Political ‘Hall’ moves, plans New Orleans event

By James Ronald Skains
Journal Correspondent

“We have already beguan moving our Hall of Fame Exhibits from the railroad depot to the building next door, which was once the Girlfriend Dress Shoppe,” Carolyn Phillips, long time.

Executive Director of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame told the Piney Woods Journal. “We simply ran out of room in our Train Depot building for all the exhibits of the inductees over the past 25 years.”

“The Political Hall of Fame Foundation was able to purchase the building much cheaper than we would have been able to build an addition to our building. It will work out great. We have already started using the Depot building to host meetings such as all the stated convention of the Louisiana Registrar of Voters.”

“Our Winn Parish Registrar of Voters, Rita James, was president of the organization last year and was able to pick the site of the convention. Thanks to Rita, a whole lot of people from all around the state were able to see the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame. They were all amazed at what a treasure of material that we have in our Museum.”

“There is no doubt that we have a very vibrant and hugely unique Museum,” Phillips, Museum Director since June of 1994, added. “But we are now in a critical financial fight for survival due to our funding being cut so drastically by the state in recent years.”

At one point, the Political Hall of Fame was receiving funding of nearly $300,000 per year.

Then it was dropped by $50,000 a year, then by $100,000.

“Last year we finally got $35,000 on the very last day of the fiscal year, so we operated for a year with an extremely small amount of money. That meant that I didn’t get paid although I came to work everyday to open, operate, and help plan the annual Induction Banquet for the Hall of Fame Museum.

“Our Political Hall of Fame Museum here in Winnfield is certainly the only one of its kind in the state and probably the nation. I believe our Museum has a distinct and very credible mission and that is to preserve a major part of Louisiana history. Our Museum is under the Lt. Governor’s office, so that is our source of funding. The people who make the decisions at the legislature on funding Cultural and Tourism, must come to realize what a vital role the Museum in Winnfield plays in perserving the history of our state.”

For more than twenty years, one of the major events held in Winnfield each year in March was the Political Hall of Fame Induction Banquet and Reception. In its quest to survive and to expand the Museum at the same time, the schedule for the annual Induction event has been altered.

“In the odd number years, our Foundation Board decided to hold the Political Hall of Fame Induction Event in Winnfield, but on even numbered years, the Political Hall of Fame is going on the road to help drum up statewide support for the Museum,” Phillips, who first came to Winn Parish as the Home Demonstration Agent in 1961 explained.

“In 2016 we held the annual Induction Banquet in Lafayette in the Cajun Dome Convention Center. It was very successful and well received by the Lafayette Community. This year, 2018, our annual Political Hall of Fame event will be held at Freedom Pavillion of the World War II Museum in New Orleans on March 10th at 7 p.m. It is going to cost us a lot of money, upwards of $50,000 to use the WWII Museum Freedom Pavillion and put on the Banquet.”

“Being in New Orleans will give us a lot of exposure to the people in an area of Louisiana that doesn’t know much about the treasure trove that we have in Winnfield with our Political Hall of Fame Museum. We hope to make a profit from the event to help us pay the mortgage on the building we purchased next door out of necessity.”

“The tickets will be $250 each with some discounts for a table of 10. We will have seating capacity for 469 attendees,” Phillips noted.

The 11 members of the LA Political Hall of Fame Foundation (Friends of the Museum) are: Russell Mosely (great grandson of Huey P. Long), Randy Haynie, Jack McGuire, Elinor Craven, Kyle France, Theodore “Ted” Jones (friend of Earl K. Long), John Georges, and four local representatives, Gregg Davies, June Melton, Jack McFarland, and Deano Thornton.
“Unfortunately, Winnfield has faced a lot of difficulties in the past years as its economic and tax base has shrunk,” Phillips pointed out. “Winnfield is officially a town and not a city anymore. On Saturday’s, very few people come downtown which makes it un-feasible for the Museum to be open on Saturdays.”

“On special weekends such as the Forest Festival, the Hog Dog Trials, and the Winnfield High School Reunion, we do keep the Museum open and get some visitors. But for the most part, the Museum is just open during the week unless by appointment.”

“Fewer and fewer people come to downtown Winnfield even during the week. We are hoping to get an influx of visitors after we expand into the buiding next door from our friends just coming to check out our expanded facility. The Museum is all about the history of Winn Parish and the State, showing the story of how the Long family rose to such prominence in Louisiana politics.”

The Journal spoke to one man , who although not a native of the parish, was a semi-resident of the parish during the late 1960’s — Jay Chevalier. Chevalier, the long-time musician, songwriter and recording artist wrote the hit song: “The Ballad of Earl K. Long,” was the leader of the band, “The Longshots,” that performed around the country.

“I’m really sad to see that Winnfield has lost so much industry and so many people,” Chevalier said earnestly. “The Winnfield that I knew and loved so much was such a vibrant and energetic town. ”There was nothing else like the downtown area of Winnfield on a Saturday. Usually there was a band playing, a political speaker and probably someone preaching the gospel on the sidewalks with a microphone. I loved to come to Winnfield with Governor Earl Long during those times."

Chevalier is a member of the Louisiana Political Hall of Fame, having been inducted in 2003. He added, “We must find some way to keep the Museum operating. When a City shrinks in population as quickly as Winnfield has in the last 30 years, it is hard for local governments and commericial business to help support a great attraction like our Museum.”

“In my years of traveling around the country and Louisiana, I’ve observed other areas that have faced the same situation. At some point, people have to realize that the Charter Consolidated System of Government saves so much tax money that they then can more actively support what brings money into the parish such as the Hall of Fame, Uncle Earl’s Hog Dog Trials, and the Louisiana Forest Festival. I’m proud to say that ‘my Governor Earl’, had a big hand in making all them a reality.”

“I did want to suggest to the people in North Louisiana, especially the Winnfield area to think seriously about attending our Induction Banquet at the World War II Museum in New Orleans.

The WWII Museum is simply awesome and our Hall of Fame event on March 10 will be first class. This could be a great little mini-vacation for many people," Phillips said in conclusion.

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