Abair in 2001 and is still one of the nation’s oldest continuous businesses.

The Logans honor their family history, but they also look ahead. Walter Logan finds hope in the city’s unified economic development efforts.

“We need more and varied people involved in community efforts and organizations to provide the wind behind the sails of this new endeavor,” he said. “Without involvement from more, I fear Louisiana will suffer. As the old saying goes ‘If you’re not moving forward, you’re moving backwards.’ Also, those who aren’t involved should not stand in the way of others with negative comments, petty grudges or differences and the ‘I like it just the way it is’ mentality. Let’s all get in the boat and row in the same direction, and we’ll get there much faster.”

That’s where Marvin Brown comes in. Elected in April by just 35 votes over Joey Minor in a campaign that saw 721 ballots cast, Brown immediately unveiled a wide-ranging comprehensive plan that touches upon growth potential in economic development, employment, transportation, housing and architectural landmarks.

“Louisiana has some remarkable assets that can make for a great future,” Brown said. “The river, our crossroads location, active and committed civic groups, historical architecture, our own hospital, good schools and a YMCA that would rival any are just a few of the things we have to build on going forward. The key is bringing people together under a common vision for realizing the potential of our many assets.”

Brown envisions “a community that all citizens look on with pride and appreciation” and one that “people grow up in and want to remain in or return to…and one that attracts new residents, businesses, organizations and institutions who are positive, energetic contributors to our continued growth and improvement.”

The mayor admits the task won’t be easy, but says the comprehensive plan can serve as a guide that “spells out our goals” and the “measurable objectives” to make them a reality.

“It’s a process that will take time and energy and the discipline to keep our eye on the ball, but if we do so, we’re going to make Louisiana the special place that it deserves to be and that we all want,” he said.

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