Lions of Tanzania: How Two Alumni Are Providing Unforgettable Experiences for Adventurers While Enriching Tanzania

African safaris have sparked the imagination and adventurous spirit of people around the world for generations. While popular culture media portrayals have often focused on the wealthy elite from bygone eras, clad in colonial-style outfits and standing proudly with their trophies, safaris have greatly evolved over the last few decades, yielding broader accessibility and a more beneficial impact on the local communities. Two Southeastern alumni and Hammond residents, Ryan and Kimble Barker, are now making it their mission to further these positive trends.

Their inspiration for achieving this was first sparked in 2006. As a college graduation present from his parents, Ryan and his father Kimble set off on an adventure that would change them both forever. “When I arrived in Tanzania, it felt like I was home. I got chills. I still get chills thinking about it,” said Ryan.

The father and son duo instantly fell in love with the remote beauty of the place and with the local culture. “Community, togetherness, is so important to the people. They really take care of each other,” Ryan said. He knew that he wanted to one day find a way to help give back to the local people he found so genuine and welcoming.

It was a personally enriching experience that they believed everyone should have. Kimble noted that his favorite part of Tanzania and the business that they would go on to start together is “becoming a small part of another world; a world completely different than I was born and raised in. To experience first-hand the lives of the Tanzanian people gave me a look at another culture that has left me a different, better person.”

Kimble Barker (Center)

Eleven years later, Ryan (the director of Chappapeela Sports Park) and Kimble (a retired Hammond Police Department officer) still couldn’t shake the pull that their time in Tanzania had on them. They invited Said Hillary Kambelenje, their 2006 Tanzanian safari guide who had become a lasting friend, to visit. Talking one night, Ryan and Said decided to combine their strengths to create their own Tanzania safari company. When Kimble heard of the idea, he was immediately in as well. Tanzania Adventure Tours was born.

With Ryan and Kimble handling the business side while remaining in Hammond and Said leading the tours within Tanzania, the three began a soft launch of their venture later that year. In June of 2018, the budding company fully launched.

Ryan Barker (Left) and Said Hillary Kambelenje (Right)

Part of the Barkers’ concept for Tanzania Adventure Tours is customization. In addition to meeting wide-ranging budgets, this makes it possible for everyone to have a trip tailored exclusively to them. Currently, Tanzania Adventure Tours offers three pre-set packages at different price points. Those who want to create their own unique itinerary with the help of the Barkers, though, are always welcome to do so.

There’s no surprise that the activity travelers are generally the most excited about is encountering majestic animals in the wild. Guide Said steers visitors through the parks and preserves, including Serengeti National Park, in one of the company’s reinforced vehicles. Animals to look out for are zebras, elephants, wildebeests, buffaloes, hippos, giraffes, antelopes, gazelles, kudus, hyenas, leopards, cheetahs, lions, and much more. There are over four million animals in Tanzania, including 430 species and subspecies. This is in addition to species counts of approximately 1,000 for birds, 60,000 for insects, 100 for snakes, and 25 for reptiles and amphibians.


Witnessing these animals in their natural habitats goes hand-in-hand with the thrill of venturing through unspoiled lands, secluded from the rest of the world and the trivial worries of modern society. This is one of Kimble’s favorite things about Tanzania. “Being in places so remote that you’ve lost track of the compass points (N, S, E and W). So isolated that you can’t see the edge of the savannah even with binoculars. To imagine living in this environment not just today but in the prehistoric past. Mind boggling!”

While being in the middle of nowhere surrounded by a dozen lions might sound a tad terrifying, one of the company’s top priorities is safety. The vehicles are designed to withstand impacts while also allowing for open visibility, but Ryan noted that visitors should not be worried about the animals. “You’ll often see Massai people walking through the grass with a big cheetah in the tree next to them, and they’re not concerned at all. It all comes down to as long as you respect the animals, they’ll respect you.”

