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Women of Opelousas – Barbara Ann Giesen Perrault

Photograph: Barbara Perrault on her first day of work for the Opelousas-St. Landry Chamber of Commerce in 1983.

Carola Lillie Hartley
Publisher and Contributing Writer

As we celebrate National Women’s History Month this year, we want to remember a special woman of Opelousas who did so much for the community and the parish. During this month of celebrating women, it is fitting to share the good this woman did for the Opelousas-St. Landry Chamber of Commerce. The history of the chamber of commerce in Opelousas goes back over 100 years, and a milestone in that history was the hiring of the first woman Executive Vice-president for the organization. Her name was Barbara Giesen Perrault.

About Barbara Ann Giesen Perrault
Born on August 10, 1934, in Superior, Wisconsin, Barbara Ann was the daughter of Irving Walter Giesen and Tracy O’Donald Giesen. She later moved with her family to Texas, where she majored in English and was a student at Rice University in Houston.

Barbara in 1960.

In 1960 Barbara became a member of the Opelousas community when she married Mason Perrault. The couple raised five children in Opelousas. Barbara was an active member of the community. She taught kindergarten at Cherry Street Elementary. She also taught at Opelousas Catholic School and Opelousas High School. In 1983 she accepted the position as Executive Vice-president of the Opelousas-St. Landry Chamber of Commerce. She was the first woman to run that organization.

Barbara served the chamber for five years. Board presidents during that time included Riki Dejean (1983), John Shaw (1984), Dr. Juanita Fink (1985), Talis Byers (1986), Charles Going (1987), and Jim Higginbotham (1988). With her leadership, so much was done at the chamber of commerce during the years she served.

Barbara Perrault working with Opelousas Mayor John W. Joseph in 1988.

After accepting the job as chamber executive, Barbara immediately went to work and with the help of her board held one of the chamber’s most ambitious membership drives, increasing chamber members by almost 100. When asked how that membership drive was so successful, Barbara said “it was the personal contact that did it.” Being organized and “working toward a common goal” helped the chamber grow and keep its membership. According to Perrault “People view the chamber as a place to go to get things done.” They believe in us and want to be a part of the chamber,” she said. The theme of that drive was “Pulling Together,” and that became Barbara’s theme during her time with the organization.

Barbara was involved in all parts of the community, and that helped her to attract volunteers for the chamber. She was the right person to pull people together. She made the chamber an important part of not just the business community, but the whole community. She served as Executive Vice-president until 1988 when she resigned.

After resigning, she moved to New Orleans where she worked for the W. W. Norton publishing firm. In 1998, she moved to Boulder, Colorado to be near one of her daughters. For the following 19 years she continued to enjoy life, loving the arts and enjoying the company of others. She died in Boulder, Colorado on January 18, 2017.

Barbara Perrault, another amazing Opelousas woman, who left her mark on our community motivated by the old adage, “If something is worth doing, it’s worth doing right.” And she sure did things right for Opelousas.

Barbara Perrault in 1988.