Retired Washington Parish teacher is Southeastern's oldest grad
Contact: Rene Abadie
Date: January 16, 2013
OLDEST ALUM OF SOUTHEASTERN RECOGNIZED -- Vivian Richardson, a 102-year-old native of Enon, La., looks through one of the year books of her college years at Southeastern Louisiana University, where she graduated in 1936. Richardson is considered the university's oldest living graduate.
HAMMOND -- With the Southeastern Louisiana University Alumni Association celebrating its 85th anniversary late last year, officials with the organization thought it was appropriate to seek and find the institution's oldest living grad.
The call went out via various communications and in the news media. That's when 102-year-old Vivian Richardson, from the small town of Enon in Washington Parish, came to the association's attention.
When Vivian Richardson graduated from Southeastern and began her teaching career, FDR was in his first term as president, The Green Hornet radio show had just debuted and construction had been recently completed on Hoover Dam. It was 1936, and America was in the midst of the Great Depression.
"From all the responses we received, Vivian Richardson apparently is the oldest living graduate of Southeastern," said Kathy Pittman, Alumni Association Director. "We proudly made that announcement during our Homecoming celebration."
For Richardson, it was a big change to leave home to attend what was then Southeastern Louisiana College, which had only opened its doors 11 years earlier. The campus was far different than today, with just a few buildings and no residence halls. Richardson and her cousin Iris, from outside Bogalusa, shared a room in a boarding house downtown.
"Papa went with us to Hammond and found a house for us to live in near the train depot," recalls Richardson. "It was about three blocks from school, and we walked back and forth each day to classes."
Those classes were with some of Southeastern's faculty legends, who now have buildings on campus named in their memory: D Vickers, R. Thomas Pursley, Ralph Pottle and Leon Clark, who directed the teacher education program.
After completing a two-year degree, Richardson taught for 33 years, helping to educate several generations of second graders in Enon and Franklinton. In 1956, she returned to Southeastern to complete her bachelor's degree, when that became required for teachers.
Richardson credits her education at Southeastern for helping to prepare her for such a long and successful career. "I reckon I was well prepared to teach," she said. "I wasn't scared of teaching. I always loved it, and I loved the children."
Southeastern and teaching are both traditions in Richardson's family. Three of her four siblings also attended Southeastern, including her younger sister Maxine, as well as Maxine's daughter, Pam Penny, who taught English and Spanish at Franklinton High School for many years. Penny notes that one of her outstanding English students was a teenager named John Crain, another alumnus of Southeastern and now its president.
"Southeastern is responsible for educating most of Washington Parish," said Penny. "I don't know where people would go to school if we didn't have Southeastern."
When she wasn't teaching, Richardson's home was always filled with family, even though she and her husband did not have children. In her retirement, Penny and the other nieces and nephews visit her regularly, as they did as children.
She was always busy, Penny said of her aunt, serving as an active member of Enon Baptist Church, sewing, cooking and tending her huge vegetable and flower gardens. "Aunt Vivian was an amazing cook," said Penny. "Over the years, she's cooked hundreds and hundreds of meals for the family."
The Alumni Association is currently reaching out to all living Southeastern graduates in an effort to update its records and to publish a new directory. Graduates can update their information for the directory by calling the association at 1-800-SLU-ALUM.