Last month, for our Mother’s Day feature, we presented portraits of female members of both the New Orleans and Jefferson parish councils and their families. This month, we do the same for council guys. In both cases we look for the similarities and differences that bind and show distinction.
Editor’s note: The family of Jefferson Parish District 4 councilmember Louis Congemi was not available to participate.
Orleans Parish Vice President
Arnold Fielkow with his wife, Dr. Susan Fielkow, and three boys, Justin, Michael and Steven, moved to New Orleans in 2000 when Fielkow took the position of executive vice president with the New Orleans Saints organization. Three years ago, after years of working their way through the international adoption process, and after Hurricane Katrina washed away their original documents, the family adopted half-sisters Yana Shira, 9, and Svetlana, 6, from the Ukraine.
“Our sons were terrific,” he says. “Before we made the decision, we consulted them and asked for their permission.
It is really heartwarming to see now because the brothers love their sisters. They have a tremendous relationship and, as a father, it’s very gratifying to see.”
The family has blended well together. Fielkow grew up on Appleton, Wisc., and on every Jewish holiday, Fielkows from across the country would gather at his grandmother’s house. “We would have days of food and play football in the back yard,” he says. The tradition continued well into adulthood. “I did it when I was a kid, and I got to continue that all the way to being a parent on that same house in the same lawn, and that was pretty cool.”
Sports are popular among the family members. Fielkow played tennis at Northwestern University and basketball for the United States at the 15th annual Maccabiah Games in 1997. All three boys traveled across the country playing competitive tennis and baseball. “Our daughters are about that age where the cycle might start over again,” he says.
Now that the kids are getting older – Justin is a second-year law student, Michael graduated from University of Southern California in May and is heading to law school and Steven graduated from high school and is heading to the University of Wisconsin in the fall – the family still makes it a point to return every year for Mardi Gras.
“Our house during the second weekend of Mardi Gras is filled with dozens of kids because they all bring all their college roommates back to New Orleans to experience this great event,” he says.
Political aspirations might not be limited to Dad. During his campaigns, the children passed out literature and waved signs on the street. “They were very supportive,” he says. “Who knows? Maybe somewhere down the road they’ll run for office themselves. For their own financial benefit, I’d rather them enter the National Football League, but it will be up to them, and it is certainly a noble [career] that I would encourage.”
“The biggest similarity [between us] is great compassion and a desire to always try to see justice done. I think my kids have a great sense of morality and knowing right from wrong. I think they have been infused with a great philosophy of making sure people are treated with equality and with respect irrespective of different religions, different race or ethnicity. I’m very proud of my kids because I see all of them sharing that same trait.”
“The difference is that some of my kids are tremendously sports-minded like I was, and at least one of my sons, of whom I’m very proud, is probably smarter than all of us, has almost no interest in sports and will go on and make great contributions.”
Jon D. Johnson
Orleans Parish City Council District E
Although she’s only 7 years old, Hannah Johnson keeps her father, Jon Johnson, on his toes. She is already involved with school, both academically and in other school-related activities; she participates in gymnastics and the Daisies (a subdivision of the Girl Scouts); and she’s taking French and piano lessons.
In their free time, the family likes to be active: They swim and spend time in the park playing basketball and soccer and feeding the ducks. “She is full of energy. I think she could go 20 hours a day, seven days a week if she was allowed,” Johnson says.
“Being a dad in New Orleans offers young people, young girls especially, a great opportunity to be exposed to a number of variety of activities,” he says. “Young children who have the opportunity to get out and develop an appreciation for the cuisine we have in this city really grow up knowing the value of good food.”
Hannah actively participates in meal selections with Copeland’s and Byblos restaurants being among her favorites. “And, of course, Burger King,” he adds.
Johnson has a long history in political office. He was a state representative from 1980-’85, a state senator from ‘85 to 2003 and was elected to city council in 2010. “She’s very much aware of the political environment that she’s being brought up in,” he says. He recognizes that his daughter understands what it means when she’s meeting the mayor, fellow council members or other elected officials.
But even in the public spotlight, Johnson wants to instill some of the same qualities his parents passed on to him. “I want to make sure that she’s unselfish but at the same time strong and independent.” But, being as she’s the only child, it’s hard not to spoil her.
“Her mother, her aunts and grandmother, and when my mother was alive, would spoil her,” he says. “My wife’s mother is absolutely notorious for allowing her as much flexibility as she wants. I don’t think she would have it any other way.”
Johnson says his greatest joy about watching his daughter grow up is the development of her independence. “As time goes by, she becomes more and more independent and has no problem saying ‘Daddy, I can do that myself,’” he says. “It has been a great joy on my part and has been very rewarding.”
“The interest in people. I think we both have a very strong interest in people and can make friends fairly quickly.”
“Hannah is an avid reader. She shares that same quality with my wife. She loves to read and [watch] movies. I read, but Hannah reads all the time.”
Jefferson Parish Councilman-At-Large Division A
Chris Roberts grew up in Jefferson Parish and now he’s raising his three children, Grant, 8; Grace, 6; and Sam, 3; there.
Roberts says one of the biggest surprises about watching his children grow up is watching their personalities develop. “My oldest son is very meek and mild,” he says. “He’s very intelligent and involved in reading and science and animals. My daughter is a primadonna. She is 6 going on 20. My youngest is a jokester. He’s 3 yet he keeps everybody laughing all the time.”
Politics run in the family. Roberts’ youngest son was named after his great-grandfather, Sam Boylan, who was active in Orleans Parish. Roberts continued the tradition at an early age. He first took office at the age of 21 as a member of the Jefferson Parish School Board in 1998 and joined the city council in 2004; he has been in office their entire lives. “I do my best to try and insulate [my children] from [the public spotlight],” he says. “They need to be able to have their own friends with their own schedule without feeling like we drag them out to political events.
