In 1998, an up and coming British author by the name of Jo was busy publishing the first sequel in her new series, having introduced the world to a boy wizard named Harry Potter. That same year, in California, a tech start-up with a funny name was born with the goal of putting the internet at everyone’s fingertips, and the world was introduced to Google. In the late summer of 1998, Central Louisiana was introduced to a brand new Community Lifestyle/Business Journal when the first issue of Cenla Focus rolled off the press and onto stands.
The magazine was established by our Publisher and Founder, Willie Harp who developed the idea after having visited numerous cities around the region with similar publications. “There was nothing like it in our area,” Willie recalls. “Central Louisiana has a vibrant arts community, is the heart of Sportsman’s Paradise, and has a well earned reputation as a great place to both raise a family, and also to retire,” he explains. “We set out to be the community cheerleader, and from day one, there has been no shortage of good news to share far and wide.”
Volume 1, Issue 1 was a slim and trim 20 pages, with a full color front cover and black and white interior. “From the start, we set out to introduce this new, local product and to earn the support of the business community,” says Willie. “As a Cenla-ian, born and raised, I believe it gave me a strong foundation to demonstrate that we were in this for the long haul.”
The cover story for that first issue featured a profile of newly installed Rapides Parish School Board Superintendent Dr. Patsy Jenkins, with a cover photo of Dr. Jenkins outside the school board office shot by Jason Woody. With the success of the first issue, the magazine set forth to publish on a semi-monthly schedule. The second issue hit stands in September 1998. The issue highlighted the arrival of a brand new expansion team for the Western Professional Hockey League to Cenla. The Alexandria Warthogs took to the ice for the first time on October 24th at the Rapides Parish Coliseum. Nearly 14 years later, the Coliseum was again in the spotlight in the October 2012 cover story as plans were unveiled to renovate and update the aging facility.
None of our success would be possible without the support of our advertising partners, some of whom have been with us from the very beginning. “We depended on the business community to take a bit of a chance on a new venture,” Willie recalls, “and I am forever grateful to the group of companies and business owners who made placements in our premier issue.” That list included well known current leaders in Cenla business like Walker Automotive, Rapides Regional Medical Center, the Junior League of Alexandria, Panaroma Foods, Hixson Autoplex, Jerry Lee Fine Menswear, the YWCA and more. In addition, the magazine also boasted placements from Cenla institutions from years gone by, including Florita’s women’s apparel, Wet Pets and Dry Ones, Too and Hibernia Bank. “We are proud that our advertising rates have not gone up a single cent since our first issue,” explains Willie proudly. “What else can you buy today for the same price as in 1998? With that kind of stability and an expansive 13 parish coverage area, we’re proud of the fact that advertising in Cenla Focus continues to be a better value than ever!”
In the ensuing two decades, much in life has changed, and Cenla Focus is no exception. The magazine has been honored with several awards throughout the years for accomplishments in graphic design and community involvement. “We’ve tried to set a high bar for ourselves with each passing issue, and our fantastic team has consistently exceeded even our expectations,” says Willie. A large amount of credit is due to our longest standing contributors. Any conversation about contributors to Cenla Focus must start with Dr. Henry Blount. As faithful readers know, Dr. Blount has served as the author of the Faith Focus since the very first issue. “He is one of the very best friends of the magazine as well as our very first contributor,” explains Willie. “A great man of faith, he always has encouraging and positive insights to share with our readers each month.” Likewise, Gray Easterling has provided invaluable financial insights to Cenla Focus readers, with his first article appearing in Issue 2. Gray, a financial advisor at Financial Solutions Group in Alexandria, has faithfully kept readers apprised of the very latest trends in investment, college and retirement savings, closing each of his articles with an inspiring message—providing both a bit of sound financial and spiritual advice in each issue.
Faithful readers will fondly remember longtime Art Focus contributor and professor of Fine Arts at LSUA, the late Roy DeVille. Professor DeVille shared his passion and encyclopedic knowledge of fine arts history, technique and critique for over a decade. He took readers on a journey through the works of the masters, and introduced them to the “thin places” that have inspired artists for generations, himself included. Professor DeVille passed away in November 2014, less than a month after penning his final article for Cenla Focus.
