Tom Aicklen promotes the appreciation and preservation of Lacombe area heritage. He’s been doing it for decades, and he brings to the task a wide variety of skill and expertise.
He enjoys a wide range of interests which include history, archaeology, anthropology, art, science, religion, and especially First American cultures and civilizations. As a consequence, he has made his mark in numerous St. Tammany and Louisiana based promotional projects.
He graduated from Saint Stanislaus College in Bay Saint Louis, MS, in 1951, and headed into a career that included advertising, public relations and promotions, work. He became an American Broadcasting Company publicity assistant at DesiLu Studios in Hollywood as well as an early Disneyland insider; a promotions manager for Volkswagen in New Orleans, and an advertising agency manager that dealt with automotive, safety, development, special events, travel and tourism.
Early Life Experiences
He tells the story of how he didn't find out he was of Cherokee Native American heritage until he was 10 years old. When he did, he began studying the culture from which he came. And he has been writing about that and other revelations ever since.
He originally went to California as a teenager planning to sign up for college to study journalism at Los Angeles City College, "but it was full, so I signed up instead for television broadcasting," he noted.
He majored in communications, a two year associate degree," he said, where he and his colleagues used dummy cameras to learn the ins and outs of camera movements. "I wrote scripts, especially radio drama. I really liked radio because it takes imagination."
His Film Footings
He shares numerous anecdotes about key points in
his life that changed his outlook. Like the time when he was 17 years old, he
was beaten up by local thugs and left in the Los Angeles river. He was found by a nearby
Japanese resident who took care of him for three weeks. It was a life-changing
experience. "He saved my life both literally and figuratively,"he said, sharing a new perspective on life and living.
Now his life's motto is: If I can, I must. "And that's what I've come to believe," he explained.
The Disney Decision
"I have told but a very few people of my association with Walt Disney Studios and the American Broadcasting Company in Hollywood," he said, but he has dozens of anecdotes and the photos to go along with them tell of his Disney connection.
He was 21 years old in 1955 when this picture of
him and Walt Disney was taken at Disneyland.
"Walt loved telling this story relating how TV showman Art Linkletter told his old friend Walt that his idea for Disneyland, way out from Los Angeles in the bean fields of Anaheim, California, was sheer madness," Aicklen recalls.
"Art told Walt, 'You have had some brilliant ideas, and you have had some good ideas, and you have had some bad ideas, but this idea (of a huge entertainment and educational complex) in the middle of bean and berry fields is the worst one you have ever had!' I didn't think so," Aicklen commented, "because, at Disney’s invitation, I attended some Disney Studios’ staff meetings planning for Disneyland. I grasped Disney's vision."
time, in the mid-1950s, ABC, the American Broadcasting Company and Disney
Studios partnered to produce the Wonderful World of Disney TV programs. "After graduating college at age 20, I
worked as a Production Page and Guest Relations Tour Guide for ABC-TV,"
"Being the aggressive A type person that I am, when our ABC promotions department asked for volunteers to work with Disney Studios to promote this new concept in entertainment called Disneyland, my boss appointed me to head up a public relations and promotional team that would go out into the community to ‘Show and Tell’ large groups of people what Disney was doing out in Anaheim.
"We would invite employees of large corporations, schools, and government to view free screenings of a Disneyland promotional marketing film at movie theaters, which we would rent all around the Los Angeles Metro Area.
"We would also stage a live visual presentation to introduce the film showing Disneyland under construction, and do a little public relations shtick on stage. To add interest and a sense of excitement to the show, we did this with each segment of the film, giving us an opportunity to ‘ham-it-up’ before a large live audience. It was a lot of fun, and good show business experience.
"Each section of the film dealt with a different ‘land’ in Disneyland: Frontierland, Adventureland, Tomorrowland, an 1890s American village, the New Orleans French Quarter and Mississippi River boats, etc.—all constructed to 7/8s scale.
"So, I bought some cheap hats: coonskin caps to introduce Frontierland, pith helmets for Adventureland, space helmets for Tomorrowland, straw hats for 1890s land, and captain’s caps for Mississippi River steamboats.
"On the theater filmed portion, Walt would end the presentation with a statement and invitation to the audience to come to Disneyland when finished. Our team was standing in the lobby of the theater one evening, waiting for the film to end so we could speak to the audience, and chat with any who wanted to ask more questions. I told my team how impressed I was with the Disney ideas, and that of the three men of the 20th century I would most like to meet would be: Winston Churchill, General Douglas McArthur, and Walt Disney. I gave my reasons for my admiration of each man.
