A Stately Day in the Magnolia State

Lazy Magnolia Brewery, by Christina Perez

During the final day of the Southern Legislative Conference, our last tour was to the Lazy Magnolia Brewery, located in Kiln, Mississippi. The tour started with a delicious lunch and Christina (the only 21-year-old ambassador) got a chance to sample the hard ice tea. Before the tour guide began to lead us, we had a few minutes to play some pool.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

Once again, Makayla and Ryan, the masters of all games, demonstrated their astounding prowess.

Everyone finished eating their food, meanwhile, the owner of the brewery, Mark Henderson, began by telling his story. Lazy Magnolia was an idea he had after getting a beer-making kit for Christmas one year.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

His wife, Leslie, helped make his dreams a reality, and that led to him providing us with a tour today!

There was a large room which contained the fermenting tanks.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

A few of the workers were preparing to run the line, then box, and ship the beer. Mark Henderson explained all the moving parts which allowed us to understand the process of beer making without the kit. Another of the more interesting artifacts in the brewery, was the recreation of Amelia Earhart’s plane that hung from the roof.

Southern Legislative Conference, Kiln MS, Lazy Magnolia Brewery, SHSU, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassadors

The tour ended with Al Saucier telling us stories about his book, The Broke Spoke Moonshine Book. Inside the book are many facts about moonshine. For example, the story of the first moonshine high-speed race car. He shared many of his stories that inspired him to become an author. We headed to the bus and it felt bittersweet knowing this was our last tour for the SLC, but the state dinner was next and we couldn’t wait to represent the best state in the United States.

“Meet Me at The Crossroads” State Dinner, by Makayla Mason

The final night of the Southern Legislative Conference began with a cocktail hour.

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU

We mingled with different legislators and had the opportunity to take a picture with Speaker Gunn of the Mississippi House of Representatives.

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Speaker Phillip Gunn

He informed us that he was originally a Texas man and had graduated from Baylor University in Waco.

While we mingled, we were informed that we would have the honor of representing Texas during the Parade of Flags. A few minutes before the dinner began, we met with the other representatives of the states and lined up in the order in which we joined the Union. This meant we were in the 13th position out of the 15 states that were represented.   As we marched in to “Deep in The Heart of Texas” with our flag flying high, we couldn’t help but feel our Texas pride shine through us.

We made our way to the tables. Makayla and Beatriz sat with Oklahoma Representatives, while Christina and Ryan were seated with Mississippi Representatives. After a short introduction, presentations, and invocation, Speaker Gunn invited us to enjoy our dinner. We enjoyed a fresh salad with tangy and sweet Heirloom Tomatoes and Mississippi Watermelon. For our main course, we had Filet Mignon, Spicy Garlic Gulf Shrimp, Mississippi Grits, and Vegetables. Throughout the dinner, we were entertained by Pianist Bruce Levingston…

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Pianist Bruce Levingston

…who was praised by the New York Times for his “mastery of color and nuance.”  We were honored, because he actually gave a shout out to us for being from Texas before he played his songs.

Also on hand was American Idol runner-up La’Porsha Renae…

La'Porsha Renae, SHSU, LEAP Center, Southern Legislative Conference

…who certainly knew how to fill out a camera frame, and to belt out a tune.

An interesting dinner conversation quickly led our way to dessert where we enjoyed Mississippi Mud Pave.

While we walked away from the night, we realized how special and bitter- sweet the conclusion of the conference was. As the majority of the LEAP Ambassadors are graduating in the coming academic year and Ryan leaves for the University of Arkansas, the relation of finality hit a little too hard.  The blow was softened, however, by a nice discussion with Levingston…

Southern Legislative Conference, State Dinner, LEAP Center, LEAP Ambassador, SHSU, Bruce Levingston

…and a nice goodbye to some newly-made friends.

Before the night ended, the LEAP Ambassadors threw a surprise party for Stephanie, who always goes above and beyond for every single one of us. We decided to get her a Mississippi themed cake to represent the great time we had at Biloxi, Mississippi as well as provide her with a memory she would never forget.

Everyone had a great time at the Southern Legislative Conference and it was sad that we had to go back to Texas the next day.

Shaking Things Up Kentucky Style: Shaker Village, Teneia, and The Village Idiot

With a busy day planned ahead of us, we began our morning with a light breakfast at Daily Offerings Coffee Roastery…


…a Southern hipster coffee shop offering several adventurous and traditional options. One of the more daring ambassadors tried the Lavender Honey Latte, and as Alex described it, “it felt like my mouth had just taken a bath.”


Others went for coconut or caramel lattes, and pastries to complement their drinks: coffee cakes, chocolate cookies, and blueberry scones. Once everyone had their fill, we departed for our first destination and activity of the day, a trip to Shaker Village in Pleasant Hill.

The Shakers fled England and first settled in New Lebanon, New York. In 1805, a group of 44 Shakers settled in Kentucky. Today there are no surviving Shakers in Kentucky and only a handful in Maine, but much of their settlement is still intact within the Pleasant Hill site. The historic farms of the village are maintained by the village’s employees, and crops and livestock are used at Pleasant Hill’s restaurant.

Our drive to Shaker Village through the Kentucky countryside was beautiful — a truly pleasant ride to start the day. Upon our arrival, we exchanged our charter bus for a school bus needed to maneuver a narrow, winding road to the Kentucky River a few miles away. There we boarded the Dixie Belle Riverboat for


…a trip downriver through the Kentucky River Palisades, so named for the steep limestone cliffs and scenic outcroppings.


The Shakers used to travel the Kentucky River to New Orleans once or twice a year to trade goods they produced. At the time, this was a significant endeavor and few Shakers actually traveled on behalf of the community. The captain explained that the Kentucky River is 255 miles long and is normally a deep shade of green, but due to the recent rains, the water was a muddy brown (and over 14 feet deep).

