Unfinished business

dobee.plaisance.voila.2013DoBee Plaisance has had unprecedented success as the Nicholls women’s basketball coach, but she’s not done yet.


t wasn’t supposed to happen this way.

Nicholls women’s basketball had just wrapped up its best season in team history, securing a coveted spot in the 2013 Southland Conference tournament.

At the previous year’s tournament, the Colonels had done the unthinkable — winning their first postseason game while knocking off top-seeded Central Arkansas. The 20-point upset announced to the conference that the historically downtrodden Nicholls program was now one to be contended with.

All season long, Coach DoBee Plaisance and her players had worked to ensure that 2013 would be their year. And it seemed like it might be. Back on the Merrell Center court in Katy, Texas, the Colonels were as close as they had ever come to a championship title. But in the tournament’s second round, that dream unraveled as they fell 86-70 to McNeese State University, a team they had beaten twice during the season.

The loss stung, no doubt. But one defeat wasn’t enough to weaken Plaisance’s resolve to win a conference championship. When it comes to winning, she doesn’t mince words.

“I think I’m going to win a championship every year,” she says, “and that’s never going to change.”

Standing out, on and off the court

Mere mention of a Nicholls women’s basketball championship would have been considered foolish when Plaisance arrived at Nicholls in 2008. The team went 2-25 that season, but Plaisance didn’t lose hope.

Slowly, she turned the tide after that two-win season, doubling team wins to four in 2010 and eight in 2011, then 15 in 2012 and 19 in 2013. Methodically, season by season, she’s built up not only the program but also the integrity of her players.

Ask her how she did it, and Plaisance attributes everything to faith, family and education — a trinity of values that her parents, Ray and Judy Ronquillo, instilled in her from an early age.

The oldest of four girls and one boy, Plaisance grew up in a large, tightknit New Orleans family. Even back then, she was a social ringleader with a supersized personality. As a slightly mischievous teen, she once caused a gas leak that closed a wing of her high school. With her biology teacher away from the classroom, Plaisance unknowingly kicked a gas knob while dancing on top of a lab table and showing off her Elvis impersonation to “Blue Suede Shoes.”

“I’ve been told I’ve never met a stranger, and that’s because I love people,” says Plaisance, who describes herself as being the “good kind of bad kid.”

As the first of three Ronquillo children to play Division I athletics, Plaisance made a name for herself by adopting an aggressive, scrappy playing style. At Southeastern Louisiana University, where she played for two years, Plaisance was ejected from a game after unintentionally knocking an opposing player out cold with her elbow. Known on campus as the “Hammond Hammer,” the 6-foot-2-inch Plaisance planned to continue her playing career in Germany until her father insisted she complete her degree.

After earning a bachelor’s degree in health science and attending graduate school, Plaisance switched gears and embarked on a coaching career.

Having a little faith

More than 25 years later, coaching underdog teams into championship winners has become the story of Plaisance’s career.

The women’s basketball program at St. Martin’s Episcopal School in Metairie was largely disregarded when Plaisance took over as head coach in 1986. Handed a team with only “three preppy girls who didn’t like to sweat,” Plaisance still believed she could win state championships there. In her eight years, she led the team to seven state playoffs and two state titles.

Women's Basketball vs Lamar 2013“I didn’t plan to leave St. Martin’s,” she says. “In my mind, I was going to continue to win state championships and then retire. That was my plan. I always tell people, if you want to make God laugh, tell him your plan.”

In 1995, Loyola University approached Plaisance with an offer to be the first head coach of its newly established women’s basketball program. The opportunity was too big for Plaisance to turn down.

With no assistant coaches, no scholarships to offer and few resources, Plaisance — now a mother of two — juggled the roles of head coach, recruiter, athletic trainer and operations manager. She taped ankles, set up bleachers before games, mopped floors and washed uniforms. After multiple seasons with only single-digit wins, Plaisance turned to her Christian faith for guidance and led an inspired season-opening practice.

“I told those kids: ‘You have two choices in life. You can look at what you have or what you don’t have. You have a staff that cares, but if you look at what we don’t have, we’re screwed. I’m tired of losing; it’s time we win here.’”

The Loyola Wolfpack went 21-11 that season, beating three Division I schools.

“All I wanted to do was get a banner up at Loyola,” she remembers. “Well, by the time I left, there were two conference and two tournament championship banners hanging.”

After leading her team to the NAIA Elite Eight in 2008, Plaisance once again found herself with an offer to leave a successful program and take over a struggling one — this time at Nicholls.

“When I learned that Nicholls women’s basketball had never had a winning season and had never won a postseason game, that’s what hooked me,” says the headstrong Plaisance. “I felt like this was a place where I could make a difference. Some of my friends in Division I said, ‘This isn’t the one, DoBee. Wait for another opportunity. It’s going to be a career-ender for you.’ But that just fired me up more.”

