Longtime lake residents honored guests in flotilla

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, September 17, 2003

LAKE ST. JOHN, La. &045; Flags wave and a marker gives the location on a long, field-straddled road in Concordia Parish. But the fields end at the sign and the waters of Lake St. John lie just ahead.

The flags &045; the American flag, the Louisiana state flag and the newly added Lake St. John flag &045; not only reflect a community but reflect its citizens &045; and two in particular.

Bob and Ruth Chennault, longtime residents of Lake St. John &045; he 66 years and she 55 years &045; are the embodiment of this community. Thus, the couple now serves as king and queen of the 11th annual Flotilla, the fourth of July celebration for lake dwellers. State Rep. Bryant Hammett Jr., D-Ferriday, will serve as grand marshal.

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Flotilla participants will decorate their boats with themes and span the lake for all to see.

This nine-mile long lake serves as a home to many, a place of fun to some and a life to these two.

Bob started his life on the lake in 1937 at the age of 12. His father, Claire Chennault &045; commander of the Flying Tigers, a lieutenant general in the Navy and veteran of China, Burma and India &045; moved the family there from the big city of Honolulu.

But Bob did not mind. It was love at first sight.

He was very excited about the &uot;big swimming pool in your front yard.&uot;

Bob remembers swimming in the lake with his brothers and sisters &045; eight children in all but only four at home when the Chennaults moved to the lake &045; but his mother would never watch them swim.

Why? Because she couldn’t swim, he tells with a smile.

Bob followed his father’s footsteps and joined the Navy, one of six family members in the Armed Forces.

Then, Bob attended college at Magnolia A&M in Magnolia, Ark., now called Southern Arkansas University.

It was in Magnolia that Ruth Harper, a high schooler five years his junior, caught his eye.

&uot;We met in a roller rink,&uot; Bob admits with a smile as he looks at his blushing bride.

Ruth grew up in Magnolia but became a Louisiana resident before long.

Bob and Ruth moved back to Lake St. John just one year after marrying and have lived in Bob’s childhood home ever since.

&uot;We’ve changed its look in the last 55 years, but it’s the same house,&uot; Ruth said.

Bob worked at Chevron Oil, which was housed on the lake just one mile from the Chennault’s home for 30 years.

Ruth stayed at home until their two children, Ken and Kathy, graduated from high school. Now, she and Bob run both the Lake St. John Water Works and gas company.

Now these two hard-working lake dwellers will serve as king and queen of the 11th annual Flotilla parade, a parade they have watched from the shade of their yard every year. Bob will serve as the first king of the Flotilla. There is usually a queen and last year there were even two queens, but there has never been a king before.

&uot;When their names were brought up, it was a unanimous decision,&uot; Donna Maroon, chairwoman of the Flotilla committee said.

Ruth said their boat will follow a popular theme among boats in the parade &045; patriotic.

Hammett, a Ferriday native and self-employed civil engineer as well as state representative, said he will decorate his boat in the same patriotic motif.

Hammett, who grew up fishing, swimming and skiing on the lake, feels privileged to be named grand marshal.

He has been a spectator and even ridden in the parade every year and said &uot;it’s just amazing.&uot;

The parade starts at 2 p.m. Saturday. People can register their decorated boats &045; anything that floats and can maintain parade speed &045; as well as piers.

Each boat and pier that enters will be judged and prizes are given for the winners.

&uot;Every camp and every pier on the lake is full,&uot; Hammett said of the turnout for the flotilla.

And at the end of the parade, the Rev. Al Camp of St. Mary Basilica and the Rev. Jamie Medina-Cruz of St. Patrick Catholic Church will bless the fleet.

&uot;The best thing that has grown out of the flotilla is a sense of community,&uot; Gaye Guercio, Flotilla committee member said.

Not only do the Lake St. John residents get involved, but so do the surrounding areas.

&uot;It’s a lot of fun,&uot; Ferriday resident Shelia Alwood said. &uot;It helps bring the community together, not just the people on the lake.&uot;

The king, queen and grand marshal will be crowned Friday night before the parade. After the flotilla, the day will be capped off with fireworks.

&uot;I think it’s going to be exciting,&uot; Ruth said with a smile.