Nov 6, 2013 6:02 PM
Dr. John Avery Bertrand, 88, former Acadia Parish School Board Superintendent and longtime Member and President of the Louisiana Board of Elementary and Secondary Education, died Tuesday, November 5, 2013, at the American Legion Hospital in Crowley. A Mass of Christian Burial will be held Friday, November 8, 2013 at St. Michael the Archangel Catholic Church in Crowley, Louisiana with Father Gary Schexnayder officiating. The family requests visiting hours Thursday from 2:00 p.m. to 9:00 p.m. and Friday from 8:00 a.m. to 9:45 a.m. at Geesey-Ferguson Funeral Home. Burial will be in Woodlawn Cemetery.
Dr. Bertrand was born in Corsicana, Texas on October 27, 1925 to Joseph Avery Bertrand and Anaise Boone and soon after moved to Evangeline, Louisiana where he was a top student at Evangeline Oilfield School. He also attended Egan Jr. High and graduated from Iota High School with honors in 1942. His first post high-school job was in a country grocery store. He was the manager...also the sales clerk, the stock clerk, the bookkeeper, the kerosene dispenser, clean up supervisor and the cleaner upper.
This job did not last long. The United States was at war. Dr. Bertrand enlisted and served 2 ½ years in the United States Coast Guard aboard the USS Eugene in the South Pacific where his ship supported invasions of New Guinea and the Philippines, as well as escorting convoys in the Pacific and the North Atlantic during World War II.
Upon military service discharge in 1946, he married his high school sweetheart, Ella Mae Simar. They were blessed with four children and have been married for 67 years. After a brief stint as a carpenter's helper , he enrolled in college under the GI Bill. He received a Bachelor of Science at SLI (now ULL) in 1950, where he graduated with highest distinction, a Master of Science from LSU in 1952, and a PhD from the University of Texas at Austin in 1966.
He started his teaching career in Rayne, at North Rayne Elementary, then moved to Calcasieu Parish and served as a teacher and supervisor of student teachers at LaGrange High School. He then served as principal at Starks High School. He moved back to Lake Charles and served as principal of College Oaks Elementary School, and Forest K. White Jr. High School, where he was responsible for the student teaching program for McNeese University student teachers.
After teaching and serving as a school administrator for nearly 20 years, Dr. Bertrand was ready to lead a school district. Acadia Parish needed a superintendent and Dr. Bertrand applied for the job. On the application form, Dr. Bertrand wrote, "If you need an Educator, I can do the job. If you are looking for a politician, I suggest you look elsewhere." He got the job and was appointed Superintendent of Acadia Parish Schools where he served for 19 years. After his first appointment, he was re-appointed four times by the largest school board in the State (16 members) without a single vote ever being cast against his appointment.
One of the first challenges Dr. Bertrand faced as Superintendent was school desegregation. Acadia Parish was one of the few school systems in the state that integrated without having to close the schools for even one day...and no private segregations academies were created in the parish. Working with the white and black community leaders, he crafted one of the few plans in Louisiana accepted by the US Department of Justice Department. During the first year of integration, Dr. Bertrand silently set an example by placing his first grade daughter in a classroom with Mrs. H. Harmon, an outstanding black teacher who had taught in the formerly all black school of Ross Elementary. Before he left office, Acadia Parish Schools were declared fully integrated and the district was released from federal court orders, which is quite amazing, as many districts in the country are under federal court orders this day.
During his 19 years as superintendent of Acadia Parish Schools, some of his many accomplishments include building new elementary schools in Iota and Rayne, new buildings at Iota and Church Point High and Evangeline Elementary, a new high school in Crowley, renovations and repairs at all other public schools, a new central office complex, obtaining elementary school librarians, becoming the first system in the state to have a Title I application approved, teacher aides and guidance counselors became available in every school, special education was given great emphasis, physical education teachers were employed in elementary schools, the Adult Education Program was created and became the largest of any parish in the state, and the parish was the first to have its own computer system and the first to have a full-day kindergarten program for every child. Dr. Bertrand retired in 1984 and his impact on Acadia Parish was immense.
In 1983, Dr. Bertrand was elected to the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education seat for the 7th Congressional District. He defeated both opponents in the first primary and was re-elected 3 times without opposition, and a fourth time with only token opposition. During his 16 years on BESE, he helped to raise graduation requirements, mandated lower class sizes, required graduation exit examinations, and demanded high scores for teachers on the National Teachers Exam. He served a number of years as chairman of both the Teacher Certification Committee and the Vocational Education Committee. He served for 16 years, including three consecutive terms as president. When he retired from BESE, he was given the title of BESE Member Emeritus, one of only 2 members ever selected to receive this honor.
Dr. Bertrand also served as President of CODOFIL , preserving the French culture and language in Louisiana. He served for many years and was appointed by Governers Edwards and Roemer. While serving as a member of BESE, he was in a position to promote his love of the French language which he learned from his maternal grandmother who spoke only French. He successfully lobbied fellow BESE members to pass a mandate that all parishes have at least one school that offer a foreign language at the elementary level. Most chose French. It was then that the French immersion program began. The first was at Prien Lake Elementary in Lake Charles, and many other elementary schools followed. During this time, he negotiated the control of these programs from CODOFIL to local administrators. This move furthered CODOFIL's goals by creating a partnership with educators who had been somewhat skeptical of CODOFIL. School boards could now choose to take advantage of CODOFIL's programs or they could devise their own to fulfill state requirements.
