St. Charles Avenue’s Activists of the Year & Unsung Hero 2005 & 2006

St. Charles Avenue is proud to present its “Activists of the Year” for 2006—Barbara G. Bush and Dr. Stephen Hales—and “Unsung Hero” for 2006—Gregory Ben Johnson.

The “Activists of the Year’ is a way to acknowledge citizens who through the years have volunteered their time and talent to organizations that benefit the New Orleans area. The “Unsung Hero” spotlights a person who is doing great things for the city, but hasn’t received the recognition that he or she deserves. The magazine chooses someone who is on staff at an organization that is either a nonprofit or focuses its efforts on the community, but who also volunteers.

The following profiles illustrate why our “Activists of the Year” and “Unsung Hero” are such deserving recipients. (Please note that the organizations and awards listed by the honorees are just a partial list due to space considerations.)

Activist of the Year 2006

Barbara G. Bush

After Barbara G. Bush graduated from Newcomb College and married, she looked to volunteer work to meet people. As she took on more and more civic responsibility, Barbara touched the lives of more New Orleans residents than she could ever know. “I kind of thrived on the people part of it,” she says.

The Junior League of New Orleans, one of the first organizations she joined, taught her the ins and outs of being a good board member. That experience made her a valuable member of the boards of many civic and cultural organizations in the city.

Helping her community is part of Barbara’s heritage from her parents. “I’m from a small community in Tennessee,” says Barbara, who was reared in Lookout Mountain. “Everybody was involved in the church. My high school encouraged community work.”

In the past, Barbara chaired fund-raisers for many of the city’s major charities. She says she is now passing the torch down to younger volunteers, who can learn from the successes she had. “We have a very volunteer-driven community and a very giving community,” she says.

But she doesn’t intend to retire from volunteer work just yet. In fact, she has redoubled her efforts to strengthen New Orleans in light of the devastation the city received from Hurricane Katrina. She is a member of Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans, a grass-roots group pushing for levee board reform and consolidation of the city’s assessors’ offices. Through her church, St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian, she also participates in RHINO, or Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans, which aids volunteers who are gutting houses. RHINO began as a distribution center for clothing and other needed supplies and has mushroomed into an organization that has gutted 200 homes. On Wednesdays the group gives out-of-state volunteers tours of the area so they can experience the destruction as a whole.

Barbara and her husband A. Peyton Bush III have three sons. Peyton and his wife, Elizabeth, live in Dallas and have a daughter, Charlotte. Harlan and his wife, Ingrid, are locals, while Curtis is an orthopedic resident at Georgetown Hospital in the District of Columbia. •

Past and Present Organizations
• St. Charles Avenue Presbyterian Church, Elder
• New Orleans Town Gardeners, Executive Committee
• Presbyterian Women, Executive Committee
• Junior League of New Orleans, President 1988-1989, and Rebuilding
Together Project
• RHINO – Rebuilding Hope in New Orleans, Advisory Board
• Citizens for 1 Greater New Orleans
• Hermann-Grima/Gallier Historic Houses Board of Directors
• Chairwoman of fund-raisers: Children’s Hospital
“Sugarplum Ball,” Parkway Partners Brunch,
Volunteer and Information Agency “VIA Very
Important Affair,” Orleans Dollars for Scholars,
Hermann-Grima Soirée, March of Dimes
“Gourmet Gala” and Longue Vue House and
Garden’s “Sentimental Journeys”

Awards
• Children’s Hospital, Outstanding Volunteer, 1976, and “Sugarplum
Ball” honoree, 2003
• New Orleans Magazine, Ten Outstanding Woman Achievers, 1989
• St. Elizabeth’s Guild, Volunteer Activist, 1990
• Young Leadership Council, Role Model, 1993
• Family Service of Greater New Orleans Award, 2002
• Junior League of New Orleans Sustainer of the Year, 2004
• Newcomb Alumnae Association Katrina/Rita
Recognition, 2006

Activist of the Year 2006

Stephen W. Hales, M.D.

One thread runs through all of Dr. Stephen W. Hales’ activities: a love of children. A pediatrician in practice for 28 years, he has donated his time and expertise to a number of organizations that touch the health and welfare of the city’s youngsters, while finding time to raise six sons with his wife, Nancy Harvey Hales.

