Donaldsonville Rotary elects Chief contributor as president

Greg Fischer Editor-in-chief
gfischer@weeklycitizen.com
Juanita C. Pearley

The Donaldsonville Rotary Club has chosen Juanita C. Pearley to be president of its organization. She is only the second African American woman to serve as president. The first was Allison Hudson in 2011-12.

Donaldsonville is a city that contains a small group of dedicated people. The community is driven, in many ways, by this small group. These people can be seen at every meeting and function. Without a doubt, Pearley, a weekly contributor to The Chief is one of them.

She says that her first writing job was with the 4-H Club. She remembers running "our little articles," as she says, to The Chief office.

"It's very humbling to say that they put their trust in me to represent them in the district," Pearley said.

She has been in the Rotary Club for three years, ever since she became director of the Donaldsonville Chamber of Commerce.

In Donaldsonville, the Rotary Club helps with schools, among other things. They provide the Head Start students with Dolly Parton's Imagination Library. This is a reading program that delivers books to individual children.

Pearley said that Rotary fills the need. The schools and churches in Donaldsonville do a lot for the community, but if something is a worthy cause Rotary is prepared to jump into it.

"It has been a learning experience to get to see what Rotary is about," Pearley said. "Rotary is a humanitarian club. They do things for people and help the community in whatever capacities they are lacking in."

But what qualifies someone to lead this club? In the case of Pearley, it may be said that a diverse career background could be one qualification.

Before becoming the chamber director, Pearley was retired from the State Attorney General's office, where she served as executive secretary to the section chief. She explained that each department in the AG's office has a leader and she was the secretary to that leader. She worked in the department of Civil Rights litigation.

She actually worked for the AG's office long enough to have served under four different Attorneys General: William Guste, Richard Ieyoub, Charles Foti, and "Buddy" Caldwell. She begins laughing as she spouts these names, and it is completely disarming.

"I laugh because when people ask what administration did you work under, I say 'All of them.'"

She remembers one time when an inmate filed a lawsuit with the AG's office written on tissue paper.

"You gotta do what you gotta do when you don't have the resources necessary," she said.

Before that, she worked at a bank for a decade. After nine years, Pearley said she quit the AG's office to work for LSU's agriculture division. Then she worked for the 23rd judicial district attorney's office.

"Then, I left there and went back to the Attorney General's Office, and that's where I retired from."

Most of her working career was outside the Donaldsonville area, but she is an honor graduate of DHS's Class of '78. She was born in New Orleans an only child and raised in Belle Rose. She moved to Donaldsonville to stay with her aunt and go to school in '74.

Her mom and dad lived in New Orleans, and she would visit them during the Summer.

"My grandparents raised me, and they did not want me to be in New Orleans," she said. "They said it was too big of a city."

Everyone knew her as Thomas Jackson's granddaughter.

Moreover, Pearley said that being chamber director is enjoyable because it gives her the opportunity to be out in public. She said it's given her a different look at what's going on in Donaldsonville and showed her the ways in which she can help.

As far as Rotary Club goes, she said she is still learning the formalities. Two weeks back she attended a Rotary Club conference to help with this endeavor. They learned about writing grants and fundraising, among other things.

Before the meeting place became Cafe Lafourche, Pearley said the Donaldsonville Rotary Club would meet at Lafitte's Landing. The former five-star John Folse restaurant closed in 2005.

Pearley has one adult daughter who will graduate in May from LSU in mental health rehabilitation. But she is also called "Nana" by her godchildren, one of whom couldn't say "Nanny," so they just call her "Nana." But Nana is actually a grandmother in most other cases.

"I love being with those 'nana babies,'" she said. "I love to do crafts--a little crochet, paintings, jewelry making, sewing, making mesh wreathes. And I love to play on my iPad."

Pearley is also a sports fan. "I'm a big Saints fan," she said. "I'm a Saint and an ain't. I love going to one of my nana babies football games and traveling with them."

Moreover, Pearley attends Emmanuel Baptist Church in Donaldsonville.

"Rotary is a diverse club. There's different ethnicities and people. Donaldsonville is getting into it per say, because there have not been many women in the club, holding positions. But they are changing and opening up like everyone else."

Lastly, here is a list of organizations that Juanita C. Pearley belongs to, as provided by her: Executive Director Donaldsonville Area Chamber of Commerce; President – Elect, Donaldsonville Rotary club; Ascension Fund Board Member; Ascension Head Start Policy Council Member; Downtown Development District Commissioner; President - Senior Ushers, Emmanuel Baptist Church; Chairperson, Women Ministry; President - Women Auxiliary; Merriman Skidmore American Legion Post 585; President, St. John Benevolent Society; President, Take Off Pounds Sensibly; Regional Representative, Louisiana Association of Clerical Employees.