Stephanie Baudot is what Marcia Patout, director of the Bayou Teche Museum, calls a “boomerang” because she lived in New Iberia as a child and has come back. In 1976, Stephanie’s family moved to Slidell. She spent her high school years there. After high school, she came back and worked at Abdalla’s for a while before returning to the New Orleans area. Living in St. Tammany Parish, she married and raised two children, a boy and a girl, who were born 15 months apart.
After high school, Stephanie was terrified to go to college because she knew something was wrong. She had an undiagnosed learning disability. When her marriage ended, she went to college at Southeastern at the same time as her children. She jumped into a new program in cultural resource management that covered art history, museums, and management. Stephanie worked as an intern at the Historic New Orleans collection in the French Quarter and knew this kind of work was a good fit. However, life events got in the way of her pursuing a career.
Stephanie suffers from an anxiety disorder. In 1990, all of a sudden “I didn’t want to leave the house. I was terrified. I’ve always been a woman of faith, and I knew that there was a reason for it.” Three weeks into it, she read an article in the paper about agoraphobia, so she reached out for help. Agoraphobia is defined by Healthline as a type of anxiety disorder that causes people to avoid places and situations that might cause them to feel trapped or helpless.
Years of work have helped her move beyond her anxiety and her learning disability. “I know now how to calm myself. It’s taken years to get to where I am now.”
In 2012, Stephanie came to New Iberia for the Sugar Cane Festival with friends and reconnected with her high school sweetheart, Avery Munson. Avery lived in Houston and Stephanie in Slidell, so they had a long distance relationship for years. In 2017, Stephanie moved back to New Iberia, and she and Avery are now living together as committed partners.
Marcia Patout at the Bayou Teche Museum asked Stephanie to work as an associate for the museum. This is Stephanie’s first job in her field. The Bayou Teche Museum allows her to work behind the scenes. Currently she is organizing the Smithsonian exhibit Water / Ways.
“What does water mean? The artist side of me thought of how water affects the visual and the performing arts, so that is the route we are going with this exhibit.” There are plans for presentations with local artists and poets.
“I’ve got to do something about trash and littering. I’m not sure how to do it.” Stephanie chuckled and said that in 1975 she was ticketed for littering. “It was all very innocent. I was at Freshman High and it was field day, so we all piled in an older sister’s car. Some boys were following us too closely. I intended to throw ice on their car and the cup flew out of my hands.”
Stephanie is disgusted by the trash she has witnessed in front of her home on Main Street. “One day someone dumped a carseat that a child threw up in. We have witnessed plate lunches out the window.” Stephanie can’t bear that this is acceptable. “I want better for our community.”
At age 60, Stephanie wants to find more joy and meaning in her life. “I love the culture of this small town.” New Iberia is a place where Stephanie has roots and feels the embrace of a culture that celebrates its history.
MARGARET SIMON is an elementary teacher of gifted students in Iberia Parish. She writes a blog regularly at reflectionsontheteche.com.