"Just then I felt a tap on my shoulder. I turned around and there, in the flesh, was Walt Disney. Disney extended his hand saying, “Nice to meet you, I’m Walt Disney." He had been seated in the audience and watched the whole program. I was so flabbergasted I could hardly speak.
"After I managed to blabber out my name, Disney asked me, 'Were the different hats your idea?' When I managed to stammer out something, which I’m sure was inane, yet modestly proprietary, he told me he not only liked my idea, but he wanted me to sit in on some of his staff's creative brainstorming meetings.
"I thought, ‘Oh sure. Right! Walt Disney wants me to give him advice?"
Joining the Disney Team
Nevertheless he saw an opportunity to advance his goal of becoming a writer on a TV show. "I managed to thank him effusively for the compliments and the invitation. I felt like a million bucks. Wow! Walt Disney! Too good to be true? Probably not.
"But lo and behold, about three weeks later my boss called me into her office. In those days it was highly unusual for a woman to have an executive job at a major network in Hollywood. At first I thought it was for something stupid that I had done, or something even worse, since on the QT I was dating her 17-year old underage daughter. But instead, I was given a time and date to be at the Disney Studios for a planning and promotion meeting. Oh man! I could hardly wait.
"At first I was nervous, but once Disney introduced me to his staff as "...a young man with creativity who is going to help us" I thought: Wow! This is the coolest thing ever! At twenty years old I was part of a major Hollywood studio. Yeah, true, I was only a sit-in and getting paid all of $1.10/hour from ABC, but I knew that I could promote myself through good connections. I knew this was my opportunity.
"Over the subsequent weeks I attended several more meetings, and while I did not offer a lot of suggestions directly, I asked questions about what I thought might be good ideas. I listened and I learned a lot about many, many things, particularly the way creative business is done on a professional level.
"One of the guiding principles of Walt Disney was what he called 'edutainment.' He used to say that people learned through hearing stories. That's why each of the "lands" at Disneyland told stories with a theme; the first theme park.
"In July, 1955, at a massive celebrity party, Disneyland opened. Disney and Art Linkletter co-hosted as ABC broadcast the grand opening live to the nation. By special invitation, there were 28,000 celebrities: movie stars, TV personalities, show people, corporate executives, singers, producer, directors, writers, artists, designers, dancers, the media: EVERYBODY who was ANYBODY in Hollywood! And me! How 'bout dat? Working at this was fun. I thought, yeah man! "This is what I wanna do!"
"About two months later Walt personally toured me through each section of Disneyland: his dream come true. He drove the stagecoach and gushed like a kid in a theme park; which it was. I could tell how proud he was, and how delighted he was to share it with me. Disney was a nice guy. He talked and I mostly listened, but since he seemed interested I gave him my take on things, and he listened. I could tell he was impressed.
"He even told me he wanted me to take a screen test and arranged for me to have still pictures taken. I told him I was not particularly interested in working in front of the camera, but behind it; like writing, or even directing; and besides, I was obligated to serve four years in the military to fulfill my obligation to the country. He told me then that when I got out of the service I would have a job at Disney Studios. To come see him. "
"I learned a similar lesson at DesiLu Studios in 1954. Dezi Arnez, a Cuban immigrant musician and his wife Lucy, had a vision. They didn’t know where it would go; but they shared their vision with America and ‘I Love Lucy’ became known throughout the world.
"Before each show was kinescoped--no tapes in those days-- I ‘warmed-up’ the audiences waiting for the show to start. I put the audience in a good mood for when Lucille Ball and Dezi would joke with them. I would ask if anyone in the audience was from New Orleans or the Gulf Coast; I’d tell stupid jokes and relate stories about the cast celebrities, or tell them about the use of the film cameras and production; and about myself, etc. I was really good at it; kinda like stand up comic. Lucy appreciated it. Desi was crazy. He used to let me drive his Cadillac.
"I performed the same job for the Danny Thomas show ‘Make Room for Daddy.’ I’d do my ‘pre-warm-up’ to get them relaxed and in a good mood. Then Danny would come out and do his ‘warm-up’ to really get them laughing. He mostly told the same stories and jokes, but the audience was always new. He also shared his vision of success by using some of his entertainment wealth to create St. Jude Children’s Hospital and Cancer Research Center in Memphis, Tenn."