Ryan also readily gives credit to guide Said as one of Tanzania Adventure Tours most unique assets. “Said has over 26 years of experience leading safaris. He’s a people person and very knowledgeable. He can tell you facts about everything, all of the animals. But he’s also very in tune with the earth and gives the traditional explanations and stories.”


Said leads visitors on a wide selection of activities. Looking for nocturnal animals on night drives below a sea of shimmering stars, hiking across and camping on an active volcano, watching crystal blue waves gently lap white sand while relaxing on Zanzibar Beach, and floating over breathtaking vistas in a hot air balloon are just a few ways travelers can customize their experience. For locales, Arusha National Park, Lake Manyara, Ngorongoro Crater, Serengeti National Park, and Tarangire National Park are top destinations.

And of course, there’s the food. All tours come with full food service provided, even while out in the wilderness on drives. But to cater to true foodies, there are a variety of local gastronomical experiences that can be enjoyed—from fine dining at The Rock Restaurant, an enchanting eatery comprising an entire tiny island, to learning about (and chowing down on) traditional Massai food, prepared as it has been for generation upon generation.

The Massai food experience can also be part of a whole day of immersion in the local culture. Getting to better understand the local people and their way of life—learning from them—by spending time with a designated tribe is one activity that Ryan highly recommends to all travelers. For those who do like to go behind the scenes, exploring a beer brewery, banana plantation, and coffee plantation is also on the table.


But before you get ready to pack your bags, you’re probably wondering what an excursion like this will cost you. The perception of safaris as the sole domain of only the very wealthy and well-connected has indeed lingered. Ryan mentioned that he’s met many people who have going on a safari at the top of their bucket list, but then admit that it’s something they will likely never be able to do—until he tells them the actual cost.

Although luxury expeditions that can reach the tens of thousands are certainly still available today, the average cost for a one week safari is now $3,000-$3,500, and Tanzania Adventure Tours offers a starting price far below that for a seven day excursion, all inclusive with the exception of airfare from the US to Tanzania. Despite the distance, flights to Tanzania can sometimes be cheaper than to Europe, even as low as $500.

So while many want-to-be-adventurers still might have to pinch their pennies for a while to go, safaris have become, and are still becoming, increasingly open to broader numbers of people. According to the World Travel & Tourism Council, there were 6.7 million visitors to Sub-Saharan Africa (SSA) in 1990. By 2012, there were 33.8 million.

This broader ability to see firsthand other parts of the world and cultures benefits more than just the travelers. Sub-Saharan tourism receipts totaled $36 billion in 2012. The World Travel & Tourism Council estimates that a total of 3.8 million jobs could be created by the tourism industry in SSA between 2012 and 2022.


“Already one in 20 jobs in SSA is in travel and tourism,” explains a 2013 report from The World Bank on “Tourism in Africa: Harnessing Tourism for Growth and Improved Livelihoods.” “With incomes rising, SSA countries’ poverty rates declined from 59% in 1995 to 50% in 2005. Given this scenario, the World Bank concludes that SSA could be on the cusp of an economic takeoff, much like China was 30 years ago, and India was 20 years ago. Tourism is one of the key industries driving the current change and tourism could be a transformative tool within this takeoff,” it concludes.

In addition to this economic and job growth, visitation and income from tourism also helps support antipoaching efforts. As well as allowing dollars to flow into local governments, which can aid in increased legislation and patrols, people who live near the parks have come to recognize the economic advantage of conservation for continued tourism. In February of 2018, Hamis Kigwangalla, Tanzania’s minister for natural resources and tourism, announced that by 2022 there will be no poaching in the local national parks and reserves. He stated that “Through collective responsibility, we will be able to eliminate poaching. Wildlife is among major tourist attractions in the country; therefore, we must protect our heritage for sustainable tourism development.” When you book a safari today, the only thing you should plan on shooting animals with is a camera.