Children’s Hospital is especially dear to his heart. He began his affiliation when he came to New Orleans in 1975, just as the hospital was transitioning from a rehabilitation hospital to a general hospital. “It has been a joy to watch it grow,” he says of the hospital, which celebrated
its 50th birthday last year.

Dr. Hales says he believes in the ability of every one of the city’s children to learn. He is on the board of the Good Shepherd School, which enrolls youngsters from low-income families in the city, and is now active with the charter school movement. “We owe good schools to our children,” he says. Both Good Shepherd and charter schools “explode the myth” that children from disadvantaged neighborhoods can’t excel academically. “Children with access to wonderful educational resources will learn and achieve and come out of these schools in solid shape,” he says.

Other interests include teaching. When he went from a solo practice to taking in associates, he began teaching a medical ethics class to students at the LSU School of Medicine. “I really like that contact with young doctors,” he says. And as a member of the Rex organization, he heads up the club’s Project Purple, which connects volunteers to charter schools. The project was part of Rex’s efforts this past Carnival season to help rebuild New Orleans. He and his wife are also active boosters of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra.

Retirement is overrated, Dr. Hales says, and even if he wanted to, he couldn’t leave his practice now that Katrina has made such inroads into the city’s medical community. “I really love taking care of children,” he says, “watching them grow up and bring in their own children.” •

Past and Present Organizations
• Children’s Hospital, Board of Trustees
• Alliance Hospital System, Chairman, Steering Group
• The Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, Advisory Board
• Metairie Park Country Day School, Chairman, Investment Committee;
Trustee and Board of Directors Chairman
• Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, Board of Trustees
• Research Institute for Children, Children’s Hospital, Advisory Board
• Christian Health Ministries Foundation, Physicians Committee
• The Good Shepherd School, Board of Directors
• Fidelity Homestead Association, Board of Directors
• The Times-Picayune Loving Cup Selection Committee
• New Schools for New Orleans, Board of Directors
• Foundation for Science and Mathematics Charter School, Board of
Directors
• Ecole Bilingue of New Orleans, Advisory Board
• New Orleans Lawn Tennis Club, Board of Governors

AWARDS
• NSFRE, Philanthropy Day, Board of Directors Award, 1998
• Family Services Society “TOPS” (Ten Outstanding People) Award, 1999
• Metairie Park Country Day School, Honorary Degree, 1999
• Children’s Hospital “Sugarplum Ball” honoree, 2005

Unsung Hero 2006

Gregory Ben Johnson

For Gregory Ben Johnson, president and CEO of the Greater New Orleans Foundation, there is no clear line between work and civic responsibility. At the foundation, Ben’s job is to match donors with worthy nonprofit organizations needing dollars, and to provide leadership and information to potential local and national donors. “We have over 600 different funds set up here at the foundation since 1983,” he says. “There is hardly a nonprofit in this community we haven’t touched.” The foundation has more than $130 million in assets and distributes more than $8.5 million in grants annually.

His work spills over into his volunteer time, during which he contributes his energy toward making New Orleans a better place to live. “I’ve been here since 1971,” he says. “It’s my home, my civic responsibility and part of my professional work.”

Since Hurricane Katrina, the main thrust of the foundation is to help rebuild the community, with a primary focus on public schools, neighborhoods, the work force, literacy and supporting nonprofits. “The Women of the Storm started their fund with us,” he says. Because the hurricane devastated so many neighborhoods, the foundation is taking a regional approach, helping to set up affiliated foundations in other parishes.

The most pressing project is work on the Unified New Orleans Plan for the Recovery Process, or UNOP, Ben says. “The most critical thing is to
complete this disaster recovery plan,” he says. The plan will enable New Orleans to tap into federal, FEMA and state dollars available for rebuilding. He encourages everybody to check out www.unifiedneworleans plan.org, the Web site for UNOP, to find out how they can get involved in planning the future of their neighborhood.

He remains positive about New Orleans, envisioning a city with all the charm it had pre-Katrina, but with an improved infrastructure and educational system. He cites Ochsner Foundation’s purchase of three local
hospitals, the opening of many of the area’s universities and the 90 percent occupancy rate in the Central Business District as signs the city is rebuilding.

“We had some warts, and we’re working on that,”
he says. “I think of it as a huge opportunity. We can come back bigger, stronger and more united.”

