Parker Layrisson's Letter to the Editor on Hidden Treasures Session
Leadership Tangipahoa is an excellent educational program that tours the parish exposing participants to important aspects of local life: government, economic development, education, health care, etc. Recently, the topic of our monthly tour was "hidden treasures" presented by John Dardis and the lovely ladies of Tangi Tourism, Betty Stewart and Emily McNeely.
Tangipahoa Parish offers a rich, wonderful world beyond popular headliner events like the Strawberry Festival, Blues & BBQ, and Old Farmers Day. For example, Independence offers Amato's, a full-service winery that produces delicious strawberry, muscadine, and blackberry wine. Hammond presents the Children's Discovery Center, a facility that rivals the fun of any big-city Children's museum. Robert (yes, Robert!) hosts an even better kept secret, the Louisiana Renaissance Festival, an event that transports its visitors to medieval times of boastful kings, beautiful queens, and brave knights. SLU offers an entertaining modern storyteller, Dr. Sam Hyde, whose tales of "Bloody Tangipahoa" top any crime drama you'll see on TV.
However, Tangipahoa's finest hidden treasure -- by far -- was found in Reggie Martin's cafe, Gina's, in Independence. No, I am not talking about his delicious spaghetti or lasagna. Rather, the highlight of our trip was meeting Mrs. Rosalie Levatino. In addition to being Reggie's mother-in-law, Mrs. Levatino is a hardworking WWII veteran who spent her 97th birthday cooking our lunch, washing our dishes, and warming our hearts with her cheerful company.
The lesson of our tour was clear: Tangipahoa's best hidden treasures are the people who live here.