Gretna’s special events were back in full swing as the Gretna Prayer Dinner celebrated its 27th year. Chairman Val Coles and Co-chair Councilman Jackie Berthelot, who served as Master of Ceremonies, did a great job of arranging the ever-popular event and inviting local philanthropist Gayle Benson as guest speaker.
Gayle Benson crossed the river and came to Gretna! She told her story of her life way before she became the owner of the New Orleans Saints NFL franchise and the NBA Pelicans. A devout Catholic, she described that she found her faith when she was a young girl of twelve.
Born Gayle Marie LaJaunie, she was a Westbanker who grew up in Algiers, and attended St. Joseph, St. Anthony and Holy Name of Mary Catholic Schools. She graduated from Martin Behrman High School in 1966.
Gayle Benson worked in various jobs for a time, in a dental office and as a secretary, until she came to realize that she had a real knack for decorating. There was no support from her family on decorating as a career choice, but she followed her dream and enjoyed a successful career and business for 30 years before she met billionaire tycoon, Tom Benson.
“I went to Mass daily and worked at the (St. Louis) Cathedral,” she said.
While Tom Benson was watching Sunday Mass on television, he was taken with lovely, soft-spoken Gayle who was serving as Lector during the Mass. So smitten was he, that he called the Archbishop and asked for an introduction to her.
They met and shortly after went on their first date to an arena football game, at which she said she had no clue as to what was happening. They dated for four short months before getting engaged, and then married in San Antonio.
“Not surprisingly, Tom picked our wedding date on the Saints bye-week game,” she laughingly said. “He was the most wonderful and kindest man I ever knew.”
“God makes no mistakes. The Lord is guiding me and watching me every day. Being open about our faith often has people who ridicule us.
Without religion or faith, this world would be difficult to be in.”
Combine the Benson visit with the exceptional talent of gospel singer Danielle “Dani” Rudolph, her pianist Katarina Boudreaux, young Sophia Parigi with Louisiana Kids who sang the National Anthem and the evening was a real winner!
Dani Rudolph knew at an early age she wanted to be a professional singer. She began singing at eight in her school choir. She performed solo and her accomplishments earned her the honor to sing live onstage for the Pope’s visit to New Orleans.
Besides singing gospel, Dani has also performed with local bands such as Monster Crawfish, Dreamscape and others. Her love for country music evident, she sings various genres of music and decided to incorporate ballad singing into her country performances.
Dani accomplished her dream by recording two demo CD’s before releasing a complete CD of 10 original songs in 2004 self-titled “When it Rains,” that did well on the New Music Weekly charting.
As the tradition, proceeds from the Gretna Prayer Dinner that is hosted by the Gretna Community Association are donated to a deserving non- profit. This year, the Prayer Dinner Committee did such a fine job of attracting sponsors to support the event that not one, but two awards were presented to two worthwhile youth-oriented entities.
The first $3,000 went to the Dr. Deluca Scholarship at Archbishop Shaw High School. The second $3,000 went to the G.R.I.D. Parent Association at Mel Ott Park.
GCA President Val Coles recognized the memory of Jo Duhe, the founder of the Gretna Prayer Dinner in 1993. “Next to the podium, these beautiful roses are at a place set in memory of Mrs. Jo Duhe. Ms. Jo began this prayer dinner 27 years ago. Last June 16, she passed away. Please remember her and her family in your prayers. Ms. Jo did much good for our community. We will certainly miss her,” Val Coles said.
Gretna Police Presented the Colors, James Rogers, Commander of John McDonogh VFW Post 3121 led the Pledge of Allegiance, Pastor Chip Radke said the Invocation and Fr/ Louis Molinelli, Archbishop Shaw High School ended with the Benediction.
Scriptures were read by members of the community including “Old Testament,” Les Lowery, Optimist Club; “Psalm,” Katie Liljeberg, Committee Member; “New Testament,” Paul Coles, Society of St. Vincent de Paul; “Community Leaders,” Benjamin Wright, Good Hope Baptist Church; “Business & Economy,” Kevin Avery, Gretna Economic Development Association; and “Residents,” Teddy Marshall, Thompson’s Temple.
The delicious pasta-laya and trimmings were prepared and served at the Mel Ott Multipurpose Center by co-sponsor of the event, St. Cletus Knights of Columbus Council 8615.