Chamber of Commerce presents awards at banquet
St. Mary Chamber of Commerce members awarded local groups and individuals with achievement presentations Thursday during its annual banquet at Cypress Bayou Casino.
The Virginia Tyler Guillotte Award was presented by Jessie Breaux, chamber board member, to Al Kuhlman, owner of the Best Western Forest Inn and Restaurant.
The Virginia Tyler Guillotte Award recognizes an individual that stands ready to accept any challenge to improve the quality of life in St. Mary Parish, Breaux explained. “The recipient eagerly accepts any challenge and has the unique talent of motivating others. This person recognizes the importance of building a strong and viable business community,” Breaux said. “No challenge is too small for this person. And once a challenge is accepted, this honoree completes it successfully and expects no personal gratification. Each project is completed in a total spirit of giving a little something back to the community. This recipient is a rare gift to our business community and serves as a role model for each of us.”
Kuhlman was born in 1946 in Franklin to Albert and Virginia Kuhlman, one of the first war babies to arrive after World War II. He attended the public school system in Franklin, and graduated from Franklin High in 1964. He attended and graduated from the University of Southwestern Louisiana, receiving a bachelor of science degree in economics and finance. He married his wife of 45 years, Charlene. Their marriage was blessed with two children, Gretchen Kuhlman Luke and Marc Kuhlman. Marc is married to the former Bethany Simoneaux.
Al joined the family business in 1967 and immediately began his career in the food industry, joining the kitchen staff in developing many time tested recipes. In 1972 his family hotel joined the Best Western chain, where he remains a franchise holder. As a Best Western hotel operator, he is active in the chain, having assisted in bringing in many new properties to the company.
The Forest Restaurant is the home of many various Chamber of Commerce and civic functions. During his career he has accepted many civic minded challenges, including with the Chamber of Commerce and tourist commissions.
He served on the first tourist commission in the Franklin area, the Lower Bayou Teche Tourist Commission. This commission began preparing west St Mary to greet tourists for the world’s fair held in New Orleans in 1984. He accepted the challenge of a parish wide merger, where the east and west joined together to form the Cajun Coast Tourist Commission, where he still serves today, representing Franklin and west St. Mary Parish. He was the driving force to get the Franklin office of the Cajun Coast opened and this office remains on U.S. 90 to welcome visitors.
Kuhlman was involved in the committee that explored the task to get an 18-hole golf course built in St. Mary Parish, where he gave of his time for many years in the effort that resulted in the Atchafalaya Golf Course being opened in 2005. He continues to give of his time in an effort to keep this fine facility opened to the public.
For many years he has been involved in the Krewe of Sucrose, having been honored as the king of Mardi Gras in Franklin in 1987. He has catered for every king of Sucrose and their ball since 1971.
He also serves as chairman of trustees for the First United Methodist Church of Franklin, a church he has been a member of all his life. He is a dedicated musician, playing the piano and organ and singing in the choir. It is his belief that God gave him a blessed life, a great family and a committed group of long term employees. For this reason he remains dedicated to his family, the community and his business.
Nonprofit of the Year was presented to St. Mary Community Action Agency by Jeremy Callais, past chairman of the chamber board.
Callais said the award is designed to recognize the outstanding contributions of a nonprofit organization whose mission is to promote strong community involvement, and to foster the growth of business quality and community leadership through its programs.
St. Mary/Vermilion CAA began with only two programs — Head Start and Community Organization. In the ensuing years, the agency has grown tremendously, and currently operates 42 human service programs throughout its geographic target area. These programs include Head Start, LIHEAP Utility Assistance, CSBG, CCFP, weatherization, housing counseling, Operation Jumpstart business classes, emergency shelter, summer nutrition program, Food for Families, Medicaid enrollment, medical transportation, elderly feeding, STEPS transportation, GED, 5311 transportation and Job Access. The largest program, both in numbers served and financial resources, continues to be Head Start.
St. Mary/Vermilion CAA Head Start’s nationally recognized reputation derives from the magnitude of work that the agency has accomplished in 46 years under the impeccable leadership of CEO Almetra J. Franklin and the board of directors. Innovative programs implemented throughout the years have paved the way for families to maintain a sense of normalcy while achieving sustainable and vibrant lives. Programs such as Free to Grow, Welfare to Work and Fatherhood Initiative have instilled a sense of pride and determination in parents whose only wish is to make life better for their children.
The agency has created many innovative projects designed to strengthen the functioning of families and children. St. Mary/Vermillion CAA Head Start was the only grantee in the state of Louisiana selected to participate in the Vanderbilt University MiHow Program. The Head Start program was also one of a very few programs nationwide to have a partnership with a public housing authority to have a free center in their facility for a number of years. The agency also built several new Head Start centers, and developed relationships with three recreation centers where they are able to utilize the facilities for the program.
