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Marcelle Fontenot - An American Woman

Oct 15, 2015 07:01PM ● By Nicole LaCour
If an alien from a far away galaxy landed on 
walked up to me and said, “Show me a typical American woman,” first I would explain that there is no such thing as a typical 
American woman. But if I had to direct this being to one person that I knew embodied all the beauty and complexity, the struggle and possibility, and the grace and strength of an American woman, I would find no better example than Marcelle Fontenot. 

Marcelle is like five amazing people wrapped into an elegant frame of boundless energy. 
 She’s a dedicated mother and wife and a professional at the height of her career. She’s the friend you can count on, and the role model and source of support and laughter for her co-workers. She’s one of the community’s trusted faces of news and information and even a student in her spare time. She’s the shy girl from Opelousas who found her place in front of the camera.

You can’t talk to Marcelle for more than five minutes without hearing the words: breast pump. “My travel companion. My best friend,” she calls it. The ever-present device is like a little symbol of her constant juggling of career and family. Marcelle is either feeding her 6-month old son or pumping at least seven times a day. She refers to these little breaks the way someone might talk about getting coffee. No big deal. Just part of the day. Whether it’s in a conference room at KATC, a news van, in the car, at home before work, it’s just a part of a routine most people would find impossible.

Family is first with Marcelle. She and her husband Jay, a physical therapist, juggle a grueling schedule, sharing the care of their two boys, Langston, 3 and Gavin, 6 months. Marcelle praises Jay’s support but Jay is quick to concede, “I follow orders.” Marcelle’s day begins at 5am. There’s quality time with the boys, cooking, cleaning, maybe a grocery run or a doctor’s appointment. By the afternoon it’s time to get ready for work when the sitter has arrived. She’s at the station by 2pm and on the air at 5pm, with some pumping time in there. And family is never far from her mind. “When we’re getting ready for the news, it’s like an Apple commercial for FaceTime.” her co-anchor Jim Hummel said. “The highlight is when Langston, the three-year-old asks to say hi to Mr. Jim,” She takes a break around 7pm and makes it home for story time and prayers. “It’s the only family time we have all day,” and maybe a book or two. Then it’s back to the station by 8:30pm, on the air by 10pm and home by midnight — if it’s a normal day.

Marcelle began working at KATC as an intern in the summer of 2001. “I didn’t think I would be here at year 11,” she said. “I thought I would have my first 2-year contract then move on to a bigger market. That’s what reporters do. It surprises me that I’ve been here this long. But I can’t help it, I kinda like this place,” she said. She returned to KATC as a reporter in 2004. By 2006, she was anchoring the 6 o’clock news and by 2008, the 5, 6 and 10 o’clock spots.

Behind the scenes at the station, she is the ballast that her co-workers lean on. “She’s the moral and emotional glue that holds the newsroom together,” Alex Labat said. Marcelle is a strong, compassionate mentor to the many fresh-out-of-college reporters who come to the Lafayette market to cut their teeth. “My decision to go into broadcast journalism was partly informed by her,” Alex said. “Throughout the transition [from camera operator to producer and anchor], she guided me to become the best version of myself. She makes everyone around her, better.” When a reporter is discouraged, Marcelle is the one right next to them, “a hand on their back, comforting them and assuring them, ‘we’ve all been there.’”

“I have a personal goal of making her laugh every day,” Alex said. “Get her to laugh,” he advised, “It’s infectious.” She is the light of the newsroom, greeting everyone with her big smile and a “Hi, Honey.” Jim is proud to call her a friend and mentor. “When the lights are on, we play off one another well on set. I know when she’s going to stop reading, or steal one of my lines.” And when the lights are off, Jim describes Marcelle as “cool. Seriously, just cool,” he said. A huge Scandal fan, Jim calls her a Gladiator. “Some Thursdays, she’s mic’d up, watching the last few minutes of the show and makes it to the desk with seconds to spare. I like to tease her about that,” he said.

