2013 Cenla-ian of the Year: Laura A. Leach

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June 2013 CoverLaura A. Leach, the recipient of many distinguished awards and accolades throughout several decades, has made not only an impact on Central Louisiana, but throughout the state.  Whether serving for 18 years on the Louisiana State University Board of Supervisors or as the state president of Prevent Child Abuse Louisiana or as the president of the Leesville’s Lion’s Club Auxiliary, Leach exemplifies a life devoted to others.  In recognition of her service, Leach has been named the Cenla-ian of the Year by Cenla Focus magazine and a panel of community leaders.

 

“I was very surprised and very honored to receive this recognition,” says Leach, a principal owner and chairman of the board of directors of Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company in Lake Charles.  The Cenla-ian of the Year award is reserved for a select few who exemplify noteworthy leadership qualities and whose works are community standouts.

 

Leach, with a legacy of “giving back,” is a big proponent of volunteerism.  “I believe you should get involved in your community, wherever you live. You will get back double what you put in,” Leach says, adding that reaching out in service to others yields immeasurable rewards.  In many ways, Leach acknowledges, she learned the art of “giving back” from her husband, Buddy, a former U.S. Congressman and former member of the Louisiana House of Representatives.  “Buddy taught me how to give back and to give of my time. I watched him and how he conducted his life. Buddy is such a statesman and a patriot, and all he ever wanted to do was serve the public,” Leach adds.  The couple will celebrate their 47th wedding anniversary in September. They have three grown children and nine grandchildren.  “God has been very, very good to us,” Leach says.

 

In 1961, Leach graduated from LSU after earning a bachelor’s degree in business administration. She had been a student at LSU when the football team won their first national championship. It was after she moved back to her hometown of Lake Charles and started working for an attorney that she met her future husband. A mutual friend intended to introduce them. At that time, Buddy was serving on the Louisiana Boy Scout Council, and he telephoned Leach to ask her for a date, even before he met her. “Buddy might remember it different than me, but I told him I couldn’t go out that night because I had washed my hair,” laughs Leach, adding that she did go on a date a week later with him. He had sent her a telegram a few days earlier.  “He told me that first night he wanted to go into politics,” she recalls, adding that she was “not sure” how a life in politics would fit into her lifestyle. But two years later, the two were married.

 

The couple raised their three children, Mary, Claude and Lucille, in Leesville. Even as a young mother throughout the ‘60s and ‘70s, Leach served in a variety of community organizations in Vernon Parish. She served as president of Leesville J.C. Jaynes, and as chairman of the American Heart Association. In 1975, Leach was selected as the Outstanding Young Woman of Vernon Parish. Eventually, the Leaches moved back to Lake Charles.

 

A rich family heritage with historical roots planted deep in Southwest Louisiana has marked a pathway for Leach and her family. Leach attributes her grandfather with having the foresight to purchase a vast amount of land in Southwest Louisiana to establish the Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company. With the success of the company, Leach has been able to make significant contributions to a variety of organizations. She has made endowments to the LSU School of Agriculture and to Northwestern State University in Natchitoches.

 

Her business leadership roles at Sweet Lake Land & Oil Company and at North American Land Company have provided a solid foundation for her when she served as chairman of the LSU Board of Supervisors, and currently as LSU Foundation board member. In addition, Leach currently serves on the board of directors of the Cadets of the Ole War Skule, the Lacassane Company, and serves as the chairman for Education First Louisiana. She is also a sustaining member of the Junior League of Lake Charles and a member of the Lake Charles Pi Beta Phi Alumnae Club.

 

Throughout her career, Leach’s service and efforts have been recognized by numerous organizations. In 1995, Leach was honored with the President’s Award by the LSU Foundation, and in 1997, Leach was named the LSU Alumna of the Year. She has received the Best Patron of the Arts Award five times in a Southwest Louisiana Readers Poll and was named the 2001 Woman of Distinction by LSU Women’s & Gender Studies Program.  In 2001, Leach was awarded the Humanitarian Award Family & Counseling Calcasieu Parish, and in 2011 was designated a Louisiana Legend Honoree by Louisiana Public Broadcasting. In addition, she was given the 2011 Civic Service Award by the Chamber Southwest Louisiana and the 2011 Louisiana Pathfinder Award at the Louisiana Women’s Summit.  Another award that brought a big smile to her face was being named the 2010 local “Dancing with the Stars” Champion. She recalls practicing with her dance partner for months for the competition.  “I love to dance, and we danced a jitterbug, a jive dance to ‘In the Loop,’ and we won,” Leach enthuses.

 

She has taken many “good causes” under her wing through the years, and has directed many charitable fundraisers, but Leach has two special endeavors that she is currently involved in that are closest to her heart. She has formed two non-profit organizations. As chairman of Friends of Central School, Leach spearheads fundraising efforts that work towards the preservation of the school building that was built in 1912. The school now houses the Southwest Louisiana Arts & Humanities Center.  “We are having fun with this. Our biggest fundraiser is a haunted house in October. We are selling bricks and benches [for the front plaza],” Leach says.  The building features artist studios and galleries, an auditorium for plays and concerts and non-profit offices.

 

Leach also serves as chairman of Cameron Answers, a non-profit organization created to promote economic developments in Cameron.  “I was disappointed in the lack of help given to Cameron Parish after Hurricane Katrina and Hurricane Rita, which hit Cameron Parish head-on with 200-mile winds. There was so much damage. We thought we were an afterthought,” Leach says.  According to Leach, Cameron Parish is a “jewel” for the state with its abundant seafood industry, hunting opportunities and natural resources of oil and gas.  “We’d like to call the attention to the public as to all Cameron Parish has to offer. There is no better place to go bird watching than Cameron Parish,” Leach notes.  She says the organization hopes to raise the funds to put boardwalks through the marshes and to build a public marina that would promote offshore fishing. Leach says the organization also hopes to educate people on the importance of preserving the state’s coastal lands and wet lands.

 

When she is not working or volunteering to work on a community or civic project, Leach says she finds the time to “check some things off of her bucket list”.  “I always wanted to go to the Kentucky Derby and we just did. It rained and rained, but I loved it, and I wore a big white hat with blue and purple flowers,” Leach says.  “And my husband and I went on a cruise and sailed into the Amazon.  The mouth of the Amazon River is 200 miles wide. It was amazing.”

 

Another recent adventure Leach got to “check off” her bucket list was going to a volcano.  “We got to go to the top of a volcano. We went on a cruise from Greece to Pompeii and went to the top of Mount Etna. She was blowing her stack that day. It was very exciting,” Leach recalls, adding she got to walk over lava rocks.

 

Not a day goes by that Leach says she is not “grateful to the Lord” for her family and all they have been blessed with. And within the next year, she hopes to check off the two last items on her bucket list.  “I want to go to Australia and I want us to go on an African safari. But that’s not to say we won’t add to the bucket list,” she beams.