You try and be as low key as you can. You don’t want them feeling like they are growing up any differently than anyone else.”
Fatherhood has influenced many aspects of Roberts’ career. He hosts an annual fundraiser and, since its inception in 2000, the event has grown from 400 to more than 3,000 people. The outdoor event offers clowns, caricatures, trains and other family-friendly activities. “I guess it’s because I’m a father myself,” he says.
The family enjoys the outdoors together, including going to the numerous festivals his previous district, District 1, holds annually. They also own a Baskin Robbins franchise, which is always a crowd-pleaser.
Technology has played a big role in the young lives; all three kids each got iPads for Christmas. “It amazes me that technology has played a bigger role in their lives than it did when I was growing up,” he says. “We didn’t have computers when I was growing up. Now [Sam] is walking around with his own iPad and can work it better than I can.”
“We are all outgoing. They are not really shy, and there isn’t much that they’re afraid of, I would say.”
“Grant is certainly more of an intellect, so he’s very involved in details and reading a lot. Grace is all about drama, and Sam is just carefree.”
Elton M. Lagasse
Jefferson Parish District 2
From an early age, education played an important role in Elton Lagasse’s life. His grandmother and mother were both school teachers in Kenner. “I grew up in the small town of Kenner,” he says. “If you did something wrong, your mother knew about it before you got home.” In 1961, he began his teaching career in the Jefferson Parish school system.
About nine years later, his first son, Thomas (Tommy) was born with son William (Billy) a year behind him. Although the sons grew up with a teacher for a father, the boys never had their dad as a teacher in school. “I married a Catholic girl and made that promise (to put them in Catholic school),” he says. “I’m sure they were relieved that I didn’t teach them. My mother taught me, and it wasn’t pleasant. You got it day and night.”
Growing up, the family was busy with athletics. The kids played football and baseball. Tommy got into gymnastics and eventually competed at the international level. Billy played baseball at Delgado and Loyola universities. The family bought a motor home to travel with them to various competitions.
“Even though they were close, they went in different directions,” he says. “We were caught in between going two different places. It was a little tough at times, and a lot of those times I was coaching, which made it even harder.”
Lagasse let them grow up to become who they wanted to be. “My mother was an old-time schoolteacher and very strict in her ways,” he says. “I wasn’t that strict and stern, but we had parameters. My wife and I have allowed them to have their own personalities.”
“The biggest joy about watching them grow up is seeing them become contributing members of society,” he continues. “Billy is a baseball coach and teacher in the Jefferson Parish school system, and Tommy is a director at Touro hospital.”
Nowadays, the family gathers for crawfish boils and barbecues. “We do things together as often as we can, but with teenagers, it’s kind of hard to do,” he says. Lagasse has five grandchildren with ages ranging from 5 to 18.
“The greatest thing in the world is being a grandfather,” he says. “You can do whatever you want and send them home. The two little ones, I’ll give them all the candy they want. I tell them [Tommy and Billy] they’re getting paid back for what they did to me.”
“They are both outgoing, young people, and they get along well with people. I see them react to situations very similar to me. I did not try to pattern them after me. I believe everybody should have their own unique personalities, because when you try to change people’s personalities from what they really are, it gets tough sometimes and then you get the rebellious part of them.”
“Neither one of them likes the politics. They will help me in my campaign, but I don’t think either one of them would have any desire at all to be an elected official.”
Jefferson Parish District 3
Before the age 14, Jarrett Lee, now 20, and attending Southeastern Louisiana University, took his father’s campaign literature and went door to door, without his father knowing, to tell people why his father should be elected to the Jefferson Parish City Council.
This year, just before he turned 14, Jourdan Lee completed his first novel titled Angelus about the various lives of teenagers in Hollywood.
“I’ve told them numerous times how proud I am of them,” Byron Lee says. “I have two sons that are caring young men whom I believe will make a difference in the future.”
As a family, the Lees are “sports nuts” and go to the Saints and Hornets games as well as the annual Zurich Classic.
The family also loves to travel and have been on numerous trips within the continental United States and islands including Jamaica and the Bahamas. “Traveling has been the number one thing we’ve done as a unit,” he says.
Jourdan loves going to Orlando, and Jarrett’s favorite is New York City.
“I love [being a father] because I get a chance to do for them what my parents did to me,” he says. “My father taught me business. He taught me how to communicate with people and how to get along with people and how to set my expectations. My mother raised me and my eight brothers and sisters on the premise that ‘you’ll never know who you are going to need in life, so try to treat everybody right,’ and that’s what I’ve tried to instill in them.”
Despite the opposite personalities – Jarrett is more like his father, while Jourdan shares more of his mother’s traits – the family remains close, often helping out in local charity events or toy drives.
“For me, it has been a comforting thing knowing that my sons are disciplined and have ambition that allows for them to someday realize their ambition and become successful,” he says. “Certainly, when we look at some of the challenges facing our youngsters, I’m proud of the fact that I can help direct my sons and work with them so they become good people and understand that giving back is as part of the culture as eating beignets and gumbo.”
“We are all entrepreneurs.”
“With Jarrett, I was an entrepreneur from a very early age. As long as I can remember I was finding a way to make money. I remember selling marbles on the playground of elementary school. Jarrett has become more entrepreneurial as he’s gotten older and nurtured by college. With Jourdan, I’m a sports fanatic and he’s not. I’m extroverted and he’s introverted.”