Merriam-Webster defines resilience as “the ability to become strong, healthy, or successful again after something bad happens.”
For Wayne Sotile, the meaning of the word goes much deeper.
A native of Donaldsonville, Sotile served as guest speaker for the 2014 Donaldsonville Area Chamber of Commerce Awards Banquet held Thursday night at Palazzo Bernardo.
After 35 years of work in North Carolina, Sotile and his wife, Mary, along with Julia Sotile, opened the Sotile Center for Resilience in Davidson, North Carolina, a suburb of Charlotte.
Their comprehensive wellness center provides a wide range of clinical services, including psychotherapy and counseling.
Sotile has accumulated a great many accomplishments over the years, including an undergraduate degree from LSU, a Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of South Carolina, and an internship at Duke University Medical Center. He boasts a lengthy list of publications as well as lecture invitations to prestigious schools of medicine across the country.
Through all of his success, Sotile hasn’t lost touch with where he came from – his hometown of Donaldsonville.
“It’s Thursday night. Everybody’s busy. And 250 of you are here. It means something to be part of a community,” he said.
Sotile recalled the outpouring of support when his father, Mitch, passed in December 2012. More than 400 people came to pay their respects at his father’s funeral services.
“That doesn’t happen everywhere,” he said.
The evening was full of light moments. Sotile regaled the crowd with some “Only in Donaldsonville” moments.
He told a story about how when he references the Bonadona family name, people think it’s made up. Of course, locals know “Teapot” Bonadona as a former City Commissioner and owner of Flowers By Teapot florist shop.
Despite moving out of Louisiana, he still maintains his subscription to the local newspaper, The Donaldsonville Chief. In fact, he’s been receiving the publication for over 40 years.
In his travels, he’s kept a unique perspective of home in relation to the rest of the world.
“South Louisiana is a tiny place, but everywhere I go, people are enthralled with what we’re like,” Sotile told the crowd.
At first blush, most people bring up the Cajun culture. When he informs them of his Italian heritage, they often jump to the conclusion that he’s from New Orleans. No, Donaldsonville, he answers. Baton Rouge? No, Donaldsonville. The pride for his hometown roots haven’t faded.
Sotile pointed to popular culture as shaping stereotypes of Louisiana. Shows like Duck Dynasty and Swamp People reinforce the typecasting.
He went on to tie “Cajun logic” to a common mistake. Think of the tradition of Cajun jokes (a few were told during the evening). Typically, the concept is right, but the application is wrong. Or, the obvious is ignored.
In digging deeper into why resilient people can overcome adversity, Sotile said being inquisitive is key.
It can be painful to “update the lens we view each other with.” When new things are learned, adjustments must be made.
“Not everyone can bear the pain,” Sotile said.
At the conclusion of the talk, Donaldsonville Mayor Leroy Sullivan praised the speaker’s inspirational words and offered a key to the city as a token of gratitude.
“It’s always nice to know there is a place you can come back to and be home,” Sotile said.
Following dinner and a review of Chamber events and developments throughout the previous year, the group acknowledges the achievements of citizens, teenagers, and businesses in the community with an awards ceremony.
In the Teenager of the Year category, Marie Matirne won the honors. She is a senior at Ascension Catholic High School.
The nominees for Teenager of the Year included students from both Donaldsonville High School and Ascension Catholic: Kaitlyn Cayette, Peyton Joffiron, Kaitlyn Oatis, Lee Oubre, and Macy Warr.
Citizen of the Year was Charles “Chuck” LeBlanc of Bourg Insurance, which serves Donaldsonville, Prairieville, Baton Rouge, and Chauvin.
In the Business of the Year competition, Security Plan Life Insurance Company took the honors. Sidney Harp accepted the award and spoke on behalf of the company.
As for the Chamber, serving as president for 2014 is Paul Landry IV of Foti Financial Group, succeeding Allison B. Hudson of the Ascension Parish Sheriff’s Office. Hudson now assumes the role as vice president. Also, Malissa Boudreaux of Boudreaux’s Electric is treasurer, Becky Katz is executive director, and Pam Gregoire handles tourism.
The Board of Directors includes: Donald Alleman (Community Acceptance), Marvin Gros (Law Office of Marvin Gros), Karen Hartman (Plantation Antiques), Missy Jandura (Donaldsonville Downtown Development District), Mike LeBlanc (Postlethwaite and Netterville CPAs), Frank Marcello (Marcello Distributors), Mike Medine (Action Oilfield Services), Barbara Ourso (Ourso Funeral Home), Loretta Tempet, Eron Thomas (Edward Jones), Deron Talley (Donaldsonville Chief), and Sidney Vega V (Vega Produktions).
For more photos from the event, see: michaeltortorich.com/donaldsonville-chamber-2014.
Michael Tortorich is a writer and photographer for The Creole Online Newspaper. He can be reached through www.michaeltortorich.com.