By KEVIN CHIRI
Slidell news bureau
LACOMBE — Can one man lead the transformation of a community?
Tom Aicklen, even at the age of 78, is apparently intent on doing all he can to play a part in that.
The longtime Lacombe resident, well-known to many in that community as an activist who pursues progress even at the expense of upsetting some he deems as in-the-way, is pushing hard to get Lacombe noticed, and growing, with a long list of plans, activities and initiatives.
Leading the list is the news this week that the Lacombe Crab Festival, which he founded in 1976 through his own advertising agency, is apparently on its way to changing leadership hands, reverting to guidance from a board of Lacombe-area residents. (See related story below.)
In 1981, Aicklen registered the Lacombe Heritage Center as a non-profit and has used the organization as a vehicle to promote and assist a multitude of Lacombe initiatives.
Leading the list is the plan for a Lacombe Cultural Heritage Economic Enterprise Corridor that will extend along Highway 190 to include the areas of the Tammany Trace, Bayou Pacquet Road, Camp Salmen Nature Park and the Pottery Oak Park in Mandeville.
Aicklen sees the Lacombe Heritage Enterprise Zone as the anchor for economic development, and especially to preserve the rich heritage in that region connected to the Choctaw Indians, as well as the Creoles.
“There is so much Lacombe has to offer,” Aicklen said. “We want to get the word out about that, and are trying to get government support for these initiatives that will boost economic development in this region.”
Aicklen is a familiar name to many longtime Slidell and Lacombe residents. He headed an advertising agency in the region for many years, was involved with TV and radio, and has been an outspoken voice for dozens of Slidell and Lacombe organizations, both public and private.
Since moving to Lacombe and building a house there in 1965, he fell in love with the heritage of the Creoles and Choctaws there. He has a special place in his heart for Father Adrien E. Rouquette, the first native Louisianian to become a Catholic priest, who served the Lacombe area and became a missionary to the Choctaw people.
Among the many projects Aicklen is promoting is a bicentennial celebration on February 26, 2013, which will be the 200th anniversary of Rouquette’s birth in 1813. He has plans for Archbishop Aymond to celebrate the birthday with a mass, including hymns to be sung in the Choctaw language.
Among other projects Aicklen is working on is a Choctaw Heritage Awareness Commemorative Theater to be built in Camp Salmen, where a play would be performed to maintain the history of the Choctaws. Aicklen has already traveled to Cherokee, NC, where a similar outdoor drama theater is used to perform plays about the Cherokee tribes, who have many tour areas there to keep their history alive, and add to the economic development.
“We want to market Lacombe as the gateway to this region. There are over 400,000 travelers who pass through St. Tammany every year, and we want them to become aware of the heritage and history Lacombe has to offer,” Aicklen said.
Aicklen credits new Lacombe Councilman Jake Groby for getting onboard many of the initiatives there, especially in helping get a new board of Lacombe residents to head the Lacombe Crab Festival.
Parish government officials apparently took over the festival in 2004, and have ensured the festival returned for the last eight years before the recent decision to pass it back to Lacombe residents.
In a letter to Groby, Aicklen discussed ideas to return the festival to a more family-friendly event that will draw hundreds to the community each year.
Aicklen has much more he is working on for Lacombe, including better support for the Senior Center there, including a newly-constructed walkway, and improvements for the Lacombe Museum.
“This is all about big-time economic development here,” he added. “We have worked for 30 years on many of these projects and now we are seeing the support we need for them, so we want to get the word out about what we are doing in Lacombe.”
Anyone interested in joining the effort can call 882-7218 or e-mail to: firstname.lastname@example.org .