But the Barkers have personally taken their belief in giving back one step further. To further help the Tanzanian people that they felt a kindred connection with since their very first visit, they have also launched Enrich Tanzania—a nonprofit, sister organization to Tanzania Adventure Tours. The nonprofit’s goal is to “help Tanzanians enjoy the basic opportunities that we take for granted every day. Important projects include providing a clean, year-round source of water, a more affordable and accessible basic education for their children, and the chance to move from basic subsistence living to a future of limitless possibilities.”

Their first major project, currently in process, is to build an early learning center in a small village in Arusha. As public early childhood education does not exist in Tanzania, the Barkers identified this as a significant need for the local residents. Holding undergraduate and graduate degrees in education, along with a background that includes teaching and coaching at Hammond High Magnet School, Ryan has found a perfect way to combine his passion for Tanzania with his experience and skills to help others.


Land has already been secured, and once the doors open, the center will serve up to 150 local children, ages 3-6. Part of the project includes installing a well to provide clean drinking water for area families and the school itself. The last phase of the project will be to create a safe playground for the school and area children. It’s this nonprofit work—helping positively impact and create greater opportunity for the local people—that is the most rewarding aspect of the entire endeavor for Ryan.

Far from the popularized safaris of the past, an expedition today can create a symbiotic benefit for local residents like those in Arusha, animal populations, and visitors—with unforgettable experiences that can spark inspiration and personal enrichment. Kimble’s closing advice for current Southeastern students and alumni reflects on the importance of such an experience: “The world is a big diverse place. It’s full of people far more interesting than you realize. Experience it. ALL of it if you can.”


More information on Enrich Tanzania and Tanzania Adventure Tours can be found at, and on FacebookTwitter, and Instagram.

By Sheri Gibson. Images courtesy of Tanzania Adventure Tours.


EMBA Program Named One of the Top in the Nation

Southeastern Louisiana University’s Executive Master of Business Administration Program has earned recognition as one of the top 30 programs in the nation. The only Louisiana university among those selected, Southeastern ranked ninth, ahead of such schools as Brown University, University of Alabama, Kent State University, University of Missouri, and Howard University.

Southeastern earned its ranking based on finances, academic rigor and student satisfaction.

“We are pleased that our program is ranked among the top 30,” said Dean of the College of Business Antoinette Phillips. “Our students are motivated, accomplished professionals seeking to build their skills. We’re happy to provide relevant curricula taught by involved, caring faculty who help them achieve their goals.”

Southeastern offers an EMBA online program for working professionals seeking convenient online education mixed with weekend face-to-face classes, Phillips said. The program is 60 percent face-to-face, 40 percent online, and is accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Students can choose from a general curriculum or a concentration in health care management. Classes include accounting for business decisions, business law and negotiations, business policy and strategy, and statistical methods in business and economics. The program can be completed in 17 months with classes on Saturdays only.

For more information on Southeastern’s Executive MBA Program, visit

The full rankings for 2019 by can be accessed here.

Sustainability Center Earns Environmental Leadership Award

Southeastern Louisiana University’s Sustainability Center has been recognized by the Environmental Leadership Program national organization for its pollution prevention and commitment to environmental protection. Louisiana Department of Environmental Quality Secretary Chuck Carr Brown, who served on the selection committee, will present the award to Southeastern Physical Plant Director Byron Patterson and Sustainability Manager Alejandro Martinez in Baton Rouge at the ELP Awards ceremony.

Southeastern has been focusing on conservation efforts, from the new geothermal energy projects on campus to wind turbines at Southeastern’s Sustainability Center. The center was created in order to save operating dollars and reduce waste going to landfills, while at the same time providing an invaluable learning component for students involved in energy, mechanical and construction engineering technology.

“Southeastern’s newest residence halls, Ascension Hall and Twelve Oaks Hall, draw from 220 geothermal wells situated 300 feet underground to heat and cool 556 rooms,” Martinez said. “The earth is used as a heat source in winter and as heat storage in summer. Geothermal production involves no combustion and creates zero air emissions as gases removed from the wells are returned into the ground after giving up their heat without exposure to the atmosphere.”