Aicklen was living a great life, in the midst of history-making television and the glamour of Hollywood, but his life was about to change.
His military service in the 1960's involved
operating and maintaining airborne anti-submarine electronics, some of which
was during the Berlin and Cuban Missile Crisis.
He took electronics in the Navy, which
was an educational equivalent to two and a half years of electrical engineering.
"That was intense," he admitted.
In 1959, while he was flying over the South China Sea for the Navy, he found that he was lost, without power, and made a promise to God that if he made it back to the aircraft carrier, instead of continuing to pursue his career with Disney Studios, he would go back to Louisiana and do whatever he could with whatever skills he had. He somehow found his way out of that predicament, and, as a result, he kept his promise.
He came back to Louisiana in 1960 with $9.42 in his pocket. He became an engineering planner for Boeing AeroSpace Division on the Saturn V rockets during the NASA's lunar space program's Apollo 8 and Apollo 11.He was at that time also in the Naval Reserve and he would fly out of Belle Chasse every so often, and he noticed month to month the receding Gulf of Mexico coastline. It was disappearing.
The Disappearing Coastline
"I thought surely somebody would do something about the disappearing coastline," he said. Five years later in 1965 he was living in New Orleans when Hurricane Betsy came through. "My buddy had a ten foot aluminum skiff and Mayor Schiro was asking for people with boats to rescue people in the ninth ward. George and I saved 144 people out of the Desire Project. We were saving people all day long."
After seeing everything that was going on in Hurricane Betsy, he decided to move to higher ground in Lacombe, especially after the Corps of Engineers decided to build MRGO (Mississippi River Gulf Outlet). In 1975 he rode up the MRGO and saw a dead forest on either side, acres and acres of dead cypress trees.
When he built his house, he decided to make it as hurricane proof as possible. He lives in a poured-in-place steel re-inforced concrete shelter, basically a "prototype" to protect against hurricanes and even tornadoes.
He is definitely an environmentalist, and also considers himself a teacher. "I look for new things to try," he said. "People are afraid of what's new because they don't understand what is new."
So even though his radio television experience included
coordinating tours for a Hollywood television station, working at WWL-TV in New
Orleans, and owner of Louisiana Video Productions, the company that in 1984
produced promotional video for the Louisiana World's Fair, his attention turned to local projects in 1975.
That was the year that Gladys Kinler and Marian Perkins applied to Congress for the Bicentennial Celebration Commission for Lacombe. Aicklen's neighbor Peggy McGovern was an artist who was going to paint a sign for the commission, and she shared with the ladies Tom's range of expertise. As a result, he was invited to the Bicentennial Commission's next meeting.
"They had about 75 people show up, which was a good turn out for Lacombe," Aicklen said, "They elected me to be in charge of the heritage portion of the upcoming program. The other two divisions were present and future."
His writing and photography skills came
into play in the editing of the Bayou Lacombe Bicentennial Commemorative book,
a significant contribution to area heritage literature, plus he has contributed features for various corporate and government
newsletters, as well as the Backwoods Observer newspaper and Slidell Magazine.
The Bicentennial Commemorative book dealt with First American civilization, history and culture; the 284 year European conquest and colonization period; and the 200 years of U.S. history, plus the contemporary Folklife of the area entering the last quarter of the 20th century. Funds from the sale of this book were used to establish the Bayou Lacombe Rural Museum.
After he chaired the Heritage Committee of the Bayou Lacombe Bicentennial Commission, he noticed that in a short time they had made a remarkable positive impact upon the community.
That's how he got involved in starting the Bayou
Lacombe Museum. "I think it was in
1981, and the museum became quite popular," he said.
While the desire to preserve the heritage of the area was covered by developing the museum, he wanted to use the museum as an educational opportunity for the schools. The training of young docents to guide tours of the museum was launched. Teaching the children of the Lacombe area about their heritage became an important consideration in all his future endeavors.
Lacombe Heritage Center
Recognizing the need for further emphasis on
heritage preservation and its economic potential, in 1983, his efforts turned to forming the Lacombe Heritage Center, an organization to
preserve, protect, promote, present and pass along the environmental,
historical, and cultural heritage of the area.
