The SELHA experienced an exciting 2008 with the initiation of new programs, along
with the continuation of old ones. The year started with our annual membership drive. During
that period we urged members to sign up for another stint with the organization and
hinted at the revival of a regional scholarly journal.
Membership in the organization soon reached an all time high with many old friends returning and many new ones joining for the first time. Next came the announcement that our spring 2008 dinner/lecture event would feature nationally known scholar Dr. Jon Kukla, author of the critically acclaimed book A Wilderness So Immense: The Louisiana Purchase and the Destiny of America . To house its growing membership, the organization's executive committee scheduled its meeting at the historic Columbia Theater.
At the April 17 event, the department of history also recognized two of Southeastern Louisiana University's most beloved historians, Dr. Michael Kurtz for his service as a faculty member and as Dean of the Graduate School and Dr. Roman Heleniak for his service as a faculty member, Department Head, and as a Scholar in Residence in the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies. The moving ceremony culminated with the awarding of certificates to the honored guests. Kukla's engaging presentation followed by the usual food and libations, served as the perfect ending for a perfect evening.
The pending retirement of Southeast Louisiana Historical Association President Dr. Roman Heleniak placed the organization's annual events on hold. During
this brief hiatus, the group reorganized and reinvented itself to even better serve
the needs of the region.
Launching the new “SELHA” took place at the unveiling of the Center's latest exhibit consisting in part of a photographic display titled “100 years 100 photographs,” on loan from the Varnado Store Museum in Franklinton. The pictorial exhibit underwritten by a grant from the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities revealed the centrality of the railroad in the development of Washington Parish.
In conjunction with the photographic display, the Center staff organized a corollary exhibit that highlighted the growth and influence of the railroad in Tangipahoa Parish. The Center showcased a wide array of railroad related artifacts and paraphernalia many of which are from the Judge Leon Ford, III Collection. Whether rail-fan, local historian, or just curious, the Center's new exhibit offered something for everyone.
A meeting of the Southeast Louisiana Historical Association coincided with the exhibit's opening. Dr. Keith Finley, Interregnum Head of the Organization, opened the meeting by introducing the group's new President Dr. Clark Forrest, a long time member and former director of the SELHA.
Dr. Forrest informed the crowd of many new plans for the organization. It was released that the historical association would once again publish a refereed scholarly journal accessible to both scholars and amateur historians that will offer a multi-disciplinary examination of the Florida Parishes.
Southeast Louisiana Historical Association functions always promise good food, good
times, and more often than not, good scholarship. As the Spring 2006 meeting approached,
the organization's leadership debated potential speakers. Graduate students and faculty
members conducting research in regional history were all considered. A short list
of names slowly took shape and a date-27 April--was selected.
At the same time preparations were being made, the Center's EPA funded film neared completion. It would be ready in time for a showing at the SELHA gathering. Organization President, Roman Heleniak promptly shifted the evening's focus and embraced the notion of premiering the film titled, “The Manchac Swamp: Man-made Disaster in Search of Resolution” at the spring meeting.
As a new plan emerged, it became necessary to make the event's festivities less formal to ensure that adequate chairs were available for the larger than normal crowd expected. Organization members were honored that the important film would have its first public showing at their event. The crowd, which was the largest gathering of the Association in a decade, was treated to the premier of the Mancha Swamp film.
Two years previous the Center for Southeast Louisiana Studies had received a $63,000 grant from the Environmental Protection Agency to write a narrative and to produce a documentary film highlighting the long-term consequences of human habitation in the northern and western Pontchartrain basin. This film was the culmination of this major project. The crowd was not disappointed the production highlighted the causal chain that precipitated the ravaging of the Manchac Swamp, an area that many of our members have cherished since childhood.
Guests at this meeting dined on a variety of delicious foods that included po-boy sandwiches from the "Crazy Pig," jambalaya from "Jambalaya Company" and Hungarian pastries from the "Old World Bakery." The History Honor Society, Phi Alpha Theta, also inducted its new members at the event. It proved a fitting venue for welcoming new scholars into the fold.
"The Manchac Swamp: Manmade Disaster in Search of a Resolution" has since been selected to appear in the New York International Film Festival on 17 September 2006 and aired statewide on Louisiana Public Broadcasting 3 September 2006.
For the Winter meeting on December 14, 2005, food, spirits, and frivolity once again prevailed as SELHA members visited with old friends and made new ones over a hearty assortment of barbequed items compliments of Wilbert's of Covington.
On May 25, 2005, former Southeastern graduate student and current Washington Parish public school teacher, Ms. Dera Talley provided SELHA members with a memorable dinner lecture. Her comments on the development of the Washington Parish Fair clearly moved many in the crowd who remembered their past, pleasant experiences at what the events' coordinators call America's “largest free fair.”
Complimenting Ms. Talley's remarks was a sumptuous spread that included abnormally large cuts of homemade roast beef prepared by then SELHA President, Dr. Roman Heleniak.