In addition to environmental benefits, Martinez explained, the geothermal hybrid system will significantly cut down on heating and cooling costs.

“Over time, it is projected that savings greater than 50 percent will be captured on energy expenses compared to a traditional method and build,” he said. “Equally important on a university campus, the system also serves as a learning laboratory for real-world experiences for Southeastern students in various disciplines.”

Among the elements of the Sustainability Center are solar panels on a number of university buildings that generate hot water, as well as electricity; a strong recycling program designed to reduce waste going to landfills by 80 percent; a tree and plant farm, in which the university cultivates its own plants and trees for landscaping on campus; a composting area that converts landscape waste into usable mulch and compost; and rainwater retention ponds that provide irrigation for plants and support a geothermal system for one of the center’s technology-rich classrooms.

Since beginning single-stream recycling in 2012, the university has recycled 255.94 tons of paper, plastics and metal cans. Approximately 99.185 tons of cardboard have been recycled since Southeastern installed a cardboard baler in 2013. And, since collaborating with Print Cartridge Recyclers of America in 2014, the university has collected approximately 5.17 tons of used print cartridges and packaging for recycling.

For more information about Southeastern’s Sustainability Center, go to

Students Bring Home Four Top Regional AP Awards

Above image: Crew members of the award-winning “The Big Game”: John Sartori of Mandeville, Richie Solares of New Orleans, Dylan Domangue of Houma, Gabrielle Cox of Hammond, and Lily Gayle of Greensburg

Southeastern Louisiana University students working at the Southeastern Channel won four awards at the 2018 Louisiana-Mississippi Associated Press College Broadcasters awards at the AP’s annual journalism conference.

The annual contest for colleges in both states was conducted by the Louisiana-Mississippi AP Broadcasters and Media Editors. The AP is a not-for-profit news cooperative representing thousands of U.S. newspapers and broadcasters.

The awards competition featured students from all universities in the two-state region competing in television, radio and online categories where only first and second-place honors were given. In addition to an awards luncheon, students attended panel discussions and participated in one-on-one sessions with industry news professionals.

Andrew Scherer of New Orleans won first place in the Best Sports Story category for his feature story on Southeastern basketball star Marlain Veal.

“Very good use of natural sound, and the reporter has a great delivery. This was a great sports story,” judges said of Scherer’s work.

Scherer is now a TV news and sports reporter at WXXV-TV (FOX/NBC) Ch. 25 in Gulfport, Mississippi. His story can be seen here.

Amanda Kitch of Covington won second place in the Best TV Reporter category for her story on the St. Tammany Parish “Skeeterbomber,” a small, refurbished plane used to spray mosquitos by the parish’s mosquito abatement department. She has won Best TV Reporter honors for three straight years, including first place in 2017 and Best of Show the same year.

Kitch also won second place in the Best Videography category for a composite of her videography of news stories for Northshore News, the channel’s award-winning student newscast.

“This was good storytelling with excellent use and placement of video,” judges said of Kitch’s entry.

Kitch is set to graduate this month and has already been hired as a TV news reporter for WAFB-TV (CBS) Ch. 9 in Baton Rouge. Her stories can be seen here and here.

The Southeastern Channel student sportscast The Big Game took second place in the Best Sportscast or Sports Program category for its March 8, 2018 episode. Last year The Big Game won first place in the category. The story can be viewed here.

Among those contributing to the winning episode were co-anchor Scherer, co-anchor Dylan Domangue of Houma, guest anchor Richie Solares of New Orleans, reporter Wesley Boone of Alexandria, reporter Schuylar Ramsey of Springfield, and producer-director Freddie Rosario of Luling.

Boone is currently a sports anchor-reporter for KALB-TV (NBC) Ch. 5 in Alexandria, while Rosario is a director and videographer at the same station.

