Rougarou Festival honors exceptional individuals with 2023 awards

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In a vibrant celebration of culture, community, and environmental stewardship, this year’s Rougarou Festival held in Houma, not only brought together locals and visitors alike but also recognized exceptional individuals with the 2023 awards.

The air was thick with excitement as the esteemed Tradition Bearer Award, Woodard Award, Coastal Champion Award, and Volunteer of the Year were presented, honoring those who have demonstrated outstanding dedication to preserving tradition, environmental conservation, and volunteerism. These awards highlighted the extraordinary efforts of individuals who have contributed significantly to the rich tapestry of Louisiana heritage and community spirit.

The 2023 award recipients are as follows:

Tradition Bearer Award

Brunella Luke
Photo by Misty Leigh McElroy

Louisiana Folklife Month recognizes the rich diversity of Louisiana’s living traditions and showcases an array of tradition bearers across the state. A Louisiana Folklife Month Event honoring Tradition Bearer Brunella Luke for her work creating corn shuck dolls was held at the Rougarou Fest on Saturday, October 21, 2023. Luke created and sold corn shuck dolls for Lagniappe on the Bayou, an annual three-day fair held by St. Joseph’s Catholic Church. This volunteer-produced festival ran from 1969-1994 and brought thousands of people from around the world to Chauvin. She is responsible for creating hundreds of different corn shuck doll characters and scenes depicting Cajun culture including harvesting seafood, seafood boils, holiday gatherings, and even the Rougarou! She has done countless demonstrations on how to make these dolls.  Her dolls have been collected by people around the world and can be found as far as England. She retired from making dolls in 2000.

Woodard Award

Nathan Cotten
Photo provided

The Woodard Award recognizes an individual for his or her work to preserve, protect, restore, and educate on coastal Louisiana.  John and Juana Woodard were instrumental in establishing the South Louisiana Wetlands Discovery Center, therefore this award is given in their honor.  This year’s recipient is Nathan Cotten.  Cotten has served as the STEM Curriculum Specialist since 2012 for Terrebonne Parish School District and currently serves on the Louisiana Science Teachers Association (LSTA) board as treasurer.  As a classroom teacher of physics and physical science, he received the Terrebonne Parish District Teacher of the Year and LSTA Outstanding Secondary Science Teacher Awards. As STEM Curriculum Specialist, Nathan supports teachers with the implementation of the science curriculum for grades 3-12 while also managing a few additional initiatives such as the Terrebonne Science and Engineering Fair, LEGO FIRST robotics, eSports and the Terrebonne Aquatic Clinic. Cotten recently was honored with the  Claudia Fowler Distinguished Service to Science Education Award for his career service to science education in Louisiana.  The award was presented at the Rougarou Fest on Sunday, October 22, 2023.

Coastal Champion Award

Lance Nacio
Photo provided

The Coastal Champion Award recognizes a business for its efforts to protect and preserve coastal Louisiana. This year’s recipient is Anna Marie Shrimp.  Owner and shrimper Lance Nacio grew up in Lafourche Parish, about an hour outside New Orleans. His family, like others on the bayou, made a living from the land. They shrimped, trapped, and grew much of what they ate in their own backyard. Anna Marie Shrimp is building a legacy where tradition meets innovation. Lance Nacio’s son, David Nacio is currently captain and situated as the 4th generation fisherman in the family business. The result is leadership which will improve fishing practices, freshness standards, and wildlife sustainability. They believe their efforts will directly help to ensure that Louisiana shrimp will thrive for the next generations of fishermen. Shrimp is not just their industry, it’s a way of life for them. Anna Marie Shrimp, where the best tasting shrimp is born free, caught wild, and delivered fresh. This award was presented at the Rougarou Fest on Sunday, October 22, 2023.

Volunteer of the Year

Maggie Kibodeaux
Photo provided

Maggie Kibodeaux is the chairwoman of the Blackberry Dumpling stand and has been volunteering with the festival since 2013. Not only does Kibodeaux make the blackberry dumplings for the festival, but she also helps peel the fresh caught Louisiana seafood that is used to make the other delicious dishes at the Rougarou Fest. Kibodeaux comes from a long legacy of volunteers.  She is the daughter of Pearl Boudreaux who was the chairwoman of the Blackberry Dumpling stand at Lagniappe on the Bayou in Chauvin.  She also works closely with her daughter, daughter-in-law, granddaughter and family friends to keep the blackberry dumpling booth in operation.  The Rougarou Fest and Wetlands Discovery Center is honored and grateful for the many volunteer hours donated by Mrs. Maggie to ensure a successful and memorable festival.