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WEST: What an unexpected blessing this past year has been

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Associate Editor Elizabeth West

One year ago I embarked on a journey that I never saw coming, but a year later I realize what an unexpected blessing my job at the Ville Platte Gazette has been.
I love people, politics, history, and adventure; and this job has allowed me to experience all of the above.
From meeting the now Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards during my first month on the job to climbing 70 feet off the ground on Evangeline Parish Fire District #2’s fire truck to having lunch with Louisiana’s Lieutenant Governor Billy Nungesser, it has been a non-stop year of doing things I only ever could have dreamt of doing.
When it comes to the people I have met, they have all been nothing short of inspiring.
From 97-year old World War II Veteran Woodrow King to 18-year old Sophie Gil who suffered a cancerous brain tumor at the age of 15, each person’s story has been special to me.
I’ve learned from the many people I have met, mostly in my home parish of Evangeline, what it really means to live, and how blessed my life has truly been.
Another person that I have been fortunate enough to become close with because of my job is Barry Giglio.
He made Evangeline his home after Hurricane Katrina forced him out of Plaquemines Parish.
In the midst of living high on the hog as the owner of the world famous Pig Stand Restaurant, Gig, as I like to call him, lost it all for a second time. But, this go around it wasn’t due to the weather.
Gig was accused of committing heinous crimes, that a grand jury later found there was no evidence to prove he had been guilty of.
His life is less glamorous than before and some people still judge, but you’ll never see him not wearing a smile, even after all he has been through. The smirk isn’t sarcasm either. He really is just that happy, because as a survivor, he realizes that there are always better things to come.
This year has also brought me my first real glimpse into politics, and I’ve learned that you’ll always hear more bad than good about politicians, but it’s usually because the good stuff isn’t as fun to gossip about.
From watching my dad Quint West, who is a Pine Prairie Councilman, work to unstop ditches that were overflowing after a big rainfall to listening to Turkey Creek Mayor Heather Cloud speak to state senators and representatives about fixing our roads, I have realized there is more good than bad that actually takes place.
I attended an event that Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine was receiving an award at in Lafayette last January, and do you know that the mayor followed me all the way home to Pine Prairie that night to ensure that I made it safely to my house.
That left me completely blown away. That’s the real person that exist behind the sometimes uncalled for negative things people say.
With the hopes of being a politician myself one day, I admire the mayor’s enthusiasm, and her focus on making our youth today the next great generation.
During this year, I also experienced covering my first murder trial, and it was in Judge Chuck West’s courtroom. I only thought I was prepared for what I was about to encounter.
I watched a 22-year old throw his life away for drugs, which ultimately led to him beating his 81-year old grandmother until she was dead. As the defendant took the stand, I couldn’t hold back the tears.
I cried so much in that courtroom you would have sworn I was a part of the family. By the end of the trial, after the guilty verdict had been read, the Judge was calling to check up on me. That’s a person with a kind heart.
Along with his kindness, I have also always witnessed Judge West being fair, which has helped restore my faith in parts of our justice system.
He has played a crucial role in my understanding of the legal system, because the man is brilliant. Always testing my mind, he has become a great friend and mentor.
And then there is Bryan Vidrine, who I have more than once taken pictures of stop signs that were down or missing in his district and sent them to him, and you better believe he has always done everything he could to fix the problem immediately.
As a politician, he possesses many qualities that I hope to possess myself one day.
He will always return your call, and if you ever have a question that he doesn’t already have the answer to, he is going to make it his mission to find the answer for you.
Bryan, I have realized, will always stand up for what he genuinely believes is right for not only the constituents in his district, but every person in this parish.
This journey has also been one that has allowed me to dive deep into the history of my home parish and family.
I have been able to read about my ancestors in Gazette’s from the past.
In the 1939 book of old Gazette’s, I was able to read through the play by play action of my great-great-grandfather Theophilus Messer’s murder trial that happened right here in Evangeline Parish.
Theophilus lived in Meridian, which was a community just outside of Turkey Creek that was destroyed by fire years ago.
It was there that he raised his family, and worked cutting timber on what he claimed was his land.
The story in my family has always been that Crowell Spencer Lumber Company began cutting timber on Theophilus’ land, so he told them if they came back he would kill them. The next day when the men returned, Theophilus stayed true to his promise by shooting and killing the lumber companies foreman Leroy Barmore.
I have always heard the story from my dad, but to get to read about it in the newspaper and see a picture of all of the key players has been a completely different but amazing experience.
That history is preserved forever in our newspaper, and I have always felt so lucky that my publisher Mr. David entrusted me with the task of continuing to preserve our local history.
As year one comes to a close, I can’t wait to see all of the good things year two is sure to bring.

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