“We’re excited that our students have won these prestigious Associated Press awards, several for the second or third year in a row,” said Southeastern Channel General Manager Rick Settoon. “It reflects our high-quality and professional standards in broadcast journalism training at the Southeastern Channel, evidenced not only by these awards, but by the large number of students who have landed jobs and are succeeding in the professional television industry. Judges stated that our students’ work looks like it was done by professionals. That’s a tribute to their enterprise, creativity, hard work, and editorial and technical talents.”

The Southeastern Channel has now won over 400 awards in the past 16 years, including 17 Emmy awards. It has also been named first place in the nation six times by College Broadcasters, Inc. and first-place Best College TV Station in the South seven times since 2007 by the Southeast Journalism Conference, made up of 40 universities in an eight-state region in the southeast US.

The Southeastern Channel can be seen on Spectrum 199 in Tangipahoa, Livingston, St. Tammany and St. Helena parishes. The live 24-7 webcast and video on demand archives can be seen at The channel is on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Instagram.

Southeastern Instructor Alison Pelegrin Awarded Atlas Grant

Southeastern Louisiana University English Instructor and nationally- recognized poet Alison Pelegrin has received a $34,000 Awards to Louisiana Artists and Scholars grant to fund the completion of her fifth poetry collection Feast Days. A sub-program of the Louisiana Board of Regents Support Fund’s Research and Development Program, ATLAS is designed to provide support for major scholarly and artistic productions with potential to have a broad impact on regional and/or national levels.

Alison Pelegrin
Alison Pelegrin

Poems from Pelegrin’s in-progress manuscript have appeared in top-tier journals, such as Image: Art, Faith, Mystery, The Southern Review, Tin House, and The Cincinnati Review.

“The Louisiana Board of Regents has granted me the triple crown – validation of my work, substantive financial support, and the precious resource of uninterrupted time to probe the issues I am writing and thinking about,” she said. “Reviewers have often noted the importance of Louisiana in my work, and for my beloved state to reward me in this way is a great honor. I am so grateful. I still can’t believe it is real.”

Pelegrin said Feast Days celebrates Louisiana and its cycle of destruction and rebirth on spiritual, political, racial, and environmental spectrums. Her work, she said, comes from a world of floods, of cars washed away, of fish swimming in streets and shoes bobbing in closets.

“I grew up in the shadow of New Orleans, on the West Bank of the Mississippi River, meaning that mansions and oak trees and seersucker society were just out of reach thanks to the barriers of water and wealth,” she said. “The tension of an outsider’s existence made my work spiritually rich, alive with the voice of lived experience. Poetry has never been more essential in a region that struggles to survive ecological and social catastrophes so often caricatured by outsiders with their drop-in scorn dressed up to look like concern.”

Pelegrin hopes to attend a two- to four-week residency at a writer’s colony and has plans to travel to more regional destinations, including Whitney Plantation, the Civil Rights Museum in Montgomery, Ala., and the sites where Confederate statues once stood.

Pelegrin is also the author of Waterlines, Hurricane Party, and Big Muddy River of Stars. In 2007, she was awarded a creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

Lion of the Legislature

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It’s not about building relationships. Merely knowing people doesn’t cut it.

It’s about building friendships.

If anyone should know what it takes to be an effective public servant, it would be John Alario Jr. His 45 years in elected office include nine terms as State Representative (District 83) and, once term limits were instituted, three terms as State Senator (District 8). They also include two terms serving as Speaker of the House (1984-1988 and 1992- 1996), as well as two consecutive terms as Senate President (2012–present). Only four others in public service in the nation have held the top leadership roles in both their states’ House and Senate chambers. He has also earned the distinction as the only Louisiana Legislator to serve twice as Speaker and twice as President.

Needless to say, his political credentials are off the charts impressive.

So, how does the son of a commercial fisherman from Westwego climb to such political heights?

He’ll tell you it’s due to Southeastern Louisiana University.

Recruiters from Southeastern traveled to West Jefferson High School in 1961 and brought with them several current students who were West Jeff alumni. They made an impression with a young John Alario who said he had always heard great things about Southeastern. Knowing other West Jeff students who were “good guys” who went there sealed the deal for him.