Making basketball a family affair

Plaisance calls herself a “coach mom,” and it’s a fitting description for how she interacts with her players and her own children. Whether she’s talking to her daughter, Theresa — a senior on the LSU basketball team and National Player of the Year candidate — or her son, Scott Jr. — a senior at Metairie Park Country Day School and highly recruited basketball player — or her team, Plaisance doles out the same basic advice: Do the right thing. And trust that doing the right thing will eventually pay off.

She deliberately blurs the lines between basketball and life principles. “When my players don’t run a line drill fast enough, I don’t get on them about being lazy; I get on them about settling,” Plaisance says. “I ask, ‘What are you going to do, settle in life? You can’t just do what you feel like every day. You have to get up every morning, push yourself and do what you don’t feel like.’ It’s all about accountability, faith and discipline — in life and on the court.”

Plaisance’s own children learned these lessons early, often accompanying their mom to her practices and camps. She didn’t force them to go the athletics route, but she made sure they were in that environment from a young age. Now in their ultracompetitive household, it’s Plaisance’s husband, Scott, who helps everyone keep life in perspective.

Married for 23 years, Plaisance and Scott have known each other since they were 9 years old — back when she asked him to join a neighborhood backyard kickball game. An outside salesman for DCL Mooring and Rigging, Scott is an easygoing dad and husband who splits his time among his wife’s, daughter’s and son’s athletic events.

“He’s the perfect complement to me,” Plaisance says. “He’s just a fun guy who loves to fish, loves a good joke and has fun just playing.”

Coaching with confidence

Plaisance, on the other hand, readily admits that she wants to win at everything. “I want to beat my players on the bus at spades, for Pete’s sake,” she says with her room-filling laugh.

When she recruits potential players, Plaisance sells them on the idea that they can make a difference at Nicholls and be a part of something special. Even though she has had unprecedented success with the Nicholls women’s basketball program, Plaisance wants more for herself and her players.

“I didn’t come here as a stepping stone. I came here to do something, and I haven’t done it yet,” she says. “I never said how long it was going to take me to win a championship here. It took me 13 years to reach sustained success at Loyola. But I feel like it’s time at Nicholls. This year, we have no excuses. We will have no distractions. We will all be on the same page.

“I’m not afraid to say it — we’re supposed to win this year.”

— Written by Clyde Verdin Jr., media relations director for athletics

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.

The cookbook connoisseur

More than 500 cookbooks cram the shelves of Marcelle Bienvenu’s home office. Some she collected while researching South Louisiana cuisine for Time-Life Books. Dozens of others were mailed to her by publishers after she began co-authoring New York Times best-sellers with Emeril Lagasse. She also inherited a good chunk of her collection from her mother, who had accumulated various cookbooks from local church groups and the Junior League.

With hundreds of resources at hand and with her family’s culinary traditions as inspiration, Bienvenu never runs out of recipe ideas. The St. Martinville native was seemingly born with the ingredients to become a cookbook author and food columnist.

“Where I really learned how to cook was at my dad’s elbow with a castiron pot over a wood-fire stove,” says Bienvenu, a Chef John Folse Culinary Institute instructor. “There was no knob for medium heat; you learned to move the pot halfway off the fire.”

Her father’s family owned and published the Teche News, leading Bienvenu to pursue a feature-writing job with The Times-Picayune. In the 1970s, she shifted her focus to culinary research.

“I really became intrigued by the differences in what people in New Orleans ate and the food that our family ate in the country,” says Bienvenu, who still writes a weekly column, “Creole Cooking,” for the Picayune.

After working in public relations and catering for restaurants such as Commander’s Palace and K-Paul’s Louisiana Kitchen, Bienvenu delved into her family’s cooking style and published her first cookbook, Who’s Your Mama, Are You Catholic and Can You Make a Roux? in 1991. Since then, she’s authored several more of her own, in addition to co-authoring mainstream titles.

“I learned quickly to write and talk like Emeril,” says Bienvenu, who worked with the famous chef in his home kitchen, perfecting recipes for four of his cookbooks. “The man can cook, but he can’t measure to save his life!”

Cookbook writing can be a time-consuming art with lots of failed recipe attempts and plenty of dirty dishes. But it certainly has its perks. For Abita Beer, Cooking Louisiana True, crates of different Abita beers were delivered to her home for recipe testing. For Cooking Up a Storm, Bienvenu helped Times-Picayune readers find recipes they had lost in Hurricane Katrina. And for True Blood: Eats, Drinks, and Bites from Bon Temps, she spent research hours watching every episode of HBO’s True Blood. But her favorite recipes are still those rural Cajun ones she preserved from her family. “I tell my students, you better ask your grandmaw today for her recipes, and follow her around the kitchen writing down what she does.”

— Written by Sarah Baudoin, 2013 mass communication graduate, and Stephanie Detillier Verdin, publications coordinator

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.

A coastal expedition

Caly trial


ennsylvania native Nicole Lundberg had lived in Louisiana for less than a month when she headed down to Cocodrie for something the Nicholls biology department dubs “Calypseaux.” Before she knew it, Lundberg was in muddy water up to her thighs, as she sowed new plants along Louisiana’s barrier islands. Later that evening, she found herself up to her elbows in boiled crabs, as she sampled genuine Cajun cuisine for the first time.

