The Fountainbleau Fisher of Men

A decade ago, I was employed with a property management company out of New Orleans, Louisiana, Fountainbleau Management. The owner, Roland and I had mutual respect for each other, but we also had a very different perspective of management and people in general. I was his Director of Property Operations and Managers, and in that role, I was constantly having to hire, supervise, evaluate and sometimes terminate employees.

Roland was an extremely intelligent, kind and compassionate person. During the fourteen years I worked for him, I observed him go the extra mile for many people that were in his Fountainbleau “family”. He was genuinely concerned with the welfare of his employees. Most of the benefactors of Roland’s kindness were loyal, hard-working employees; however, some did occasionally seek to take advantage of him.

I personally witnessed several people whom Roland had taken under his wing, fall into old habits that were detrimental to the business. It bewildered me how Roland could give them chance after chance to get back on their feet and get back to work. Not many of those second or third chancers ever did make it. I would shake my head and wonder if my boss would ever learn.

Today at mass I heard the same Gospel, Mark 1:14-20, that I heard roughly about ten years ago. Those many years ago, upon hearing the words of Jesus, “Come after me, and I will make you fishers of men”, I thought about Roland. I considered myself to be a good and faithful Catholic, yet I was so ready to write people off as soon as they stumbled. I was looking at people as good or bad based on their backgrounds and achievements in life. I was looking for the unblemished and unfallen in a blemished and fallen world. Roland on the other hand was seeking those whose talents were there, but through hard times or a less than perfect background, had never been given a chance. He was being a fisher of men.

Humility sank into my heart as I begin to understand the man and his mission. That night, I emailed Roland a note describing my epiphany that day and thanking him for teaching me to look beyond a person’s worth on paper. He taught me to look at a person’s heart.

I received a reply the next day. Roland told me he read the email and was at a loss for words. It seemed I had taken him completely by surprise. He was touched and thanked me.

A few years later I was leaving Fountainbleau for a new adventure and Roland invited me to lunch. I gathered we would talk about the fourteen years of buying and renovating properties and all the people we had gotten to know. Once we sat down, it became apparent to me that he wanted to talk about Jesus. He told me that he understood Jesus lived and was a real person; however, he had his doubts that Jesus was God. This time, I was the one surprised! I did tell him that I wholeheartedly knew and believed that Jesus was not just a mere man. Roland had a lawyer’s background; he needed proof. I knew I was never going to convince him in the hour we sat down for lunch, and I did not want to get into a heated debate on my last day.

The following week, I sent Roland a thank you card for all the kindness shown to me over the years. Included with the card was a favorite book of mine, Life of Christ, by Fulton J. Sheen. I do not know if he read it. I hope he did.

A little over a year ago, Roland was killed in a hunting accident. I know he has now met Jesus Christ. As I heard the gospel today and the words of Jesus, “and I will make you fisher of men”, I thought about my friend and said a prayer for him. I thanked him for his wisdom and guidance and I hope I am living my life looking for what is in people’s hearts just as he did.

Rest in peace my friend.

For my country

The year was 1983. I was the 4-H state winner in Child Development and would represent my state along with 44 other Louisiana delegates at the 62nd National 4-H Convention in Chicago, Illinois. It would be my first trip to the “northern” states and my first flight on a plane. I looked forward to both.

I took time off from my Freshman year at college and left the day after Thanksgiving for Chicago. A friend from high school and fellow delegate, Angela, would be my travel buddy and roommate. It was Angela’s first time as well to fly; she was nervous and scared. Angela’s mom had made her pack Dramamine in the event of motion sickness. While at the airport, waiting to board our plane, Angela somehow talked me into taking a Dramamine with her. I did not see any harm in taking it if it helped calm her nerves. Unfortunately, I had no idea that in no time at all I would become so drowsy Angela would be walking me to my seat on the plane! I fell fast asleep once seated and missed my entire first flight! Angela had no side effects from the drug at all and she rather enjoyed the plane ride. We laughed about it when I regained consciousness!

My Chicago trip was a great experience. There were banquets, tours, speeches, and entertainment such as Shari Lewis and Lambchop. It was the Christmas season; there were twinkling lights and window displays. This small town girl had stepped into a different world.

As much as I enjoyed the experience, what I remember most about my trip were the people. There were young adults from nearly all 50 states. Never before had I seen such a rich mixture of cultures and regional diversity. The Texans wore cowboy boots and talked with a “twang”. East coasters had a preppy style and that Bostonian accent. The slow southern drawl of Georgians made me chuckle as did their Bulldog cheers. I also marveled at the diversity of accents and customs of all the delegates from my own home state. My southern Louisiana Cajun accent sounded nothing like the dialect of those from North, West and East Louisiana. Our nightly state meetings were always very entertaining, as the individuals with the thickest accents and drawls were the also the most talkative.

We were all so different, but…

At the beginning of each day, each one of us delegates stood and put our hand on our heart and stated the Pledge of Allegiance to our Flag. We were united in that we were all Americans. Some of us came from mountains, some deserts, some, like me from swampy flat lands; all of us came from the U.S.A.

What happened to us?

Identity politics has forced American citizens to categorize and label ourselves. We have to be defined by race, sexuality, political party, income level…the list goes on. These definitions came into being with the promise of bringing understanding and respect; instead, they have brought division and condescending attitudes.

I am proud to be a Cajun. I am proud to be a Catholic. I am proud to be a wife, mother and grandmother. There are many “labels” that apply to me. First and foremost, I am a child of God. I was created by God my Father and given the gift of life. I was blessed to born in a nation that was founded on Judeo- Christian principals and beliefs. This nation that has been a beacon to the world, a safe-haven and defender of justice and liberty. This nation has always been great.

Louisiana delegates at 62nd 4-H Congress, Chicago, Illinois. (Sherry Kenner bottom left)

The last day of my Chicago trip was extra special because it snowed. We do not get many snow days in Louisiana and it had probably been about six or seven years since I had seen snow. Following our final state meeting, most of us Louisiana delegates jetted outside to play in the snow. We were joined by many other fellow southern delegates. I remember rolling snow balls with girls from Florida and Hawaii. Delegates from the north got a kick out of seeing us so excited. “This is not a lot of snow,!”, they kept telling us. We disagreed, and they smiled and enjoyed watching our enthusiasm.

I consider my flight home from Chicago as my “first” plane ride since I was awake for that one! My parents met me at the airport and as they had never been to the state of Illinois, they wanted to hear all about Chicago. I told them very little about the place, but I told them a great deal about the many different people I had met from the many different places. Still to this day, I remember very little of the tours, banquets, and surroundings from that time. I do remember the faces, laughter, jokes, and accents of my fellow Americans. We did not have to label ourselves, we knew we were from different backgrounds and areas. Differences were accepted and appreciated. We wanted to learn from each other and share our stories with each other. We were all Americans.

What happened to us?

4-H Pledge

I pledge my head to clearer thinking, my heart to greater loyalty, my hands to larger service, and my health to better living, for my club, my community, My Country, and my world.