Well, that and the fact that the school was far enough away yet still close enough to make it home on weekends to visit “my girl (his future wife Ree).”

“I learned solid academics and how to make real friendships,” he said. “Unlike kindergarten, when your mom drops you off and the only expectation is for you to get along with everyone else, this was my opportunity to meet people and make friendships based on trust, respect and appreciation of each others’ viewpoints.

“Those friendships made at Southeastern taught me that people always have more in common than they don’t,” he added. “Over time I learned from them that all people cry when their children hurt. They weep when their parents pass. And they all want things to be better for their own children when they grow up.”

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Alario has been described as someone who wins votes by winning friends—an excellent listener with an exceptionally calm demeanor even in the face of some of Louisiana’s most “passionate and colorful” elected officials.

“There are always two sides to every issue—sometimes three sides. I listen to all the sides so we can find a way to mold them together,” he said. “Everybody’s got to be willing to give a little for democracy to work. That’s part of the problem with what we’re seeing today. People are digging in and unwilling to give anything.”

He added that you’ve got to know the rules and work within the rules. Now, make no mistake: that doesn’t mean he’s a political pushover by any means. In fact, the phrase “timing is everything” lends itself very well to a vote back in 1992. Alario had caught wind of a planned attempt to pull one over on the supporters of legalizing a land-based casino in New Orleans. The plan was for opponents to provide false assurance of its passage. Those against the measure would indicate votes in favor on their voting machines, but planned to switch their votes in the final seconds of voting. This would likely lead some legislators who were in favor—but would rather not have to take the vote on record — think it was destined to pass even without their votes. They wouldn’t vote because they thought their votes weren’t needed, and when the opponents switched their votes against it, it would fail. With no specific amount of time for voting prescribed in the House Rules of Order, Alario simply sped up his delivery of the call for votes—after having privately notified the staff that his calls for votes may be more rapid than usual that day. The voting closed before those planning to switch had a chance to do so, and the measure passed.

He was criticized for his swift delivery, but it was well within the rules of legislative engagement.

Of course, anyone in the political spotlight for such a lengthy duration will receive his or her fair share of disparagement from time to time. However, his colleagues will tell you he eventually wins over even his sharpest critics with his self-effacing style, his desire to find middle ground and often even his culinary acumen.

“If someone votes against something I support, I want to understand their reasons,” he said. “I’ve found that inviting them over to the Barracks for dinner at the President’s Apartment and enjoying an adult beverage or two with them helps us open up the conversation and better understand each others’ sides.”

What’s for dinner? Crawfish etouffee and chicken stew with lima beans are two of his specialties.

Whether over a seafood supper or in the hallways and meeting rooms of the Capitol, Alario practices his belief that one must first listen in order to learn. In fact, in the early 1990s, he was in the position to help facilitate greater opportunity for legislators to hear from the people of Louisiana. So that the public would be able to provide input and better engage with the state’s legislative process, he directed the construction of additional committee meeting rooms at the State Capitol. The House of Representatives applauded him for his foresight by unanimously passing a resolution naming the addition “Alario Hall.”

His penchant for paying attention to all parties involved has earned him a reputation as someone who will give you his word, and, most importantly, keep it. Trust is an invaluable commodity. It’s something he picked up from his Uncle Antoine who was an ice boat runner “back in the day.”

“The fishing crews would stay out for weeks at a time. My uncle would run ice out to the boats and pick up their catches to bring back to the dock and hold for them until they came back in,” he said. “Never once was he accused of shorting anyone even one shrimp. That level of trust would be hard to come by in today’s business world.”

Antoine Alario later served thirty-two years as a Westwego City Council member. His nephew jokingly refers to him as one of the three “rock star politicians” he’s had the opportunity to know over the years—the other two being Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards and President Bill Clinton.

“When we’d walk into a room, people would rush up to actually touch them,” he said. “It was crazy.”

