On Thursday morning, Roxie was obviously very busy with the festival only a week away - calling about t-shirts, speaking with her committee chairpersons, and basically doing a bit of everything involved with putting on a festival that brings tens of thousands of people to Crowley for the city’s signature weekend.
“I don’t know how she does it,” said her friend and Rice Festival Board Member Angela ‘Gracie’ Shreve. “She’s not one to fluff herself. She does the work of five people.”
Yet, for someone who is right in the middle of her busiest time of year Roxie always seems to be quick to smile and is actually somewhat soft-spoken. And when asked about her family she becomes emotional, not with sadness, but with pride.
When asked about her daughter Kira Viator, who along with her band ‘the Bayou Beats,’ will be opening up the festival Thursday at the main stage, one could tell that there is no way she could mask the pride she feels.
Kira, who played her first show at the Rice Festival when she was ‘around 10 or 11 years old,’ had received the Governor’s Award for her musical accomplishments ‘some years ago.’ When Roxie was being interviewed by Acadiana television personality Agnes Derouen (who now works in Lake Charles), her response when asked how she felt about her daughter’s success was ‘I’m so proud I could just pop.’
“Now that’s a running joke in our family (which includes her husband, Crowley Fire Chief and Bayou Beats bassist, Jody Viator),” she said. “Every time I get excited about something they say ‘you’re not going to pop are you?’.”
She obviously has several memories of the Rice Festival but when asked about her best one, she became emotional once more for good reason.
“I’d have to say it was last year,” said Viator who’s mother, Helen Trahan Istre, died during the past year. Her father Mitchell Istre is in poor health and she acknowledged that he had probably seen his last Rice Festival.
“We had Governor Edwards on stage and I made sure to have my parents up there in a chair,” she said. “The Governor came over and spoke to them for a few minutes and took a picture and it was just wonderful. And nearly our entire family had come in for the festival last year.”
She paused for a moment to compose herself.
“I can’t see it getting any better than that,” she said as she proudly displayed the picture of her parents with Governor Edwards.
Roxie said that this year the thing she is most proud of are the t-shirts that are being sold to raise money for the Miles Perret Cancer Center. It was cancer that eventually caused her mother’s death.
However, those around Crowley who see the work and the hours she puts into her job (her official title is Festival ‘Coordinator’ which is almost an understatement) have nothing but great things to say about her.
“There’s been so many days that I look in her office and she has a phone pressed up against each ear...I can’t imagine how she concentrates,” said International Rice Festival General Chairperson Gene Williams. “She is simply amazing. I don’t know how we’d do it without her.”
“I’ve had several nights where I’m up here past 1 a.m. and poor Jody and Kira are literally asleep on my office floor,” smiled Roxie. “If I’m ultimately responsible I take that position very seriously.”
However, she is quick to thank everybody - especially the volunteers - who help with everything that she needs.
“Without those volunteers...and there are over 100 this year, we could not get this done,” she said. “I feel so fortunate every time someone comes in to volunteer.”
Roxie said that she thinks of the festival as ‘a time when friends and family come together and often reunite.’
“I’m just one piece of that,” she said modestly.
Perhaps one of the most important pieces the International Rice Festival has ever known.