Happy New Year, and raise a toast to our new look! We hope our bubble of optimism is infectious.

No matter the economic scene, take a deep breath and repeat after me: Things will be fine in 2009. OK, there’s a shift from caviar to carbonara and from filet to fried chicken, but as long as folks lift a glass and each other’s spirits, that’s what really counts. I have been thrilled to receive donor cards telling me gifts had been made
in my name to cultural and charitable organizations and with gifts and flowers from local retailers – if this is the spirit of “new austerity,” I’m all for it.
December was a “mix and mingle” month.

Two invites arrived for December 16 bearing that same sentiment. One, complete with caroling, hosted by Ann Anderson and Mignon Schaffer for gal pals at the Orleans Club, (where the lights seemed to stay on day and night in December). The other, at the Audubon Tea Room, was for five Jingle Belles rocking debs – Courtney Echols, Caitlin Ordemann, Kelly Flanagan, Sarah Stewart and Anne Tufton. Others bowed at presentations as formal as Debutante Club, prestigious as those of private clubs and undeniably lovely as parties in homes and venues far and wide.

What a civilized evening hosted by the Musical Arts Society of New Orleans at the Ritz-Carlton! Idil Biret, the very accomplished pianist, charmed the likes of Paulette and Frank Stewart, Bruce Crutcher, Yvonne and Bill Coe, on-the-mend Diane Dupin and husband Charles, and Edgar Chase, the group’s new president, and his omnipresent mother Leah, with a selection of music including a stirring adaptation of Wagner’s “Overture to Tannhäuser” by Liszt. The event, called “Nocturne IV,” was followed by dinner and nods of approval to attorney Michael Harold and Robin Benton Crutcher, who served as co-chairs.

Betty Brooks Doss does more than her share for the arts. Not only is she the principal underwriter for January’s Opera Gala with Placido Domingo, she’s also responsible for the funding of Lin Emery’s beautiful new sculpture now residing in the garden of St. Patrick’s Church. The sculpture, which moves gracefully in the breeze and gleams in the sunlight, honors the Military and Hospitaller Order of St. Lazarus of Jerusalem, of which both the sculptress and benefactor are members. The work was dedicated and blessed on a cool night in early December. Architect Jimmy Gibert, another member of St. Lazarus who knows every nook and cranny of the historic building, pointed out the priceless Tiffany stained glass windows in the
“jewel box” of a church.

Church plans are in the works for Kristy Flucke, of the offices of Drs. Calvin Johnson and Tom Moulthrop, whom many along the avenue know well. Flucke’s diamond and platinum engagement ring dazzles friends almost as much as fiancé Thomas Cheery, a clinical manager for Cook Medical, dazzles Flucke. Set up by pals in the summer of 2007, “We just clicked,” she says. Guess so, the ring went on her finger just a few short weeks ago.

When your name is Coco Bella, you’re destined to be, well, bella! Born just before Thanksgiving, Coco has a gene pool to merit the name: her mom is Lacy Culpepper, the very fit personal trainer at St. Charles Avenue’s Athletic Club and her dad is Johnny who’s with IM Diversity, a company that helps job placements for minorities. With lots of brown curls and big blue eyes, she’s a heartbreaker in the making.

Each year, the Tocqueville Society recognizes an exemplary leader in community philanthropy for the greater New Orleans community, and this year it’s Emeril Lagasse. Kim Sport, Tocqueville and United Way’s powerhouse, rightfully says, “Emeril Lagasse has been on of New Orleans’ greatest ambassadors.” Some 700, all of whom donate over $10,000 to the United Way annually, gathered at the Sugar Mill where Garland Robinette lead the applause. If you’re counting, The United Way has, since Hurricane Katrina, allocated $36 million, via seven grant cycles, to over 600 health and human services in our area. But way back in 2002, Emeril created his foundation to inspire, mentor and enable all young people, especially those from disadvantaged circumstances. It has had a profound impact on the community. And that, good readers, is the kind of pulling together, helping each other and lifting up with need in 2009. Bravo to Emeril for being an inspiration. 

Along the Avenue
Christmas Merrymaker Jim Mounger

Along the Avenue
Deb Dad Bill Hines

Along the Avenue
Deb Dad Michael Carbine

Along the Avenue
Edgar Chase III, President
of Musical Arts Society, at Nocturne Benefit

Along the Avenue
Michael Harold, co-chair,
of Nocturne IV.