He’s worked alongside no shortage of differing personalities, including seven governors who hail from various points all over the political spectrum. Those are Gov. Edwards, Gov. Dave Treen, Gov. Buddy Roemer, Gov. Mike Foster, Gov. Kathleen Blanco, Gov. Bobby Jindal and Gov. John Bel Edwards.

That’s a highly remarkable list of co-workers and it doesn’t even begin to scratch the surface of men and women he is honored to have called colleagues over the past four decades of service. Take—for example—the person who held the title of the youngest legislator in the House of Representatives when Alario was elected at the ripe old age of 28. It wasn’t him. He was the second youngest.

“I honestly can’t remember who was the youngest,” he said. “It must have been either Woody Jenkins or Richard Baker.”

Which one, of course, matters not, but it’s proof positive that Alario is more often than not, in really good company.

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The best company came when he was invited to greet Pope John Paul II at the airport in 1987. “Speaking directly with him was by far the highlight of my 45 years of public service,” he said.

His strong Catholic faith keeps him centered, he said. And he remains grateful for the faith his constituents have placed in him for so many years.

“It may not always appear that a certain vote on its face value is in the best interest of those back home, but they trust me that there’s a bigger picture or a piece of the puzzle that has to be placed,” he said. “And, of course, I have made my share of mistakes, too. And they have forgiven me for those. I am forever thankful for all their support.”

It’s a reciprocal relationship. Alario has enjoyed their support and his constituents have enjoyed the fruits of having the most senior member of the Legislature hail from their hometown. Over the years his districts have been speckled with construction and projects that add up to more than $1 billion.

With more than 435,000 residents now living and working in Jefferson Parish, it looks quite a bit different than it did when there was no environmental regulation and the Robinson Can Company, known for its canned shrimp product, would dump its remnant seafood hulls directly in the bayou adjacent to its property. It stunk. It really, really stunk, he said.

That stink is what motivated Alario to first run for public office. But first, he had to navigate newly drawn districts that resulted from the Civil Rights movement of the 1960s and the Voting Rights Act, passed in 1965. In 1972 Louisiana replaced at-large seats with single-member Legislative seats. Previously Jefferson Parish had elected six at-large members of the House of Representatives. Drawing geographic district boundaries insured that for the first time ever some members would have to come from the West Bank. Initially Westwego was split in two different districts, but a court declared that the political districts be re-drawn in order that Westwego could remain whole. Once his hometown was contained within a single district, Alario threw his hat in the ring. He promised voters that he would find a way to stop the stink that was keeping additional economic development at bay.

He won and he kept his word. He was able to secure state funding for a pipeline that ran from the seafood processing plant to the Mississippi River. The company got to continue canning shrimp, the discharge was now flowing into the Gulf where it became food in the ecosystem, and, most importantly, the stink was gone and economic development commenced. It was a win for everyone. And, it was the first of many to come.

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He associates sports with the votes he is most proud to have cast—those repealing Jim Crow laws in Louisiana. He remembers his first encounter with segregation when he went to play ball on the East Bank one time.

“In the neighborhood, we played sports outside all day, and would cup our hands to drink from a faucet when we got thirsty,” he said. “But we went to play once on the East Bank, and I clearly remember there being two drinking fountains. One was labeled ‘White’ and the other ‘Colored.’”

The ‘White’ fountain wasn’t working correctly so he and his friends drank from the ‘Colored’ fountain.

“It was wonderfully clear and pure water,” he said. It resonated with him that the water from both fountains was the same, and two separate fountains seemed silly.

Other transformations he’s witnessed entail technology and specifically its impact on media coverage of legislative action. Thanks to live streaming, video conferencing and even archived video recordings of committee meetings and legislative action in both chambers, journalists no longer must be physically present in order to report on the news of the day. However, he feels they should be present in order to more accurately and effectively do so.

“The cameras face toward us [the legislators] most of the time. People who aren’t there in person don’t get to see the body language or reactions of people in the audience or even of other legislators who aren’t in the frame all the time,” he said. “There is a lot lost. It can lead to things being reported without proper context.”

