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Beyond the classroom: The ultimate DIY woman

Keri Turner Houseboat Voila 2012

Dr. Keri Turner, an associate professor of English, often photographs the lush vegetation and coastal wildlife surrounding her handmade houseboat, the Katy Lucy. A nearby marina sells her prints, and the Smithsonian National Zoological Park has featured several of her photos on its Migratory Bird Center’s website.

Dr. Keri Turner is a paragon of freespiritedness and determination. At 19, she began literally roaming the earth, searching for inner peace and truth. Her meandering path brought her from California, where she was hired by Beach Boy Mike Love to tend to his transcendental meditation house — to India, where she taught English and meditated in an ashram.

Perhaps the younger Turner’s aversion to planting her flag on steady ground is what led the more-seasoned Turner to decide to live (at least part time) on the water. A few years ago, she got an urge to build a houseboat; never mind that she had no construction experience. Turner, an associate professor of English, checked out a book on wood-frame construction from the Nicholls library, found an old boat hull for sale in Napoleonville, gathered her own raw materials — “mostly reclaimed wood from the side of the road” — and set to work.

The Thibodaux native accepted advice and help from family members and friends, including a Habitat for Humanity volunteer, but all in all, the planning and labor were Turner’s.

“I’m quite thankful for the experiences of my younger days,” she says. “They taught me patience among other things, and this houseboat would never have been built without that.”

Keri Turner Houseboat Voila 2012

Turner had no construction experience when she got the urge to build her houseboat. The Thibodaux native relied on help from library books, friends and Habitat for Humanity.

Turner christened the boat as the Katy Lucy “because that’s what my mother would call me whenever I was good.” She hopes the vessel will behave, too, as it rests on Lake Verret at the mouth of Bayou Crab, where Turner’s grandfather once had a camp. After two years of steady construction, she moved into the houseboat on June 17, 2011, and now splits her time between her Lake Verret and Thibodaux homes.

Turner’s biggest challenge in constructing the houseboat was making sure the weight was evenly distributed throughout the hull — “a slow, painstaking process” — but her persistence paid off. The hull survived Hurricane Gustav as well as a subsequent tropical storm. The boat has since become a fully functional, livable home with solar-generated electricity, plumbing, outboard propulsion and a covered porch with a quintessential south Louisiana view — a backyard of sorts with cypress trees, alligators and ospreys.

When it comes to work, Turner performs her professional duties from both homes — teaching distance learning courses from the Katy Lucy and commuting to campus for traditional classes from her Thibodaux home. “Of course, I prefer seeing my students face to face, but it all balances out,” Turner says, as she surveys the meditative qualities of the peaceful environment surrounding her boat.

— Written by Graham Harvey

This article originally appeared in the 2012 issue of Voilà! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.

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