“I saw that my dad had started something,” Mayor Jackie Malveaux Thomas says about her father, the late Herman Malveaux, who served as mayor for 25 years. Mayor Thomas was elected earlier this year to complete her father’s last four-year term that began in 2010.
Chataignier’s village center had a crowd spilling out into the walkway outside the center’s doors when Mayor Thomas was sworn in May 11.
Among those attending the swearing-in ceremony was Ville Platte Mayor Jennifer Vidrine, who described the new mayor as her “sister mayor.” Also at the ceremony was Mayor Thomas’ grandfather-in-law, Edward “Knot-Toe” Thomas, the oldest resident of the parish, at 102 years old.
Her father’s legacy seemed to shine through during the new mayor’s first council meeting, in May, when bids began to be awarded for much-needed repairs to the community’s sewer system.
The work will be funded by a grant of nearly $450,000 that was announced about a year ago. Mayor Malveaux said, at that meeting a year ago, “We kept trying,” to get the grant, “and now it finally went through.”
But, “The village doesn’t have big dollars,” Mayor Thomas said during a recent interview. She said money will be needed to make some improvements, but “it’s going to take a village united, working together,” to improve the community.
Mayor Thomas said her goal is to “fulfill the dreams my father had for this village,” and that she “will keep his legacy alive.”
That legacy was formed when her father served as mayor and as principal of Chataignier Elementary School. That legacy now involves inspiring people to improve the recreational park, walking trail and other features of the community.
An avid gardener herself, she has begun to inspire some Chataignier residents to plant flowers, shrubs and trees in the village. “I appreciate the volunteers who have begun helping to make improvements in the village,” she said.
“I love playing in my yard,” and she hopes she can share that love on a wider scale in Chataignier. The mayor said when residents “see how the village can be so much more appealing, they will be motivated to do more on their own.”
Mayor Thomas also hopes that effort will show people considering a place to live “to come to our village” and see that it’s “a nice, quiet and safe place to live.”
Mayor Thomas said her success depends on the response of the residents of Chataignier. “I’m looking for ideas. I want people to let me know what they want to do and what they want me to do,” to improve the community. She said she has noticed, during the three monthly village council meetings she has chaired, that people are attending, and are contributing their ideas.
Mayor Thomas said her father also showed her that inspirational leadership isn’t always fun. The mayor smiles now, as she recalls how as a child, she was inspired by her father not to come in late from recess at school. “I was called to the office,” of the principal, “and he spanked me.”
She said the most important inspirational lessons came when she saw that her father “loved to work with people. I watched him work with people,” she said after returning home recently from her job at Citizens Bank in Ville Platte, where she has worked for 11 years.
“My father taught me to treat everyone with respect and that everyone is somebody.” That inspiration to work with people to make improvements has been passed on to her son, Rogdricous, who, like his late father -- Mayor Thomas’ late husband -- Rogers “Rico” Thomas, is a welder at Cameron, at the Evangeline Parish Industrial Park.
“He works with his dad’s old friends there,” Mayor Thomas said. “They call him “Little ‘Rico,’” she said. Her son’s fellow workers are now helping her son to improve his skills, just as her father helped others, as principal of Chataignier Elementary School and as mayor of Chataignier.
“They all just pull together,” she said.