Each issue is a collaborative effort of dedicated contributors, graphic artists, administrative and delivery staff. The team is led by Editor and Chief of Staff Will Harp, Jr., who has been involved with the magazine since its inception. Lead graphic designer Vickie Cofer has put her personal touch on every issue for over a decade. Formerly serving as Managing Editor, Brit Herrin continues to provide outstanding graphic design work. Likewise, Micah Touchet and his team at NewBirth Creative have been invaluable partners through their efforts as graphic artists, web designers and webmasters. Over the years, Holly Jo Linzay has penned some of the most memorable cover stories and interviewed hundreds of people in her work as contributing assignments writer. Once the creative team’s work is complete and the ink is dry, a dedicated team sets to work. Paul Manneman and Steve Piercy work through the heat, rain, cold and more to ensure each rack location gets filled every month. As a free publication, none of this is possible without our team of advertising executives and administrative support team. Mark Hoosier and Dan Diefenderfer put years of advertising experience to work for their clients each month, and Lorie Robinson continues her years of dedicated efforts in the office. These are just a few of the numerous people who have and continue to work so hard to make each issue of Cenla Focus a reality.
During the early years, the magazine grew steadily and significantly in both size and scope, bolstered by a growing number of favorite recurring features. The Entertainment Focus in each issue is anchored by the popular monthly events calendar, a one-stop for Arts, Music, Theatre, Dance and Events for the entire month. Originally a standalone magazine, Cenla Sportsman covers everything from football, baseball and basketball to the best hunting, fishing and outdoor opportunities around. The Cenla Sportsman section still highlights the best of all things sports in each issue of Cenla Focus. The Cenla Medical Focus was developed as a feature section as the definitive resource for expert articles from medical providers and treatment options available in Central Louisiana.
Have you ever been in Focus? It’s no secret many read each issue back-to-front. The ever-popular picture pages have been a cornerstone of the magazine since the very beginning. In fact, the About Town and Focus Faces pages are so popular, they spawned a stand-alone tabletop collectors edition in 2009. A limited number of the picture books have been released as part of the 20th Issue celebrations and are available by calling the Cenla Focus office.
By 2005, the semi-monthly magazine was bursting at the seams. “In August 2005, we asked our advertising partners and readers to take another leap of faith with us as we doubled our print frequency,” recalls Willie. Cenla Focus has printed in the first week of each month ever since. In that time, the magazine has sought to innovate new ways to recognize the outstanding achievements of individuals and businesses in the area. To that end, the editorial board of Cenla Focus honored the late Roy O. Martin II as its first “Cenla-ian” of the year in 2006. Since that time, eleven individuals have been recognized for their lifetime achievements and contributions to our community. Honorees include the late Joann White, and later her husband, Paul, as the first husband and wife to be honored, and most recently, Harry Silver—the first two-time Cenla-ian of the Year. Community leaders like White, Silver, Scott Brame, Laura Leach, Michael Jenkins and Eleanor Gremillion continue the legacy of Mrs. White, Dr. H. Rouse Caffey, Joy Hodges, and Fran Davis, whose contributions continue to live on.
It is said that imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, and Cenla Focus is proud to boast the oldest continuously bestowed community recognition awards. Since 2006, the Best of Cenla Readers Choice awards have been presented each summer based on the votes of you, our readers. For twelve years and counting, businesses and individuals all across Cenla have proudly displayed their awards. Most recently, the Best of Cenla moved to an online voting format with more choices and the best voter turnout ever!
From the very first issue ever published, to covering the Heart of Spain art exhibit, honoring the contributions of our first responders and military heroes to highlighting the vibrant and varied culture and cuisine in our area, Cenla Focus has become an institution in its own right. “The community has embraced this magazine beyond even my wildest expectations,” says Willie. “We are excited about the future.” Embracing the next generation of technology, full editions of the magazine are now online at the brand new CenlaFocus.com. Anywhere you can find an internet connection, you can digitally “turn” the pages of each magazine on your pdf-enabled device. People all over the world—whether originally from Cenla, visitors or those looking to relocate—are now able to keep up with the news here at home. Don’t worry, the print magazine you know and love is here to stay! “We are excited about new innovations that will continue to roll out this year…so stay tuned!”
To our readers, contributors, advertising partners and community, thank you for your support. We look forward to the next twenty years of keeping Cenla in Focus!