Every week I write a column called BE YOU for one of the local papers (The Times of Acadiana) – Each week someone different answers the questionnaire – the paper often has to edit them, so here are all the answers, unedited (the whole truth)
This week is: Renee Bennett
Renee is currently the Director of Volunteer Services & Patient Eligibility at the Lafayette Community Healthcare Clinic. She is also the vision behind and the “Founding Mommy” of the Children’s Museum of Acadiana. As you can tell she is a women of action – someone who has a thousand ideas and knows how to use them. We are not related, but I am proud to call her a friend
What was your first job.
For my grandparents’ monument and commercial stone company, B & B Memorials in Alexandria, LA. I was almost twelve. I transferred all of the grave marker contracts information onto index cards (pre-computer age) and cross-referenced them. Spending time around all those death dates and in cemeteries has certainly added something extra to my sense of humor.
Describe a typical day in your life.
I try not to have too many typical days as the need for variety is an affliction of the right brain. But I do get up each day around 5:30 am. I love mornings and am disgustingly cheerful then. I have been told to “cheer down”. My 24 hours contains a day job (currently I am the Director of Volunteer Services/Patient Eligibility of the Lafayette Community Health Care Clinic), time working on my own projects, then it seems I am always organizing something, and if it is a really awesome day I will have some goodness with family and friends.
What advice would you give the younger you?
You are going to a have very, very unusual and interesting life, please take lots of pictures of the good stuff. Try not to dwell too long on the yucky stuff. Worry less about what other people think.
What event in your life most shaped who you are now?
It is not so much an event but rather a collection of memories of watching my grandparents. They worked together for more than 30 years (B & B Memorials). Their home and office and shops were all on the same property. They worked long hours. They thoughtfully helped mourning families with markers for loved ones’ graves. Their efforts provided the beautiful stonework on massive commercial buildings (you can see their 50 year old effort on the ACA’s building). They each were artists. His medium was in stone. Her’s was in stained glass for church and temple windows, and in oil paint. They were open and caring to all people. They fed strangers on their doorstep. She was thoughtful to a fault. They were good and fair employers. They practiced square dance steps in the kitchen. He made Chinese food and giant breakfasts. They financially assisted many of their employees and family members. They still held hands and kissed even after 71 years of marriage. And all of this work and art and love happened seven days a week.
What values do you live by?
Play nice, savor the good stuff, stand up for those that cannot, kindness is not weakness, humor saves spirits.
What do you most appreciate?
People that actually work to affect the change they seek, time with friends and family, the sound of a young child laughing so hard they gasp to get the air back inside, the luxury of a day that includes three meals and sliding into clean sheets, Mitzi Domino & Marvita Hudson my partners in building the Children’s Museum of Acadiana, and the fact that now more than at any other time in history we have access to different foods, music, transportation, and ideas.
What is your favorite journey?
The sweetest memories for me are from a Christmas a few years ago spent tent camping on a bluff overlooking the Pacific Ocean in Big Sur with my two sons. A millions stars at night, holiday foods prepared over a campfire, using rocks as poker chips during chilly late card games, and hiking the mountain stream trail down to where it meets the ocean. I highly encourage everyone to drive the PCH at least once. Breathtaking.
Where is your favorite place to be alone?
When I was a child it was high up in a tree, legs dangling from a sturdy limb. As an adult I still enjoy quiet moments when I can be “above it all” surrounded by nature.
What living figure most inspires you?
Working with non-profits in many places I have the privilege of meeting folks with hardships trying to have dreams even though circumstance/geography/disaster/illness has knocked them to the ground. People that would have every reason to climb under the covers and never come out again that keep going, smiling, making plans, and, remaining loving.
What was the best advice you were ever given?
You can always find a way to get more money but you can never get more time, AND, people are more important than things.
What book would you tell everyone to read?
It may not be for everyone but I encourage right brainers to read it, The War of Art by Steven Pressfield (not to be confused with the Art of War)
What is the best thing about where you live?
South Louisiana contains this critical mass of open-minded, creative, loving, and hard-working people that choose to regularly share their gifts, their food, their music, their time, and their good fortune. This mass of folk even makes those that do not possess such traits look good simply through geographic proximity. Everybody wins!
How do you “let the good times roll” ?
Listening to live music, Zydeco dancing, cooking, watching films, kayaking, visiting friends in Seattle and Los Angeles, and showing people the secrets of making giant bubbles at the Children’s Museum.
What did u want to be when you grew up?
A ballerina/stuntwoman. I imagined such a combination in a profession existed somewhere.
What is your motto?
Not so much a motto, but rather a goal, “treat people with dignity even if they are acting undignified”.
How would you like to be remembered?
Fondly, by family and friends.
What do you say to yourself when you doubt yourself?
Really??? Renee, you are how old now and you are still doing this doubting thing?
What three things are vital to BEing YOU?
Freedom to dream and scheme, time with those I love, access to great storytelling
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“USE YOUR TURN SIGNAL!!!!”(this one is used way too many times and one day I dream of a world where I never have to scream it again)
What is your favorite word?
Majuscule. The O in “Once upon a time” is just not that special without it. I rarely get to use it, so thanks!
What do you collect?
Marbles, disposable calligraphy pens (yeah, it doesn’t make sense to me either), and interesting hang tags and labels.
What food could you live on for a month?
“half and half” po-boys from Olde Tyme Grocery (shrimp and oyster)
What would you change about yourself?
I would get rid of my sweet tooth and stop talking over and interrupting others when they are speaking.
What literary, movie or cartoon character do you most identify with?
A blend of Ferris Beuller, Amelie, and Ofelia(Pan’s Labyrinth).
Describe yourself in five words.
A creative, protective, resilient, dreamer
What is your idea of happiness?
The sharing of ideas and conversations punctuated by hearty laughter with people I hold as dear, preferably before, during, and after a meal we all had a hand in preparing.
What is your favorite movie?
Le fabuleux destin d’amélie poulain (Amelie)
What music defines who you are?
A playlist that makes perfect sense to me, but seems disjointed to most everyone else: James Brown, Clem Snide, Rufus Wainwright, Clifton Chenier, Brass Bed, Sly & the Family Stone, Nina Simone, Wilco, Justin Townes Earle, Badly Drawn Boy, Curtis Mayfield, Sam Phillips, Percy Sledge, and Lucinda Williams.
What do you most regret?
Decisions made out of fear.
What question do you wish I’d asked?
Of the over seven billion people on the planet, who are your absolute favorites?
What would the answer be?
My sons. Brock Miller, a chef, and Bennett Miller, a filmmaker.