"We are composed of a wide cross section of citizens: talented people, business executives, historians, parents, professionals, engineers, writers, naturalists, activists, scientists, sportsmen, teachers and students in various communities who are eager to improve Louisiana," Aicklen stated.
Through a series of markers, monuments, museums, attractions, activities, and events the Lacombe Heritage Center presented a series of touring lectures and seminars in various locales along a route taken by the French-Canadian expedition of 1699 exploring the northern Gulf Coast
For instance, in October 2002 in collaboration with the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, the St. Tammany Historical Society, and Southeastern Louisiana University, the Lacombe Heritage Center produced a program on Colonial Shipwrecks along the Northern Gulf Coast.
The Idea Expands
"I made a business plan for the whole Lacombe cultural heritage corridor, which was recognized a few years ago by the National Geographic Ecotourism Council," Aicklen explained. The U.S. Gulf Coast States Geotourism Stewardship Council spotlighted his efforts in setting up the Lacombe Cultural Heritage Corridor as a valuable contribution to the regional geotourism program. The aim of that organization is to support, sustain and enhance the unique geographical character of the region through commitments to the environment, culture, aesthetics, heritage and well-being of its residents.
His many involvements with heritage preservation efforts makes him an expert in the field. He recently hosted a professor and student intern from the University of North Florida while they were in Lacombe shooting a video on the lighting of the graves in cemeteries.
"This is part of a University project to document local traditions around the Gulf Coast," he explained. They turned to him because of his knowledge of local Choctaw/Creole rituals.
Getting Creative In Showcasing Heritage
In 1997 he put together a three act play, commissioned by the Lacombe Heritage Center, for Project HEAD (Heritage Education Awareness Development). It told the story of Adrien Rouquette, the man who became a priest and ministered to the Choctaw Indians of St. Tammany Parish. It is this man Rouquette, named Chahta-Ima by the Choctaws who loved him for his dedication and understanding. The play was entitled "Across To The Wilderness."
Aicklen researched Rouquette's life in the archives at the Ursulines Convent for three days. "There was a trunk full of Rouquette's handwritten notes," he said. The archives had an incredible amount of materials dealing with Rouquette's life.
"It has turned out to be quite a
project," Aicklen admits, but he has people in the area willing to help
him, particularly with his efforts to document and promote Father Adrian
Rouquette's work in south St. Tammany.
In 1999, as part of the LA Tricentennial he twinned Lacombe, LA with Lacombe, Alberta, two Lacombes in the south of France, and tried to twin with Lacombe, Haiti. A priest at St. Joseph's Abbey in Covington gave him all his research with pictures, letters, etc. on Father Balay of Lacombe, the individual who set up the Our Lady of Lourdes Shrine.
Aicklen gathered considerable information about Father Albert Lacombe from Alberta, Canada, who served as a French-Canadian Roman Catholic missionary who lived among and evangelized the Cree and also visited the Blackfoot First Nations of North Western Canada.
In addition, he spent many hours tape recording interviews with some of Lacombe's key community figures, highlighting their heritage and knowledge. Those tapes were sent to the Library of Congress for permanent access.
"Although I am a native product of below-sea-level New Orleans and the Mississippi Gulf Coast, while attending college on the West Coast, and then working in the entertainment industry in Hollywood, I enjoyed a lot of hiking in the mountains and deserts of Southern California. I realized the value of nature trails in outdoor recreation," Aicklen said, as an introduction to his fascination with trails and heritage corridors. The Tammany Trace recreational bike trail is just steps from the back of his property.
"I remember enjoying conducting tours to the old missions along California’s El Camino Real. While working for the Disney Studios, American Broadcasting Company, and Desilu Studios I conducted tours of film and TV studios, and later, upon returning to New Orleans, as a member of Mayor Moon Landrieu’s administration, I helped initiate the development of the MoonWalk on the levee and the Jackson Square Pedestrian Mall."
Working as a Traffic Safety Coordinator he was also responsible for originating bike trails in New Orleans.
Lake Pontchartrain Sewage Pond
In 1967-68, shortly after he and five others started the Alliance for Good Government (AGG), he was interviewed by TV reporter Iris Kelso about the New Orleans lakefront and the group's project to clean up Lake Pontchartrain.
"It was the AGG's first and most important civic project," Aicklen recalled. "It called into question a lot of what had been standard operational procedures in city government, and enforcement of the few regulations that then existed to save our lake. When it was broadcast on WDSU TV, it immediately created consternation and castigation among the politicians and bureaucrats, but also brought recognition and cognition to our commitment to good government."
