THE POST-SIGNAL / Steve Bandy
Gwen Hanks, seated, who served as executive director of the Acadia Parish Tourist Commission for 24 years, is presented a wall clock in the shape of the parish by APTC Chair Fran Bihm. Hanks retired as director effective July 1 and was honored at a small reception at the Tourist Center. Looking on is Hanks’ daughter Letisha Carlson.
Honored for service
Twenty-four years of promoting tourism in Acadia Parish were recognized at a small reception Friday morning when members of the Acadia Parish Tourist Commission honored Gwen Hanks, who retired as executive director of the commission on July 1.
A larger retirement reception with commitments from mayors of the various Acadia municipalities, parish officials and even the lieutenant governor’s office had to be scaled down due to the COVID-19 mitigation measures.
“In regard to moving Acadia Parish forward in the tourism industry in the past 24 years, Gwen managed to move the commission office at least three times – usually by herself and in her own vehicle – always in a better location and direction,” said Charlotte Jeffers, former chairman of the commission and long-active in the tourism industry in Crowley.
Actually, the Tourist Commission’s current building at the intersection of Interstate 10 and Tower Road (La. 1111), is the fifth location for Hanks. When she first went to work as director of tourism in the parish in 1996, she was housed in the “Depot Building” with the Crowley Chamber of Commerce on East First Street. From there, she moved into an office in the 400 block of North Parkerson Avenue, then to the Cleco Building then to what is now the bar area at Fezzo’s Seafood and Steak House.
Construction of the permanent building on property donated by the Hoffpauer family was a dream come true for Hanks “and her efficiency in all areas of office management, people skills, marketing and promotion over the last 24 years has contributed to the flourishing development and growth of tourism in Acadia Parish,’ Jeffers said.
“In her own special way, Gwen has guided tourism in Acadia Parish and the Tourist Commission to a bright future with goals in place for an APTC Conference Center and the expansion of accommodations and attractions.”
Fran Bihm, current commission chair, added her congratulations and best wishes before presenting Hanks with a hand-made cypress wall clock in the shape of Acadia Parish, with each of the seven incorporated municipalities marked on the face. An engraved plaque on the back of the clock reads: “Acadia Parish Tourist Commission Board of Directors recognize Mrs. Gwen Hanks, Acadia Parish Tourist Commission Executive Director, July 1, 1996 – July 1, 2019, for her service in the Louisiana tourism industry.”
Bihm also read a resolution from the Louisiana House of Representatives sponsored by Rep. John Stefanski of Crowley.
The resolution notes that, during her tenure, Hanks played an important role in getting Louisiana byways established in Acadia Parish. She was an original member of the Zydeco Cajun Prairie Byway Commission and worked on all of the commission’s major projects, including the first Corridor Management Plan.
“Gwen was the leading source for information used on the commission’s website, and her office took charge of fulfilling any leads generated from the website; she was instrumental in developing brochures and other literature promoting Acadia Parish and helped with the implementation of highway logo signs marking the location of the Louisiana byways,” the resolution reads.
The House of Representatives commended Hanks “on the occasion of her retirement and thanked her for her tireless efforts to provide recognition for the Cajun culture and increased tourism in Acadia Parish.”
“There are many more accolades coming, including from Lieutenant Governor (Billy) Nungesser,” Bihm said. “Unfortunately, they’re not here right now because we had to change the time of this reception, but we will get them to you.
“I just want to say that it has been my pleasure to work with you over the years promoting the parish,” she added. “And I want you to know that we are going to continue to work toward your goal of promoting Acadia Parish as long as we can.”
A clearly emotional Hanks thanked the commissioners for the recognition and honors. “I wish I could hug you all right now,” she said. “And as for this clock, it’s beautiful and I couldn’t have picked anything better myself. Every time I look at it you can be sure that I will be thinking of each of you and all the years that I enjoyed working here.”
Since Hanks’ retirement, Amy Mathiew, executive director assistant, has been handling the day-to-day operations of the Tourist Commission.
“I have really enjoyed my time working with Ms. Gwen,” Mathiew said. “She has taught me so much about tourism and how important it is to serve your community.
“Thank you, Gwen, for your loyal and devoted service to Acadia Parish.”
Paul Broussard, who served as a commissioner for more than 20 years but was unable to attend Friday morning’s event, sent a special message. “I extend my appreciation to Gwen for her many years of devoted service. Her prudent and loyal commitment to advancing the goals of tourism growth for Acadia Parish will not be forgotten.”
In closing, Jeffers reiterated Broussard’s sentiments.
“Gwen’s love for the parish and for the tourism industry, along with her friendly and vibrant personality guaranteed a successful career and resulted in a reputation with tourism industry professionals and visitors that will be remembered for years,” she said.
“It has been my pleasure to have Gwen as a friend and an asset to my 17-year career in tourism. Working, traveling and celebrating Acadia Parish with all we met along the way will always be a cherished memory.”
(Editor’s Note: Charlotte Jeffers died suddenly Sunday night of a reported massive heart attack.)