Last residence: Singapore
Here since: Fall 2008
ExxonMobil Refinery Manager Steve Blume, his wife, Debbie, and their four sons, ages 5 to 15, had been together in Baton Rouge only a few weeks when Hurricane Gustav hit, causing significant damage and knocking out power for several days. It was a baptism by fire for the family, still living in a corporate apartment with few friends and contacts. Amid the chaos, however, they saw a hopeful, can-do attitude among Baton Rougeans that set the tone for their life here.
“It was amazing, the reaction of locals,” recalls Steve. “Everyone we came in contact with had such a positive attitude, and they were willing to do whatever it took to get things back to normal.”
In the three years since Gustav, the Blumes maintain that one of Baton Rouge’s greatest assets is its people and the welcoming, life-affirming culture they perpetuate.
Debbie Blume, a New Jersey native, recalls finding a rare level of warmth in the couple’s earliest interactions.
“It was noticeable from the onset. Everybody bent over backwards to welcome us,” she says. “We’d walk in to a gathering and someone would hand us a list of doctors, dentists or schools. They were very forthcoming, and very interested in getting to know us and hearing about our life overseas.”
Before moving to Baton Rouge, the Blumes had spent seven years in Singapore. Their sons regarded it as home. One of them was born there and had never lived anywhere else. A center of international business, Singapore was bursting with global culture. Individuals and families constantly moved in and out. Work trumped leisure. And a multitude of world cuisines peppered the streets.
Baton Rouge, a city dominated by native-born Louisianans, felt completely different. The majority of locals seemed to be surrounded by their extended kin and childhood friends. A single cuisine dominated. A powerful sports, outdoors and leisure culture was always in the background.
The Blumes jumped right in. Steve’s work was satisfying, and he constantly saw signs of ExxonMobil’s importance in the community. People he met around town were quick to mention family members who had worked there. For their sports-minded boys, the overwhelming presence of LSU football culture was a welcome attraction. Debbie’s focus became civic work. She volunteered at the boys’ school and eventually became chair of the Every Kid a King foundation.
“For me, the quickest way to meet people in a new community is to volunteer. I feel especially called to work in education and children’s issues.” she says. “We came to Baton Rouge very open and excited about what we could learn and what we could contribute.”
Steve says he’s been impressed by the level of generosity of Baton Rougeans. ExxonMobil employees willingly donate their time and resources to community causes. The family also appreciates the emphasis on family connectivity and the enthusiasm for leisure and fun. “People work to live instead of living to work,” says Steve.
Moreover, the couple says they had not before lived in a place that exhibits such community pride.
“It’s both comforting and noteworthy,” says Debbie. “I can now understand why people don’t want to leave: It’s a great life and it’s a wonderful place to raise a family.”
Debbie’s parents now live with the couple. The boys are immersed in sports as well as activities at The Dunham School, and they’re accustomed to sprinkling Tony Chachere’s Creole Seasoning on their dinner.
Debbie says experience in moving around has taught her family never to be fearful of change.
“God has made wonderful people everywhere,” says Debbie. “The world is small, and we believe that no matter where you go, there is something wonderful waiting for you.”
Something that surprised us: Coming from Asia, we weren’t used to how much college football dominates the culture during the fall. Our boys loved it.
Culture clash: The ready-made network of extended family and childhood friends that Baton Rougeans enjoy can make outsiders feel like they’re missing something.
Something Baton Rougeans take for granted: The robust culture of religious worship. It doesn’t exist to such a palpable degree in most other cities.