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Contributing Writer

First were her familiar tears. Then she followed with an attempt to speak with a voice filled with emotion.

It wasn’t until she received a standing Delta Grand ovation that Pat Mason-Guillory, a longtime advocate for veterans affairs, retrieved her composure and accepted the first annual Presidential Award Thursday night presented by parish president Jessie Bellard.

Mason-Guillory, a retired St. Landry Parish educator and head of the school district’s parent involvement program, was given the award from Bellard before the start of his initial parish progress report presentation.

Bellard described Mason-Guillory as a hard working volunteer who along with others has developed, maintained and overseen funding for the St. Landry Veterans Memorial site on La. 182 south of Opelousas along with a cadre of other unpaid workers.

“Pat Mason is not an employee of this parish, but she is hard working and gives everything she has,” Bellard said before presenting the award to Mason-Guillory.

Jessie Perry, a retired U.S. Army veteran representing the Opelousas Veteran of Foreign Wars post 2483, pinned a state VFW medal on Mason-Guillory, while detailing what she has done for veterans in St. Landry and other parishes.

Perry recounted the effort Mason-Guillory provided during Operation Desert Storm and Desert Shield, organizing care packages that were sent overseas to those in the active military

“She was there for us. What she does for our veterans is more than you see just at the (Memorial). She has visited veterans at their homes and provided them with meals and a voice. What she does has all been for free,” Perry added.

Mason-Guillory told the crowd that she has continued support from a number of volunteers that lined the front of the stage where she spoke.

“All of those that you see before me are out there doing the work and trying to do what is best for our veterans. We get the calls from (veterans) seven days a week and it’s been a challenge, but we try to visit with them and talk to them on the phone,” said Mason-Guillory.

The Veteran’s Memorial is an ongoing project that is supported with donations, added Mason-Guillory.

“The trees, the benches, the walkways and the memorial are all donated. No amount for us is too small or large. Parish government has given us a home at the Yambilee Building and we are working now to build a welcome center where we can store all of our files and material,” said Mason-Guillory.

The Welcome Center has received $100,000 in start-up money from parish government, while another $25,000 was donated by Opelousas businessman Bobby Dupre.

That’s not enough revenue to complete the project, Mason-Guillory said.

Another $1,000 was given by the Church Point VFW for the Welcome Center, as Opelousas architect Jerome Gaudet prepares the architectural drawings for the facility that will be placed at the Memorial site, Mason-Guillory said.