"I can't say that was the beginning of the effort to turn the lake from what it had become, '..a big shallow toilet,' back into an environmentally safe recreational asset, but it certainly lent power to the innovative imperative we were seeking. I know we started getting things done legislatively and administratively. It was what I had come back to Louisiana to do. We used the avenues of government bureaucracy to inject our private initiatives to get things accomplished," he explained.
Lacombe Crab Festival
"But it was not until 1977, when I started the Bayou Lacombe Crab Festival and got to know the northshore locals like the Crawfords and the Glockners,who subsequently got me involved in their effort to SAVE OUR LAKE in the 1980s-90s, that I became an advocate to establish the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Foundation.
French Quarter in 1984
Aicklen also took part in the launching of the French
Quarter festival back in 1984, an event that has built a fine reputation in
showcasing living and working in the New Orleans French Quarter. They had
called upon him for help after his success in starting the Lacombe Crab
Festival and festivals in Bay St. Louis, Ms, and St. Bernard Parish.
His work with the Lacombe Heritage Center is rewarding. "For about two years after Katrina devastated our area we put our heritage activities on hold and turned into an advocacy group; helping people became our main focus. We were so blessed by the kindness of strangers, volunteers from all over America, who came to help and became dear friends. We were fortunate to be able to help thirty-eight people. It was an extraordinary experience."
Sharing information about the Lacombe Heritage Center at a community organizations event at the Covington Trailhead
Now he is determined to help rural tourism in Louisiana with the Louisiana Scenic Bayous Byway. "It is a big challenge, but one worth doing," he said. He has high hopes for the success of the Corridors and Trails Rural Tourism Economic Development Initiative.
"As a historian with great interest, some knowledge, and extensive applied experience in the region, I have compiled an inventory of research, both broad and specific," he announces. His expertise and experience in marketing, advertising, history, culture, and the environment guides much of what he does.
Life of Adventure
"I have been blessed with a life of adventure, seasoned with reasoned research, amplified by exploration, questing search, and inquiring know-how, which overlaps our environmental, historical, and cultural heritage," he goes on to say. "My Puerto Rican grandmother used to encourage me in my endeavors, saying, 'If you don’t dream big, you won’t think big. If you don’t think big, you won’t plan big. If you don’t plan big, you won’t achieve big."
His plan is to bring together in a collaborative effort across the Florida and River Parishes a coalition of Heritage Keepers. "When I produced the promotional documentary film for the the Association of Fairs and Festivals in 1980, I traveled all over Louisiana and saw how our valuable environmental, historical, and cultural heritage was being squandered and lost. When we lose our heritage, we lose our soul," he realized.
His current project, the Heritage Corridor Management, is a major economic development program with both immediate and long term advantages. While he tries to keep a low profile in his community work, he's now at a point in his life where he needs to promote what he is doing so the necessary funding will be found.
His home is filled with sketches, photographs, and plans for major tourism and heritage promotion projects, both past and in the future. While his knees are slowing him down a little, he still has the energy and drive to get the things done that need to be done.
"My concept of developing a corridor management plan, with a grant from the federal highway administration back in 2007, is to put together a series of heritage corridors and themed trails across the Florida and River Parishes, 14 in all. This came because I went for years to the Capital Resource Conservation and Development Council meetings."
The heritage corridors would feature informative signage along the way, telling of important events and places that are relevant. Getting the signs created and placed requires the cooperation of local residents, local elected officials, and local citizen's groups.
Such work can get a little political at times, but Aicklen has learned to deal with roadblocks set up before him for purely political purposes.
These days he also shares his philosophy of life and broad
background of knowledge teaching young people basic skills, like how to build a campfire these days, how to trim and light a kerosene lamp.
"By not teaching young people the basic skills that have been known by their parents and grandparents, we stand to lose those skills, and thus we stand to lose sight of those cultures that depended on those skills," he said. Aicklen feels that by grounding them in the cultural basics from which their heritage arises, we preserve and expand that heritage.
"We encourage people to go beyond their limitations, beyond themselves," Aicklen said. "I get notes from people saying Thank you for teaching us how to think."