He added that there are still some who hold true to the higher journalistic standards and even some who still know how to properly use “those small reporter flip notepads.”

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There is fear that legislative decorum has lost a bit of its luster. The waning minutes of the First Legislative Special Session of 2016 stand out as one of the most telling of such statesmanship decline. Described as chaotic and embarrassing, the final minutes saw reams of documents and legislators flying back and forth from the Senate and House with legislation in order to meet the deadline for sine die—the closure of a legislative session as set by the Louisiana Constitution.

“We [the Senate] received seven or eight Conference Committee reports in the final seconds. If we wanted the funding to plug the budget hole, we had to vote without even reading the reports,” he said. “That’s not the way for a state to do business. It upset me greatly.”

He added that he feels members of the Legislature learned a great lesson that day, and that they have collectively moved forward in a manner more befitting an elected body of the Great State of Louisiana.

“Of course, nothing’s perfect,” he quipped. “Democracy is supposed to operate within rules. The problem is there is no 15-yard penalty for unsportsmanlike conduct in the Legislature.”

At 73 years old, Alario has spent more than half his lifetime as a team leader in the Legislature. He’s also been busy on the homefront. He and “his girl,” who was the motivation for weekend trips home from Southeastern, married and had four children. He became a widower in 2006 when his wife of 40 years, Ree, passed away after battling cancer. At present he is the proud grandfather of three boys and three girls—“a grandkid six-pack”—who range in age from nine-months-old to 18-year-old Allison, who is a freshman at Southeastern this fall majoring in kinesiology.

What advice would he give her and her fellow classmates?

“The world doesn’t owe you a whole lot. You can only earn respect through service,” he said. “Make sure you take some courses that give you a broad education so you can see the big picture. History is very important, so we can try to learn from the past, too.”

If you hope to one day run for office, he advises students to get involved in the local community so they can learn its various needs. “Volunteer at a Chamber [of Commerce] to learn about the business community’s needs. Be a volunteer fireman to find out about emergency response needs. Donate your time at a nursing home to find out what senior citizens need,” he added. “Oh, and don’t forget to study!”

Wise words from a true Lion of the Legislature.

Due to term limits that he helped pass, however, he is currently serving his final term as a State Senator.

“At this point I’m more concerned about the BIG term limit than any political term limit,” he said with a grin. “I had seven by-passes 18 years ago when I had a heart attack. The doctor tells me those usually last about 10 years. As best I can tell, I’m about eight years past my warranty right now.”

So what’s next?

He says he’s leaving his options open.

“Three years is a LONG TIME when it comes to politics,” he said.

He could run for the House of Representatives again in 2020. He could retire and relax. He could also retire and go back to school.

Really? Back to school?

“Yes, I need to see if any of my old credits would still apply toward another degree,” he said with a smile. “I may very well go to Southeastern again and make more friends.”

At Southeastern’s Fall Commencement in December, 2016, Senator Alario was presented with the Southeastern Louisiana University Lifetime Achievement Award.

By Erin Moore Cowser. Originally published fall 2016 in the Southeastern Magazine.

Download the full article here.

Free for Alumni: Cloud Foundations Course

The Southeastern Alumni Association, along with the College of Science and Technology through its Workforce Talent Initiative, is offering a unique professional development opportunity for Southeastern graduates. This offering allows Southeastern alumni access to a free program that provides a direct pathway to receive an Amazon Web Services (AWS) certification.

The AWS Academy Cloud Foundations Course provides a detailed overview of cloud concepts and AWS core services, security, architecture, pricing, and support. This course is designed to be delivered over 20 hours, and it prepares students to pursue becoming an AWS Certified Cloud Practitioner.

There is no cost for Southeastern alumni to participate in this online-based course.

Instructor led sessions will be conducted virtually and will begin on June 14.  For more information, or to register for this course, contact Workforce Talent Initiative Student Success Specialist Dakota Bankston at

To learn more about Amazon Web Services, click here.