While president of CODOFIL, he made numerous trips to Belgium, France, and Canada to recruit CODOFIL teachers. He once even had the somber and humbling experience of escorting the body of a young CODOFIL teacher back to her family in France. Almost three decades later, he was extremely proud that his great-grandson completed 5 years of a French immersion program and his great-granddaughter entered a French immersion program as a kindergartener and is currently attending.
Dr. Bertrand was inducted as an officer in the Order of Academic Palms,or Officer dans L'Ordre desPalmes Academiques. This is a French order of chivalry for academic, cultural, and educational figures, and was originally a decoration founded by Emperor Napoleon. This honor was presented to him by the French ambassador at the ambassador's own home in Paris. He was also made a member of Quebec's Order of French Fidelity for his promotion of French heritage, culture, language, and traditions, formally named L'Ordre DeLaFidelite Francaise.. This honor was presented by the Order's Chancellor in Quebec.
Over his 50 years in education, Dr. Bertrand was appointed by Governers Treen, Edwards and Roemer to numerous statewide educational councils, committees and commissions. Among the many honors he received were the Louisiana Association of School Executives Outstanding Educator Award, USL Outstanding Alumni Award, the first recipient of the UL College of Education Chapter of the UL Lafayette Alumni Association's Lifetime Achievement Award, Crowley Citizen of the Year Award and being chosen as King Cotton for the Louisiana Cotton Festival Association. He was an original member and first president of the Southwest Louisiana Superintendents Association, member and president of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, a member and chairman of the Superintendents Advisory Committee of BESE, founding member of the Louisiana Association of School Superintendents, member Emeritus of the American Association of School Administrators, Superintendent Emeritus of the Acadia Parish Schools, and Emeritus Member of BESE. Dr. Bertrand has received these and so many other honors and awards, too numerous to mention them all, but they were all very important to him. When he retired from BESE, he was asked what gave him the greatest sense of accomplishment after a long career of service, he said simply, "helping youngsters."
He and his wife Ella have been instrumental in organizing and promoting the twinning of Crowley and Vaux Sur Sure, Belgium. This group promotes the exchange of culture between the 2 cities. As a member of this organization and husband of the President, he has made numerous trips to Belgium, and has hosted many guests from Belgium for the past 22 years.
Dr. Bertrand has always been involved with his community and his church. He has served as President of both the Crowley Chamber of Commerce and the Kiwanis Club, and as a member of the Board of Directors of the Rice Festival. He has served his church as Grand Knight of Knights of Columbus Council 4562, and as a lector at St. Michael Catholic Church. In his chosen field of education, he has served as President of both the District and State Superintendents' Association. He loved to laugh and joke, and kept abreast of state, local, and national news, but had retired from most of his former organized club and group activities.
There is one group, though, that he insisted he would never retire from. That is the Greedy Cajuns, a group he helped to found to promote camaraderie and good food among a select group of men. These men made him very, very proud by naming him the first and only Member Emeritus of the club.
In 2011, Dr. Bertrand was honored and named as a Living Legend by the Acadian Museum which is affiliated with CODOFIL.
He is survived by his wife of 67 years, Ella Mae Simar Bertrand, three daughters, Linda Gail Bertrand Lambert and her husband John E. Lambert of Baton Rouge, Darlene Frances Bertrand Veillon of Lake Charles, and Angela Michelle Bertrand Coleman and her husband, Ronald L. Coleman, Jr. of Acworth, GA, nine grandchildren, Scott Huntington Steib, Summer Allison Steib, Michael John Bertrand, Anthony Joseph Gibbs and his wife Tiffany, Christopher John Gibbs and his wife Tiffany, Anne Camille Veillon, Monica Grace Veillon, Ronald Lane Coleman, III, and Anna Michelle Coleman, and five great-grandchildren, Rowan Avery Castleman-Steib, Anaise Parker Castleman-Steib, John Avery Steib, Gabriel Aaron Gibbs, Blaise Alexander Gibbs, a daughter-in-law, Sara S. Bertrand, and numerous nieces and nephews whom he loved dearly and considered his own.
He was preceded in death by his son, Ronald Joseph Bertrand, an infant daughter, Jonella Bertrand, his parents, Joseph Avery and Anaise Boone Bertrand, his sister, Lorraine B. Stricker, two brothers, Joseph Francis Bertrand and George Bertrand, and a son-in-law, Eddie B. Veillon, Sr.
Pallbearers will be Doc's best friend of many years Scott O. Sibley, his grandsons, Scott Huntington Steib, Michael John Bertrand, Anthony J. Gibbs, Christopher J. Gibbs, Ronald L. Coleman, III, his nephew, Henry N. Strickler, III and his nephew-in-law, Fred J. Gary. Honorary Pallbearers are his sons-in law, John E. Lambert and Ronald L. Coleman, Jr. Readings at the funeral Mass will be Peggy Gary, niece, and Anne C. Horan, "adopted daughter." Alter server will be great-great nephew, Andrew J. Cowart. Gift Bearers will be his granddaughters, Summer A. Steib, Anne C. Veillon, Monica G. Veillon, Anna M. Coleman, great grandson John Avery Bertrand-Steib, great granddaughter Anaise Parker-Castleman-Steib and Daniel J. Needham, future grandson-in-law. Musical selections will be provided by Alberta Lyons, organist and L.J. Dailey, vocals.
Words of comfort may be sent to the family at www.geesey-ferguson.com.