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Sunday, July 21, 2019

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Local family’s tragedy pushes them to help others

Local family’s tragedy pushes them to help others

Custom mud boat raffle garners more than $40,000 in donations for Children’s Hospital

“I was sitting there in a tug boat in the middle of the gulf surrounded by water and all of a sudden it’s like a light bulb turned on inside my head and a voice said, ‘build a boat, Rooster.’”

Five years after the night that turned his world upside down, Ray “Rooster” Ledet, a 63-year-old tugboat captain and father of two from Galliano, vividly remembers the events of the night of March 16, 2011. He was 100 miles from land south of the mouth of the Atchafalaya River piloting a tug when he got a phone call about 10:30 that night.

“They wouldn’t tell me what was wrong at first,” he said. “They just said I needed to get home fast.”

Ultimately he was informed that his wife Karen had been killed earlier that evening in an accident with an 18-wheeler in Cut Off, just 5 miles from their family home.

And his then 15-year-old daughter, Rae Lynn, had been airlifted to University Hospital in New Orleans with serious head injuries and numerous other injuries.

“Everything just started spinning,” Ledet said. “I was 120 miles from Fourchon and I could have just walked off the boat — I could have just took off walking. Everything was just upside down. Nothing made sense, you know.”

In the long weeks following the accident, Rae Lynn was eventually transferred to Children’s Hospital of New Orleans, where she slowly but steadily made progress.

“When they first brought me to her and told me that was her, I didn’t even recognize her. I didn’t know my little girl. I didn’t eat or sleep. I didn’t see anyone else. I just saw her and heard doctors,” he said.

In the long weeks following the accident she made slow but steady progress. Eventually she was released but had to return several times a week for treatment. The trips lessened to several times a month, then once a month and less and less frequent.

As the haze began to clear for Ray, he began to look into the eyes of other parents who were walking the halls with their sick or hurting children. He saw the same pained and crazed looks that he felt. The heartache, the financial stress, the worry…

Now at 20, Rae Lynn still is a patient at the hospital due to the accident causing vision and eye issues. She is also in her third year at Nicholls State University. Both Rae Lynn and Ray are thankful for the doctors that worked to save her life at Children’s hospital.

“They took care of my little girl. They helped us with the hospital bills because even with insurance it was so much. They helped save her. If somebody in front of me gave to charity and it helped us, well now I want to do something to help someone else down the line, because they never stop coming,” said Ray.

That’s where the light bulb and the voice telling him to build a boat comes in. Some people say it’s sort of like Noah’s ark. When God tells you to build a boat, you build a boat.

So Ray took six months off of work and handcrafted a 15-foot mud boat to raffle off in order to benefit Children’s Hospital. The money raised is being earmarked for the new cardiovascular unit, which has a price tag of a million dollars.

Word spread about the boat and different people starting pitching in and offering to help or buy different parts for the boat such as a shaft, engine or trailer. In all, the boat and trailer retails at $13,500, not including labor – and most materials were sold to them at a discounted price.

The 40-inch wide, 14-inch high boat is powered by a 23 hp Vanguard engine, and comes complete with a trailer. It has a custom paint job done by Ray and family friend Billy Hebert, Jr.

For the past six months, Ray has been hauling the boat to different fishing rodeos and festivals that will allow him a spot and selling raffle tickets, which are priced at $10 a piece.

“If you make it too high, the poor man can’t buy a ticket,” he said. “It’s easier to put $10 than $25 or $50 on a chance. So I made it $10 so the poor man can maybe have a chance to give his little boy a boat that maybe could never afford, if he gets lucky.”

Not only will the boat be raffled off on October 30, during the French Food Festival, a second prize will be drawn and the winner will receive a pirogue complete with a push pole, paddle and bedon valued between $800 and $900 total. A third place winner will receive a 12-gauge shotgun.

Rae Lynn, who was chosen as the philanthropy chairperson for Phi Mu at Nicholls in December, has headed up some impressive fundraising efforts herself. In April, her sorority raised $30,000 that also will benefit Children’s Hospital, in addition to whatever her dad’s boat raises.

“This is something that just popped into his head and he made it happen. I admire that so much,” Rae Lynn said. “He’s so dedicated. If it wouldn’t be for him taking his time off to go out there and stand in the sun and sell tickets … He’s not going to talk about that, but honestly he’s pulling some 12-hour days.

With her own personal experiences at the hospital, working with her dad and her sorority to give something back is very special, she said.

“I never would have dreamed we would have raised this much. So far we’ve raised $40,000 and it’s not over yet. The community has been so supportive even in this economy. I’m excited to hand the money over to Children’s Hospital and maybe see what we will do next. This is for Karen. In her memory,” said Ray.

Raffle tickets can be purchased at Renovations in Galliano through Friday or throughout the weekend at the Larose Civic Center’s French Food Festival. The drawing will be held at 2 p.m. on Sunday, October 30. Winners need not be present to win. Tickets can also be purchased online at