If you are forming an image of a happy-go-lucky, lightweight who merely presents the news everyday, you would be very mistaken. Behind the elegant clothing and bright smile, 
 Marcelle knows the business and has experienced some of the biggest news stories in Acadiana’s history. “Her knowledge of the industry is beyond reproach,” Alex said. If a reporter needs to adjust something, she is firm and confident in her advice. “We’re not a shy bunch,” Marcelle said of her news team. “But it’s the definition of constructive criticism,” Alex said.

 She’s covered everything from city council and school board meetings, water and sewer issues to tragic crimes and a series on Angola. 1 It was only one year into her career as a reporter, at 25, that the biggest news story she may ever cover hit. “You think you know it all. You think you’ve covered everything you’re going to cover. Then Katrina comes along. I remember being at the Drury Inn (where people were taking shelter) and thinking, ‘This is the story.’ That wasn’t the story. The story was everything that happened after the storm.” Marcelle remembers sleeping at the station and 15 hour days. A naturally giving person, “even when she was so pregnant she could barely walk,” as Alex tells it, Marcelle is always helping others. Watching the impact of Katrina on people’s lives was a study in helplessness. For Marcelle, her need to help, to do something coalesced in a request from one mother she met at the Cajundome. “A lady walked up to me and said, ‘Ma’am, can you help me find my daughter?’” The woman had evacuated New Orleans before her daughter and hadn’t heard from her in a couple of days. Marcelle sat with her in the grass and told her she would try. “I carried that name with me,” Marcelle said. “All the reconnection websites.…I must have put that lady’s daughter’s name on any missing person’s website I could find. And I couldn’t stop thinking, ‘What else can I do?’ It’s not like I knew her or knew her daughter but I would go home and think, ‘Did I miss something? Did I miss a website?’” A couple of days later, Marcelle tried to contact the woman, thinking she would be delivering bad news. Thankfully, she had found her daughter in Houston.

 Then, not three weeks later, Rita hit. “Our storm,” Marcelle called it. The crew hunkered down at the station. As soon as they got the all clear, Marcelle headed out with her photographer. She remembers seeing cows in a field in south Vermilion Parish, the water up to their necks, huddled together, mooing. “I never felt so sorry for a cow,” she remembered.

Those were the stories that didn’t just come and go like other tragic events. The repercussions never ended. Everything changed. The rebuilding, the public policy issues, the long-term effects on people’s lives. “As a reporter, it gave me a different insight into people and how they respond when they’re faced with things like that. The easiest word to use is ‘resilient.’ This place amazes me. That’s why I’ve stayed here so long.” Even with her success, her happy, healthy family and the respect and admiration she inspires in others, like every other American woman, Marcelle has her doubts. “There are days when I think, ‘Am I doing what I’m supposed to be doing? God, is this what I’m here for?” She wonders if she is making enough of an impact on her community. “I stand there everyday and tell people about the world they live in. And most of it is bad. Most of it is things they don’t want to hear.” “I remember my mother saying, ‘As women we try to have it all and do it all and…something’s gotta give.’” Marcelle said she was naïve to this concept for a long time. “As a college kid I was like, ‘Whatever. Life’s great.’ And then when I first started working, I wasn’t married and things were fine,” Marcelle said. “Now I have these two little people and I think, ‘Am I doing enough for them?’ and when I’m not at the station I wonder, ‘Am I doing enough to focus on work?’” Then she meets someone in a grocery store or at a restaurant and they come up to her. “Oh, you told me about the water issue in my neighborhood,” someone might say. Or, “You’re who we sit down with when we have dinner.” Someone might call out, “Hey Marcelle,” and she doesn’t know them but they feel like they know her. “And I tell them, ‘It’s ok. If it weren’t for you, there wouldn’t be a reason to do what I do.’” It’s moments like those, along with precious time with her friends and family, that 
 Marcelle feels what every American woman strives to achieve — a sense of balance, a feeling of success and a little validation that the glorious journey of being a woman who tries to “have it all,” is worth every minute. “I did everything I could,” she said. “I needed to be there for my friend but I needed to be there for my community, too,” she said, expressing her often competing desire to be many things to many people, and to herself. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Marcelle.

~ Read the entire interview in the October Issue by clicking the pdf or links provided.
Story by: Nicole LaCour
Protos by: Moore Photography and Nicole LaCour

October - In The Issue