WATSON -- Now when visitors drive into Watson, they’ll know it.
A “Welcome to Watson” sign and a new flag pole were officially unveiled during an Independence Day dedication ceremony held last Thursday morning in the median of La. Hwy. 16, about half a mile past the Walmart in Watson.
The ceremony, held near the Hwy. 16 and Hwy. 1019 intersection, drew a crowd of 50 or so people, with many dressed in patriotic attire for the Fourth of July celebration. People watched as Jesse Gurney and Adolph Jarreau, both U.S. Armed Forces veterans, hoisted a brand-new American flag atop the pole.
Bob Wallner, one of several volunteers in the project, served as emcee of the ceremony and singled out others who had a hand in the median’s beautification over the years. That list is quite long, Wallner said.
“A lot of people were involved in this,” Wallner told the crowd. “This wouldn’t have gotten done without everybody here.”
Though the project picked up steam in the last three years, its origins stretch back more than three decades.
Long-time Watson residents Ponder and Jodie Jones formed the “Keep Watson Clean” initiative following the death of their granddaughter Christi Carrier, who died in a highway accident in 1986.
In February 1987, the Livingston Parish Police Jury (now the Parish Council) unanimously passed a resolution in support of the beautification project proposal, which was to be located on Hwy. 16 at Hwy. 1019 in Watson.
The next month, approximately 75 crepe myrtles were planted along the median at Hwy. 16. The Live Oak High Key Club assisted in the planting, and the trees’ maintenance has continued ever since thanks to a dedicated group of volunteers.
Live Oak United Methodist Church, which the Jones family attended, later took over maintenance of the road as part of Louisiana’s “Adopt a Road” program, which required adopted roads to be cleaned at least three times a year. Former Gov. Buddy Roemer even flew in on a helicopter to participate in a Saturday cleanup in 1990.
At the request of Susan Harris, one of the Jones’ daughters and Carrier’s mother, the family formed the Ponder and Jodie Jones Memorial in 2009. Since that time, Harris has applied for — and received — multiple grants from ExxonMobil to maintain the area.
In a letter to Pat Wallner, who led the recent effort to get the welcome sign completed, Harris said the work would not have been possible without “the ever faithful” Beverly and Henrietta Thames, Jean Guice, Bobbi Jo Guerin, and Pat Wallner and her husband.
“I think I could write a book on the trials and tribulations of our efforts,” Harris wrote.
But after many years, Harris and her family’s dream came to fruition.
The entire sign and flag project has been maintained without tax money, Pat Wallner said, with 80 percent of the funds coming from the Keep Livingston Beautiful (KLB) initiative, which has spearheaded other beautification projects around the parish over the last 12 years.
“We dearly love Livingston Parish, and we want to keep it beautiful,” KLB President Lynda Gardiner said during the ceremony.
For the last few years, the upkeep of the median has fallen on community volunteers.
Watson resident Bobbi Jo Guerin, along with Boy Scouts from Troop 58, regularly clean litter off the stretch of highway. Once a year, Guerin and a friend also set up a GoFundMe page to raise money for the flag fund.
In the past, the GoFundMe has raised more than $1,300 in just a few hours, Guerin said.
“I thank God everyday that [my parents] moved me out here,” said Guerin, who moved to the area in 1972. “I could not be prouder of a place to live than I am here.”
The Wallners also singled out Chad Bacus, an engineer in Livingston Parish who drew the designs for the site and worked with the state’s Department of Transportation and Development (DOTD) on the state regulations, and Councilman Garry “Frog” Talbert, who helped get the resolution passed by the Parish Council.
“This took everyone coming together,” Pat Wallner said.