In true New Iberia fashion, organizers of a ceremony celebrating native daughter Kathleen Babineaux Blanco put on a lively, well-planned and thoughtful tribute to the former governor of Louisiana.
Members of the Teche area community and local dignitaries joined Blanco’s friends and family for the unveiling ceremony of a new historic marker at Bouligny Plaza in downtown New Iberia. Blanco’s mother, 101-year-old Lucille Fremin Babineaux, pulled the veil from the new marker, as proud husband Raymond “Coach” Blanco and her children, grandchildren, aunts, and cousins looked on.
In addition to commemorating her connection to New Iberia and her contributions to the state, the marker reads, “[H]er dying wish was to be remembered, not for her twenty-four years of public service, but for her deep faith in God, her strong commitment to family, and her lifelong love of Louisiana.”
The marker itself was a project of the Iberia Preservation Alliance and was financed by a generous donation from Blanco’s sister Priscilla Cadwell and her husband John Cadwell. The dedication event was attended by Attorney General Jeff Landry, Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser and New Iberia Mayor Freddie DeCourt. “You can see how the community loves her,” Decourt says. Former Louisiana poet laureate Darrell Bourque, who attended University of Southwestern Louisiana with Blanco, read his poem, “The Governance of Power,” which he wrote for the late governor for her funeral in 2019. “Power is a woman fearless of foreign tongues and places and peoples; Power is a woman never hedging when it comes to her God, how she will walk with Him and talk to Him and rest in Him,” he reads.
Another poignant moment was provided by Blanco, herself, when audio of her speaking on her own life and sacrifice was played for the crowd of more than 200. Daughter Karmen Blanco Hartfield says, “I know she is looking down from heaven and is so happy to see us all together.”
Two additions giving the ceremony an especially celebratory feel were Katelyn Gulotta singing a rendition of “You are My Sunshine,” one of Blanco’s favorites, and the Bunk Johnson Brazz Band leading a second-line parade from the ceremony at the Steamboat Pavillion to the marker on Main Street.
The highly successful event was organized by the Iberia Preservation Alliance under the leadership of Cathy Indest, Iberia Cultural Resources Association president, who also served as emcee, Marcia Patout, Teche Museum director, and Patricia Kahle, executive director of Shadows on the Teche.
Plans to honor Blanco continue, according to Patout. In addition to other artifacts from her life and service, Blanco’s desk and chair from her time as governor will be on exhibit in the museum’s new “Doc” Voorhies wing, expected to open in summer of 2022. A statue of Blanco, as well as a hologram- type exhibit are also in the works.
Blanco was a graduate of Mt. Carmel in New Iberia and earned a degree in business education from University of Southwestern Louisiana. She taught at Breaux Bridge High School as a young woman and, after staying home for nearly two decades to raise six children, she began her prolific career in public service, including as a state representative, Public Service commissioner, two terms as lieutenant governor under Governor Mike Foster, and finally as 54th governor of Louisiana in 2004.
Blanco: A Legacy of Firsts
1983 - First state legislator to be elected from Lafayette Parish.
1988 - First woman to be elected to the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
1993 - Served as first female chairperson of the Louisiana Public Service Commission.
1996 - Became the second female lieutenant governor of Louisiana, and first to win reelection to a second term (Melinda Schwegmann, her predecessor in the office, was the first. She resigned to run for governor in 1996).
2004 - Became the first (and so far the only) woman to hold the office of governor in Louisiana.