When the Vermilion Chamber of Commerce began, the Roaring Twenties were just getting underway. One century later, the Chamber remains a resounding voice for Vermilion Parish.

Members from around the parish gathered Thursday night to reflect on 100 years during a Centennial Celebration and Awards Banquet held at Magdalen Place in Abbeville.

“You only get to celebrate 100 once,” said Megan Landry-Lalande, who will serve as the Centennial President in 2020.

Since its inception, the Chamber has played an important role in the parish’s growth. It had a hand in the creation of what are now the Louisiana Cattle Festival, formerly the Dairy Festival in 1949, the Giant Omelette Celebration and countless other events. During his tenure as Chamber President in 1979, John T. Landry set the foundation for what is now Palmetto Island State Park, which opened in 2010. The Chamber played a role in the development of the Teche-Vermilion Freshwater District’s creation in 1970, and successful property tax renewal in ‘19, as well as countless other initiatives over the years.

While those are only a few of the highlights, each president has had an impact during his or her time. Many of those who held the leadership position attended Thursday night, being recognized during the Parade of Presidents. Those honored included Charlie Sonnier (1977, ‘78), John T. Landry (1978, ‘79), Gene Sellers (1982, ‘83), Fred Hoyt (1983, ‘84), Allen LaBry (1990), Dr. Gordy Landry (1991), Dexter Duhon (1996), Mark Piazza (1997), Suzanne Jones (2004), Bert Istre (2005), Lloyd Dore III (2006), Paul Bourgeois Jr. (2008), Ray “Trey” Dugal III (2010), Bertha Mire (2013), Ben Rivera (2014), Sammy Frioux (2015), Dr. Anita Carrere (2016), Ross Comeaux (2017) and John Suire (2018).

The chamber also recognized outgoing president, Thomas Thompson. The current president recognized the significance of seeing the line of former leaders in the same room Thursday night.

“That is the most presidents we have had in one room,” Lalande said. “We can’t find minutes to support anything other that. Thank you all for your legacy. Thank you all for your contributions. Thank you all for your initiatives.

“There are big shoes to fill.”

Sonnier, whose father Emery Sonnier was a member of the chamber who helped elevate the organization, said he appreciated what Thursday night meant.

“To be able to be here and celebrate this,” Sonnier said, “and to still be a part of (the Chamber), is just a fabulous thing.

John T. Landry, whose father-in-law Young Broussard had a positive impact on Chamber’s history, agreed with Sonnier.

“We tried to carry on the tradition,” Landry said. “It’s unbelievable to be able to see this today. My year as the president of the Chamber was one of the highlights of my life.

“It was a big deal and we were really fired up.”
Landry said he sees that same fire in today’s leadership.

“It’s encouraging to see someone like (Lalande) on fire,” Landry said. “I absolutely think things are in good hands.”

Think is the key word for how Lalande plans to kick off the Chamber’s next 100 years. The theme for 2020 is “Think Vermilion.”

“In our actions and our inactions,” Lalande asked, “are we thinking about Vermilion? As local business owners? As servant leaders? As employees? As community builders? Are we thinking individually, or are we thinking organizationally?”

Lalande said the answer is thinking of Vermilion, as a whole, united body.
“We’re all intertwined,” Lalande said. “Our businesses and our customers need one another. Our organizations need our community support. Our communities need a lot of our organizations, and the great things that they provide to them.

“We’re growing our parish.”

Lalande issued a challenge to help continue that mission.

“As business owners,” Lalande said, “encourage leadership and community service and think about how it can help the community.

“Think Vermilion.”

Originally published in the Gueydan Journal, 2/02/20