Ben earned a master’s of business administration degree from Tulane University. He and his wife, Barbara Johnson, have a teenage daughter and son. •

Past and Present Organizations
• Council on Foundations Leadership Team
• New Ventures in Philanthropy Executive Committee
• New Orleans Jobs Initiative Board
• Literacy Alliance of Greater New Orleans Board
• New Orleans Neighborhood Collaborative Board
• Academy of the Sacred Heart Board
• New Orleans Regional Leadership Institute Board

AWARDS
• New Orleans Museum of Art, Peaceful Liberator, 1995
• Young Leadership Council, Role Model, 1996
• National Conference of Christians and Jews Weiss Brotherhood Award

Activists of the Year for 2005
by S.L.Strachan
Photos by Megan Nadolski

St. Charles Avenue magazine is proud to present its “Activists of the Year” for 2005: Bill Goldring and Fran Villere. Now in its second year, the “Activists of the Year” is a way to acknowledge involved and engaged leaders who contribute time, talent and money to organizations that benefit the greater community.

New this year—and what will also become an annual award—is the “Unsung Hero,” spotlighting a person who is doing something great in the community, but hasn’t received the recognition he or she deserves.
Our first “Unsung Hero” is Monica Ponoroff.

The following profiles illustrate why our “Activists of the Year” and “Unsung Hero” are such deserving recipients. (Please note that the organizations and awards listed are just a fraction of what our honorees have been a part of.)

Activist of the year 2005

Fran Villere

When Fran Gable Villere—a native Palm Beach, Fla.—moved to New Orleans in 1967 after marrying George Villere, she soon started building her own group of friends and acquaintances. Starting off at the Dress Circle, a clothing store, she met many of the local ladies. Fran then volunteered at the United Fund, now the United Way. But it wasn’t until she joined the Junior League of Greater New Orleans that Fran’s career in volunteerism—and circle of contacts—took off. “It was wonderful training. We learned how to professionally run meetings, do committee work, be on time to meetings and more,” says Fran. “When I started doing more fund-raising work, a lot of men really respected this.”

The wide range of organizations Fran has been involved with since then shows her commitment to “how we together, can befollowers, supporters and leaders working as one for a better New Orleans. Our common goal is to create a community of choice—a place where we can live, work and raise a family—and together we will succeed” Fran said in the speech she gave in 2003 upon winning the Times-Picayune Loving Cup, an award given to men and women who unselfishly contribute to the community without expectation of public recognition or reward. (Fran’s son Chris Villere wrote the nomination letter—unbeknownst to her.)

And while all the organizations she has been involved with have received 100 percent of her energy, one gets the feeling that her work with Project Lazarus takes a special place in her heart. Project Lazarus provides services to people with HIV/AIDS who can no longer live independently, or whose family can no longer take care of them. “I got involved early on, when we really didn’t know much about AIDS,” Fran says. Fran started as a weekly volunteer in 1989, and in addition to the usual fund-raising activities (calling for donations, organizing benefits), she became hands-on in her work with Project Lazarus—washing walls, tending to the sick and dying, doing errands, whatever it took.

Fran credits her family—her husband, George, daughter Mathilde, sons Chris and Lamar—with supporting and encouraging her efforts. As Fran fondly recalls, George once said, “What’s our placement [in the Junior League] this year!”

Fran says that she receives more than she ever could give when volunteering. “My life is enormously enriched by the individuals I have met during my volunteer career, and I will always treasure the memories of those courageous individuals,” she says.

List of Past and Present Organizations
• Greater New Orleans Foundation
• Children’s Hospital
• Kingsley House
• Project Lazarus
• Junior League of Greater New Orleans
• Ogden Museum of Southern Art
• New Orleans Botanical Garden Foundation
• New Orleans Museum of Art
• Make-A-Wish Foundation of La.
• United Way
• Isidore Newman School
• Washington and Lee University

Honors
• Times-Picayune Loving Cup, 2003
• Guardian Angel Award, Project Lazarus, 2000
• National Jewish Medical and Research Center HumanitarianAward, 2000
• Kingsley House, Stern Award, 1998
• Young Leadership Council Role Model Award, 1996
• St. Elizabeth’s Guild, 1987

Activist of the year 2005

Bill Goldring

If you wanted to personify someone who works behind the scenes and quietly gets the job done, Bill Goldring would be that person. And while you may see various buildings around town bearing the Goldring name,
however, it’s in keeping with the family spirit
of philanthropy.