Other accomplishments include a HUD grant to develop best practices for multi-family housing; recognition as a Certified Housing Counseling Agency; recognition by the National Head Start Association as an outstanding grantee; and two Dollar General Literacy grants. The agency is also recognized as a Certified Community Housing Development Organization and has constructed a 15-unit single-family home subdivision. St. Mary CAA maintains and operates 20 facilities, which include 15 Head Start Centers, two Central Office locations (one in Vermilion and one in St. Mary Parish), and two Neighborhood Service Centers.
St. Mary CAA’s current programs, such as the Community Foundation of Acadiana’s grant to assist displaced BP Oil Spill workers; the Culinary Institute where persons can learn cooking skills; and Pennies for Preschoolers, which is an educational tool used to teach Head Start children how to save their money for their future, enhance the lives and sustainability of families throughout St. Mary and Vermilion Parishes.
The Citizen of the Year Award was presented to St. Mary Parish President Paul Naquin by Frank Fink, board member, who explained that the award goes to, “A citizen in St. Mary Parish who over a period of time has consistently demonstrated excellence in professional and community leadership; has made, or is making, significant contributions to the welfare of the community through involvement and participation and has given freely of their time and energy for community betterment.”
Naquin is a life-long resident of St. Mary Parish, residing in Baldwin for the past 54 years. He has been married to the former Sandra Biggs for the past 50 years. They have three sons Paul III, John and Ladd. He also has seven grandchildren, Kevin, Kassie, Morgan, Kade, Hunter, Luke and Isabella. He retired from Texaco after 32 years.
Naquin is in his 13th term serving on the Louisiana Police Jurors Association Executive Board and is currently serving as the immediate past president.
He served eight years representing District 2 as a single member parish councilman and six years as an at-large member representing District 9 on the St. Mary Parish Council.
Naquin was elected April 1, 2006, to the office of St. Mary Parish president and was re-elected in 2011 for another term.
He is a board member of the Acadiana Regional Development District, the St. Mary and Vermilion Community Action Agency, the Atchafalaya Basin Research and Promotion Board and the Louisiana Emergency Response Commission. He was on the St. Mary Parish School Board for 11 years.
Naquin is an active supporter of St. Mary Parish Council on Aging, the Elderly Citizens Neighborhood Feeding Program and AARP.
He has been a vital supporter of the Keep St. Mary Beautiful Program and has dedicated himself to support existing business and industry, the expansion of business and industry and the recruitment of new business and industry into St. Mary Parish. He continues to attend all local government and civic organization meetings and events as a means to provide support and leadership to the Parish.
Business of the Year was awarded to Mark Tool and Rubber by Chamber board chairman Jason Bailey.
Bailey said the Business of the Year Award goes to a business in St. Mary Parish who, over a period of time, has endured the changing economy and still consistently demonstrates a commitment to the community through involvement and participation and has given freely of their time and energy for community betterment.
The company was established in 1954 as Mark Tool Co. It earned an excellent reputation in the down hole cutting tool service. In 1969 it became Mark Tool & Rubber Co Inc. with the application of rubber coating blast joints and Splashtron pipeline coating. The company became the leader in splash zone protection because it took a comprehensive approach to developing the ultimate product for splash zone protection. The vision was to have strong commitment to provide quality products and outstanding customer service and continually expand the company’s abilities with innovative technology, knowledgeable personnel and excellent service.
Today Mark Tool & Rubber Co. Inc. is a family owned and operated business. Owner and President Bill L. Moore and wife Linda B. Moore, Controller Shree M. Hebert and Plant Manager Jerome Hebert, with the help from all of its employees, have expanded into lots of other products such as molded rubber products, rubber rollers, cast urethane products and custom coatings like Mark Guard epoxy and UreGuard urethane top coat, used for corrosion protection for the oil and gas industry.
In 2008 they also opened an in-house machine shop where they specialize in elastomeric roller machining and grounding, mold and die fabricating, and manufacturing of parts for the oil and gas industry worldwide. This modern facility is equipped with the most up to date equipment available to supply machining needs. Total capabilities include machining, sawing CNC plasma cutting and weld fabrication, allowing the company to give excellent service at competitive prices..
The company is involved with the Franklin and Morgan City Lions Clubs. They have five employees that are active members of the Franklin Lions Club. The employees help with Cubsight in St. Mary Parish Schools and Head Starts. They also help with various fundraisers for the club the biggest being the annual Radio Auction.
Mark Tool & Rubber and Mark Machine Shop supports the local schools’ livestock program by buying exhibitors swine and sheep in 4-H and FFA. They sponsor local livestock shows and awards in the community. They are also a sponsor of Barnyard Day at Franklin High School where all the parish schools go to learn about livestock.
Mark Tool also helped to begin the Boys and Girls Club of the Bayou Teche Region started and volunteered time and equipment.
They support the Brittany’s Project along with supporting all local schools and their fundraisers.