To assist him in helping young people, he went to night school at UNO for seven years while he was working with the space program to get a degree in education. As a result, he was able to develop a program in 1969 to help functionally illiterate individuals improve. "I developed an adult education program for New Orleans that was subsequently used throughout the state, and I'm kind of proud about that," Aicklen remarked.
He tells about Peter Cousin, who was elected the chief of the local Bayou Lacombe Choctaws. "He was a great story teller," Aicklen said. Aicklen is descended from the Cherokees, but he helped the area Choctaws research, learn and promote their own heritage.
He also has a fondness for Cajun culture and tells stories of Cajun acquaintances and their lifestyles. One story in particular tells about a Cajun family who lived in a shack that overlooked their acres and acres of producing oil wells.
During the Crawfish festival, these Cajuns would have huge kettles full of crawfish and all these oil billionaires would fly in on their private planes just to go to the festival and have a good time eating, dancing and celebrating with the Cajuns.
"I have such a good time with my Cajun friends," he recalls.
His house reflects his interest in ancient American civilization, with an emphasis on the Mayan culture. His walls are decorated with Mayan art and maps. "I have a lot of information about Meso-American cultures, and my home and property are being developed along the lines of modified Mayan Indian architecture," he explained. "I'm building a minature Mayan village on the other side of the pond in my yard, in front of a scale model of a Mayan pyramid."
have extensive experience in exploring
Mayan ruins in the jungles of Mexico and Central America and
correlation between a migration of the Maya into Louisiana to become the
Choctaw of our Gulf Coast area," he said. He even speaks of a "mystical
experience" while standing atop one of the Mayan pyramids. His home
testifies to his
fascination with Mayan culture, its decor filled with artwork and maps.
Among his honors is a certificate commending his work for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, his certificate as an associate member of the American Society of Tool and Manufacturing Engineers, and a Golden Wheel Award plaque from the AAA for his work as a Traffic Safety Coordinator for the City of New Orleans, particularly in the field of Pedestrian and Traffic Safety.
In November of 2004 the Earth Beautiful Foundation presented him with an Eco-Award for his numerous contributions to St. Tammany Parish and the State of Louisiana in the areas of Environmental, Tourism, and Job Creation.
Even T-Shirts Carry The Message
He knows the importance of keeping the message out there, and even produced some T-shirts with the Save The Lake message because sometimes T-shirts can be quite effective in simplifying and driving the core message home, to the public and politicians as well. A roomful of people all showing up wearing the same T-shirt has quite an impact.
In the Lacombe Heritage Center's Partnership of Friends initiative, he sought to set up sustaining financial support to struggling non-profit organizations. "For more than forty years the Lacombe Heritage Center (LHC)has accomplished a legacy of locally oriented projects: from advocacy efforts, which helped thirty-eight families in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, to establishing museums; producing events; providing instruction and environmental field trips for students; to holding historical seminars and promotions, which enhance the rich cultural assets of St. Tammany Parish, as well as addressing the issues which confront us," Aicklen said in his introduction.
The LHC partnered with the Northshore Technical Community College in Lacombe which provided the appropriate facilities for the center to produce a series of free monthly seminars on the many assets of the region.
These seminars detailed the enormous potential inherent in the environmental, historical, and cultural heritage resources of the Northshore. The seminar, "Louisiana Sinking-Disaster on Our Doorstep" is one of several that were presented in conjunction with the NTCC to alert the public to the immediate and long range issues which confront the area, and what could be done about it.
Not only did he share his expertise with the video production of "Les Lumieres des Morts" (Lacombe cemetery lightings), a project which won a Peabody Award, he also produced a documentary for WWL on sailing the Caribbean's British Virgin Islands.
Another video entitled "Wood & Water" for the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum focused on early Louisiana boat styles and uses. He also produced seminars on maritime history and helped establish the Wooden Boat Festival to raise funds.
He worked on developing a large number of festivals, among them the Slidell Country Music Fiddlin' Festival, the Ponchatoula Strawberry Festival, the Bayou Lacombe Crab Festival, the Fire Fighters Food & Fun Fest, the Lacombe Arts & Crafts Heritage Expo, The Slidell Heritage Festival, and the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum's Wooden Boat Festival.