We cruised alongside the limestone cliffs and the lush green trees that stood high above the riverbank, ever alert for signs of wildlife. The river is home to many types of turtles (including snapping turtles!) and snakes. Although we weren’t lucky enough to see any river critters, we enjoyed the scenic view and relaxing breeze before traveling back to the Village for the second half of the tour.


The Village tour began with a walk down one of the main streets, the guide noting the limestone buildings among green fields, and explaining to us that during the Shaker’s lifetime in the settlement very little of the land would be left vacant. Shakers did not believe in unusable land, so they worked every plot as efficiently as possible — whether to build family dwellings, grow crops, graze livestock, or build an ice house.

Shakers were a religious group who believed the way to enhance their worship of God was to live as simply as possible and as purely as Jesus Christ. They were not Luddites, though, and believed in using technological advances to help them live simple lives. In their attempts to be close to Christ, one of the sacrifices in joining the congregation was to become celibate. Men and woman stayed segregated among family dwellings, with one half of the buildings dedicated to men and the other half to women. Men and women also maintained an arm’s length distance away from each other and had their own staircase to travel among floors in their living quarters.

The Shakers also preached a need for equality. All Shakers were equal and none deserved more attention than another, a quite different viewpoint in 1805 when several types of groups did not have equal rights. The village’s ministry, the governing religious body for each community, was composed of both men and women from various communities appointed by the Shaker’s central ministry in New Lebanon. This helped remove community ministry leaders’ potential prejudices against other members of the village. The community was further regulated by segregating the leaders to their own living quarters and workshops, both of which we were able to tour. It was an interesting twist to community governing for the political science majors in the group.

"Shaker" Attire Worn by Brian and Kaitlyn, Standing the Traditional Distance Apart
Shaker Attire Worn by Brian and Kaitlyn, Standing the Traditional Distance Apart

Unlike traditional Christian services, Shakers did not believe in one designated leader preaching at all times. Although they did make use of the King James Bible, and participated in prayer, services were led by “whoever was moved by the Holy Spirit” on that particular day. Their religious ceremonies were not constrained by time, with the shortest service in Pleasant Hill recorded at only 15 minutes and the longest at 23 hours!

During worship the Shakers were known to sing songs, especially those who were “filled with the spirit,” and members were encouraged to record their songs (in writing) and share among members of the community and of other villages. Lyrics would come from a member’s need to express their devotion towards God, and reportedly sometimes by God himself, taking hold of a member’s body and using them as a vessel, as our tour guide described it.

Further, Shakers did not believe in using instruments nor in solo demonstrations; they believed that complex musical arrangements only took away from the song’s devotional message. From these lively worships (of which non-Shakers were invited to attend) the group was termed as the Shaking Quakers, for seldom had anyone seen such an enthusiastic mode of worship composed of dancing and singing. After a brief demonstration of a few “Shaker” songs, we were ready for our next Kentucky adventure.

We didn’t have to go far, though.  We met up with the other part of our group and walked the two short blocks from our hotel to the street party the SLC had planned for attendees and their families. We reached the 5/3 Pavilion at Cheapside Park and mingled with other guests. While we were there we ran into two new friends, Chris and Marisela Darminin.  We had previously met Chris during skeet shooting, and were excited to meet Marisela. They were both from Texas and glad to visit with fellow Texans at SLC, as were we!


After speaking to them for a while and learning much about their careers and the great organizations that they support, we headed to our dinner destination, The Village Idiot.

Local Lexington icon The Village Idiot is in a building encompassing part of Lexington’s oldest post office building, dating back to 1825. We were all eager to try their fare since we had heard great things about the restaurant. Before our food arrived, we enjoyed bowls of fries and the cheese and sausage dip. Some of us had their famous (or maybe infamous?) “Idiot Burger,” a burger patty topped with an onion ring filled with pulled pork and topped off with a pretzel bun…it looked like quite the challenge!


Others shared the duck & waffles (on those, Beatriz said, “The sweet taste of the waffles combined with the succulence of the duck was such a great combination that [she] was left drooling for more”); the Village Idiot Cheese Platter; and a Caprese Burger. With great gusto, we savored these delightful dishes, enjoying this picturesque place rich in food and history. We left satisfied that The Village Idiot had been the “smartest” choice for dinner.

After a filling dinner, we were all ready to enjoy another event, the “preview reception” for next year’s conference, as put on by that host state.  In this case, it was – and will be –Mississippi. As soon as we arrived, we were warmly greeted by numerous elected Senators and Representatives (and other representatives) from Mississippi who were handing out warm welcomes (and goodie bags) at the door.

We had arrived in time to hear an enthusiastic, well-written speech from the Speaker of the Mississippi House of Representatives, Philip Gunn, who captured our attention and left us wanting to visit Mississippi, the home to great names such as: Jerry Rice, Jerry Lee Lewis, and John Grisham. We even had the chance to chat for a few minutes with him and his wife (who is actually a Texan!)…


and get a quick pic.


We also met up with an acquaintance from the night before, Ms. Leslie Hafner, who was the Senior Policy Advisor to the Governor of Tennessee.  She was very nice, and we were grateful to be able to get a photo with her before leaving the conference.


The evening’s entertainment, native-Mississippi jazz singer, Teneia Sanders-Eichelberger, as joined by her husband, Ben Eichelberger, was great to listen to while chatting with other guests.


She had a unique blend of blues, soul, and southern music, and we were able to briefly meet them after their performance, as well.


After an eventful night filled with great music and great people, we left to many cheers of “See you in Biloxi!” as we trudged off toward our hotel, anxious to reenergize for the next day’s activities.