Lundberg quickly discovered what Calypseaux was — a total immersion into the Gulf Coast environment, into Louisiana culture and into the Nicholls marine and environmental biology master’s program. Many graduate programs host a retreat or orientation, but Nicholls faculty insist that Calypseaux is neither. Instead, it’s an expedition — inspired by famed explorer Jacques Cousteau and his research boat Calypso.

Each September, a new batch of Nicholls biology graduate students experiences Calypseaux, a uniquely Louisiana bonding experience. They arrive in Cocodrie on Friday without knowing much about one another, without really understanding where the graduate program will take them, without having much — or any — exposure to Louisiana’s coast. By Sunday, they return to Thibodaux with deep friendships and island nicknames, with firsthand knowledge of the state’s coastal erosion problem and with a fiery passion to discover something new through their graduate research.

“Marine biology is an old tradition, and one of the perks of this field is being a part of that legacy,” says Dr. Gary LaFleur, associate professor and expedition leader. “The Louisiana coast is always changing, so there are still things to discover, still things to see that have never been seen.”

— Photos by Misty Leigh McElroy

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.

Meet the Murphys

Dr. Bruce Murphy Presidential Announcement 2013On the sidelines of a Colonel soccer match in late October, the incoming Nicholls president walks through the crowd without attracting much attention. Wearing a university baseball cap and a Nicholls tee pulled over his dress shirt, he reaches for his long-lens camera and starts photographing the action. Only two weeks have passed since he was selected for the job, but he already looks like he belongs here. Like he is proud of this place.

“I hear it’s been quite a season,” he says of the soccer team’s then-undefeated run. “I coached my daughter’s soccer team to a perfect season once — 0-8 — we lost every game. When they called for dads to participate, I thought I’d be putting out the orange cones, not coaching.” He laughs at the memory then goes back to cheering on his new team — the Colonels.

Meet Dr. Bruce T. Murphy, the fifth president of Nicholls. He’s a retired lieutenant colonel who served 23 years in the U.S. Army. He’s a five-time college graduate who attended some of the nation’s most elite universities. He’s an accomplished academian who’s been a leadership and management professor, a business school dean and, most recently, a vice president of academic affairs.

But beyond his resume, he’s a down-to-earth man who loves bragging about his wife, enjoys a nice round of golf and carries a black and red backpack rather than a briefcase. Not the stereotypically rigid military-type or stuffy administrator, Murphy can tell adventure stories for days about the pancake breakfast he worked with John Wayne, his trip to the British School of Falconry and the time he competed on Cross-Wits, a nationally televised game show.

Murphy quote“You know, I anticipate that I’ll be at Nicholls long enough to tell many of these stories for years to come. You don’t want to get them all at the same time, do you?” he teases before revealing that he and celebrity partner Betty White won the final round of Cross-Wits. His prize package? A portable dishwashing machine, two suitcases, a Polaroid camera and a trip to the Virgin Islands … for one. “I went, but it was terrible,” he says with a laugh.

Murphy grew up in Encino, Calif., where dinner conversations often revolved around which celebrity his mother had run into at the grocery store that day. Despite his proximity to Hollywood, he led a pretty typical childhood — participating in Boy Scout activities and playing high school varsity football. His dream was to earn an English degree, serve two years in the Army and then become a high school teacher and coach.

A quite unusual college experience, however, shifted his career path. Murphy began his studies at the University of San Francisco, then moved back home to attend junior college, before finally landing at the University of California, Berkeley.

“In those four years, I lived in a dorm, at home, in an apartment and in a fraternity house; I had the whole gamut of student experiences,” he says. “Interestingly, I pledged a fraternity as a senior and was elected president. It was very bizarre but fun.”

During his senior year in Berkeley’s ROTC, Murphy qualified for an Army fellowship that would pay his way to graduate school.

“I was definitely not thinking of graduate school at the time, but it was just a deal I couldn’t pass up, and the Army kept offering me opportunities like that,” he recalls. “I didn’t say, ‘Hey, I think I’ll spend the next 20 years of my life in the Army.’ It just happened and seemed to pass by very quickly.”

During his Army career, Murphy spent nine years on college campuses — as either a student or professor — and another nine years serving overseas, mostly in Germany and Central America. His stint also included assignments with Reagan’s Presidential Inauguration Committee and at the Pentagon, where he met his wife, Jeanne, a U.S. Army colonel and former international athlete.

For the past couple of years, Murphy has been searching for an opportunity at the next level — a university presidency. From the moment he and Jeanne stepped foot on the Thibodaux campus, they sensed something different. They noticed a unique university culture where people were proud of their work and their region.

“Being named president was a moment I’ll treasure forever,” he says. “I’ve had people tell me, ‘When it’s right, you’ll know it, and they’ll know it. At Nicholls, it certainly feels that way to me.”

— Written by Stephanie Detillier Verdin, publications coordinator

This article originally appeared in the fall 2013 issue of Voila! magazine. Click here to read the entire issue.