Why I Moved Back to Lafayette, LA — and You Should, Too
Hannah Smith Mason has lived everywhere from Los Angeles to Paris, but when it came time to raise a family, she came home to Lafayette.
Growing up with a parent in the oil business means you’re never in one place for long, and when Hannah Smith Mason and her family moved to Lafayette, Louisiana, when she was in fourth grade, she had already been a world traveler. After leaving the state for college and living everywhere from Los Angeles to Houston and even Paris, Mason eventually found herself back in her hometown working as an artist and raising her family in the same charming, walk-to-school way she was raised.
The culture here is so different from anywhere else in the world. It’s such a unique place. Everything revolves around food and celebrations, and if you’re an outsider moving in and start embracing our traditions—you’re in the club. To me, it’s a really incredible, special place.Hannah Smith Mason
Here, she explains why she moved back to Lafayette — and you should, too.
What originally brought your family to Lafayette?
We moved here during the oil bust of the late 1980s. I was in fourth grade and my dad had been laid off in Dallas and took a 6-month job down here in Lafayette. We had a week or two to figure out where we wanted to live and so we were in Youngsville on the parish line. After about a year, we moved to the middle of town in the Greenbriar neighborhood and on the same street as my middle school. My dad got laid off again but then he started his own business. I ended up going to Lafayette High and graduated in 1997, and then I left.
Where did you go to college? Were you ever expecting to move back?
I went to Rhodes College in Memphis and in the summers, I went to other universities. I went to the University of Richmond in France on a French program and I got my degree in French. I did study abroad and lived in Belgium my junior year. My senior year I was back in Memphis, and I never had moving back to Lafayette on my radar. For no particular reason, other than the way I was brought up. I grew up internationally.
My siblings’ experience growing up is so different because once my dad started his company, we stayed in Lafayette. Both my parents are from Natchez, Mississippi, so when we would go home on holiday we would go to Natchez. For people who work in the oil field, they understand. It’s like we are almost from nowhere.
After I graduated college, I ended up in Los Angeles because I loved California, and I intended to go to dental school but I needed to get California residency. I ended up working for Paramount Studios. I started a career in TV as a job just to pass the time, and I realized the creative life fit me so much better.
After all of that travel, how did you end up back in Lafayette?
I had to come home to Natchez because my grandmother was very sick and I came home to take care of her. The day I came back was my 28th birthday, and my future husband threw a surprise birthday party for me to get my attention. That worked, and I slowly cut ties with Los Angeles and my husband and I got engaged and then we were married.
Marcus immediately went to work in the oil business. He took a job in Houston. We then moved to Shreveport, Louisiana, and had our first child in 2009 and then moved to Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and had our second child there. We left in 2012 and moved to Denver, and at that point Marcus had moved up and the oil business was booming. That was 2014 and I had my third child, and this whole time I was working as an artist from the dining room table.
Marcus and his buddies started talking about starting a company and my dad was like, “I want in!” The plan completely shifted, and it was like, alright, if we’re going to work together, Lafayette is where we need to be.
Lafayette makes the most sense. It’s a great training hub because it’s easy to get to. It’s not this giant, convoluted city of traffic, and people enjoy coming to Lafayette for their training. It’s not that far from Houston or from going offshore.
When I started looking at it with my mom hat on, I realized it was two and a half hours from all the grandparents in Natchez. It’s not too far from Houston, so when Marcus leaves for work he’ll only be driving three and a half hours. The big city, New Orleans, is not too far, but you don’t have to live in the big city. I was finally convinced.
What are some things you love about Lafayette?
Our schools are great and I realized my kids are going to get to walk to school like I did. Lafayette just made sense in so many ways. The quality of life here is excellent, the food is excellent, the people are generally very friendly, and commuting less than 30 minutes both ways is almost unheard of in modern society. … It’s just so relaxing to come home, compared to going into a very hectic, busy city.
We’ve been in Houston, L.A., Pittsburgh, London, Paris, and I even worked in the Philippines at one point. And Lafayette has an amazing international presence.
Why did you choose to get so involved in the community?
Once we got back to Lafayette, I was very involved with school. I saw a lot of change in the schools and I wanted my kids to have the same experience that I had growing up here, and so I got very involved through the parent teacher club and finally I decided I’m going to run for the school board. So, I ran for the school board and got elected in 2019, and now I am the Lafayette Parish School Board Member for District 8. So, I’m serving in that capacity as well as working as an artist and I’m also serving on the board of the Acadiana Center for the Arts.
I’ve just come back and gotten so involved because Lafayette is worth it. I’m really thankful to see Lafayette growing. The culture here is so different from anywhere else in the world. It’s such a unique place. Everything revolves around food and celebrations, and if you’re an outsider moving in and start embracing our traditions — you’re in the club. To me, it’s a really incredible, special place.
What’s something most people don’t know about Lafayette?
I feel like most people don’t know a lot about Lafayette, but our tourism and economic development leaders have teamed up to change that! My friends who came in for a Tennessee game once could not get over how close everything was. We went to six different places in a day on a Friday and they couldn’t believe every place was just a few minutes away. Fifteen or 20 minutes is far for me now. I can walk to everything if I don’t leave my neighborhood. Everyone has their little hub. The neighborhoods are strong and each neighborhood has its own little set of everything — I love that about Lafayette.
This article was sponsored by Lafayette Convention & Visitors Commission, Lafayette Economic Development Authority and One Acadiana.