He was also been associated with the St. Tammany Water Sports Festival, and events held by the Choctaw Heritage Indian Enterprises & Folklife, Recreation District 4, Bayou Lacombe Rural Museum, Northlake Museum and Nature Center, Great Louisiana Bird Fest, The Lacombe Heritage Center, Bayou Lacombe Choctaw Council. Served on the Governor’s Conference on Tourism, Louisiana Association of Fairs and Festivals, Greater New Orleans Regional Impact Committee for 1984 Louisiana World Exposition, FrancoFete’99 Twinning Initiative, and Interhemispheric First American Council of Elders, and the Corridors & Trails Rural Tourism Economic Development Initiative.
Dedicating Oak Trees
In 2010 Aicklen was a guest speaker at the new Davis Moran Memorial V.F.W. Post #8290 in Lacombe at 28000 Main St. As a representative of the Lacombe Heritage Center took part in the 9/11 Living Memorial Live Oak Grove Dedication.
That involved putting together an alley of more than 3,000 oak trees, which are located along the Tammany Trace and nearby areas. Aicklen, coordinator of the project, said, that their goal is to establish the oak alley as a living memorial to each person lost on 9/11. The project enhanced the beauty of Tammany Trace and was expected to become a tourist attraction for the community.
Even with all he had done in the past, Aicklen looks forward to future accomplishments in preserving and spotlighting heritage across the Gulf South. His business plan for the future, his vision, was put forth in 2007 and he is striving to see it materialize through local and state efforts. While many state and regional organizations have benefited from his visions and expertise in the past, he strives to convince them to join his vision for the future.
In some respects, he has to go it alone, pursuing community advances he knows will benefit the area, based on past experience. To aid his efforts, future projects will be multi-functional, financially self-sustaining and self-replicating. "By twinning Tradition with Trade, Tourism and Technology, we can ignite our heritage into an education and economic engine," he concluded.
His political resume includes serving as campaign manager for a successful Louisiana state representative campaign and assistant state campaign coordindator for a successful state governor's candidate, so he knows what works in political organizing.
He has particularly enjoyed his work focusing on Cajun & Creole cooking and Native American heritage promotions, and a specialty tour company "Indian A. Jones Tours" which offers a variety of tour packages which feature regional heritage corridors and themed trails. They celebrate this area's unique position from being the 14th American colony to the local participation in the Apollo space program. The tour subjects spotlight much sought after topics such as the Revolutionary War in LakePontchartrain, the area forts, Choctaw mound builders, and the Republic of West Florida.
His logo design and graphic arts skills have helped many organizations which have turned to him for help in graphic design and trademarks, and his work in that field has included design projects for The Alliance for Good Government, City of New Orleans, City of Ponchatoula, KOA campgrounds, Bayou Lacombe Bicentennial Commission, Lacombe Heritage Center, Lacombe Chamber of Commerce, St. Tammany Tourist Commission, Louisiana Tourist Promotion Association, St. Tammany Police Jury, La Franco Fête, Bayou Lacombe Crab Festival, Ecology Center of Louisiana, and St. Tammany Environmental Patrol.
The Return of the Festivals
The festivals and community events will return, he feels.
"Post pandemic the pent up demand for Friends & Family enjoyments will be tremendous," he feels. "There's a yearning for learning that is not being met by either the schools or the tourism industry. Travel and recreation themed around environmental, historical, and cultural heritage is destined to be huge."
Lacombe's legacy owes a debt of gratitude to Tom Aicklen. "The dreams of the future are fueled by the knowledge of the past," and he has a good handle on both. The list of seminars, movies, books and physical landmarks he has produced and promoted go on and on.
And the projects continue forth as the public becomes more interested in preserving their family and community history and heritage. The prospect of his latest project, LACOMBE RISING, is one of promise and potential.
He feels it is essential that each person know their own heritage see
their own personal potential, as he came to see his own potential, a point that is especially important in these
times of COVId 19 pandemic.
"So my point is that tourism CAN start anywhere. Every place has a story. But tourism doesn’t just happen. It takes perceptive vision to see the forest AND the trees. Some people lack vision. Some, when they meet someone with vision are unable to understand the vision so they resent the visionary. Some are timid. Some are lazy.
"It takes inspiration, imagination, perspiration; and most of all, it takes persistence and work to make it happen. That’s why some cannot grasp the vision. They think inside the box; and then they make excuses, not effort. Walt Disney dreamed a dream, grasped the vision, and built a media and tourism empire. Your dream, your vision, your business is important. I learned from my experience at Disney that you have to dream big to think big. But it’s also important to network and share."