But how does one go from being a star high-school athlete to chairman of Republic Beverage Company—one of the United States’ largest independently owned wine and spirits distributors—as well as one of the city’s leading philanthropists?

It definitely has been a journey, one that kicked off in 1964 when Bill turned 21 and received a special letter from his father, Stephen Goldring (who is commemorated at the Ogden Museum of Southern Art with a bronze bust, shown here in the photo). The letter stated that there were three basic things he and his wife wished for Bill: health, happiness and wealth. Health was his parent’s most precious wish, one that they could not help with, but which Bill had to take on all on his own, much like the second wish: Happiness, which “is a part of your life that you must create for yourself. There is no formula …” states the letter. Wealth, the final wish, “is an ingredient that you can either earn or inherit … Wealth can also bring you much happiness and satisfaction by helping others.”

While Bill worked his way up in the family business, Magnolia Marketing Co., becoming chairman in 1991, and while he raised a family, he never lost sight of his parents’ three wishes. In particular, Bill took to heart what his father wrote: “As you get older, you must serve your community, give time as well as money.”

A result is that many local organizations and nonprofits have benefited from Bill’s generosity: the Ogden Museum of Southern Art, the Audubon Nature Institute, the Jewish Community Center, Tulane University, the National D-Day Museum, the Urban League, Bridge House, the Contemporary Arts Center, Touro Infirmary and many more. Also, many of the fund-raisers New Orleanians attend serve liquor donated by his company.

While some of the organizations listed above may seem, on the surface, to have a prominent Goldring family presence (the Ogden Museum of Southern Art’s main hall is named in honor of his father, who passed away in 1997), Bill has also worked behind the scenes getting things done for the betterment of many organizations and the community. So as the community been enriched by Bill, he in turn has been enriched by the community.

List of Past and Present Organizations
• Touro Infirmary Board of Directors
• Tulane University Board of Directors
• Tulane University Business School Council
• World Trade Center Board of Directors
• New Orleans Business Council Board of Directors
• Anti-Defamation League Board of Directors
• Temple Sinai Board of Directors
• Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America
• Isidore Newman School Board of Directors
• Louisiana Association of Business and Industry
• New Orleans Chamber of Commerce
• Ogden Museum of Southern Art
• Audubon Nature Institute Foundation Board of Directors
• Howard Tilton Memorial Library Association
• Goldring Family Foundation
• Woldenberg Foundation

Honors
• Tulane University Paul Tulane Society Award
• Tulane University A.B. Freeman School of Business Distinguished
Alumni Award
• Tulane University Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year Award
• City of New Orleans Mayor’s Medal of Honor
• Association of Fund Raising Professionals
• Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year Award
• Gambit Weekly’s “New Orleanian of the Year” Award, 2003

Unsung Hero 2005

Monica Ponoroff

While it is often said that the future is our children, it takes a rare person who can expand it beyond their own family. Such a person is Monica Ponoroff, who in 1994 founded “For the Children” —a school-based literacy program —with her husband, Lawrence Ponoroff, dean of Tulane Law School.

When she moved to New Orleans, Monica had not heard great things about the public school system, but it wasn’t until she visited and volunteered at the James E. Lewis Elementary School that she went into action. “It broke my heart. I found it very distressing and upsetting,” Monica says. “There was a lack of resources and support for public school students and I wanted to try to do something about it by bringing volunteers and resource materials into the schools.”

Taking action, she enlisted her husband’s support and started “For the Children” in James E. Lewis, tutoring first- to fifth-graders.

Before Hurricane Katrina, the program—in its twelfth year—was at Lafayette Elementary School, Crocker Elementary School and Henry W. Allen Elementary School.

Volunteers include retirees, professionals, Tulane University staff
and students, and high-school students. “There are many people in
our community who care and want to get involved. What they need
is a structured, organized way to do it, and that’s where we come in,”
says Monica.

“For the Children” operates as a Tulane University Outreach
program, but it depends entirely on private donations and public
and private grants to meet its annual budget.

“To me, this program is much more than just a reading program,”
says Monica. “It’s about mentoring. It’s about bringing people together, and it’s about making children our first priority.”

“My greatest reward are the children … and they so badly want to learn,” she says.

Awards
• Blue Cross Blue Shield Angel Award, 1997
• Daily Points of Light Award, 1998
• Freedom Foundation at Valley Forge Award, 1998
• National Council of Jewish Women “Those Who Dare to Care About
Kids” Award, 2003