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Pillars Spring 2010

Pillars Spring 2010

THE MAN BEHIND THE PRESIDENCY
Pillars, Spring 2010 issue.

Dr. Hebert Pillars MagazineWhen you think about Robert “Bob” D. Hebert, McNeese State University president, you might think of the Banners Cultural Series or the Honors College, both created under his leadership. What you might not envision is Dr. Hebert repairing furniture, cooking Chinese food or crabbing in the bayous, but in his rare spare time, these are some of the activities that he enjoys most.

Bob grew up in the small settlement of Meaux, La., in a tight-knit community. He was the youngest of four children, just a toddler when his father, Eddie, passed away. Bob’s mother, Inez, became a single parent, supporting her children as the Postmaster of Meaux. In fact, Meaux’s post office was located in the Hebert home.

Bob’s mom stressed the importance of getting an education to all of her children.

Members of the Meaux High School Class of 1956 were extremely close then and continue to be so today. During that era, small schools lacked enough players to form a football team, so basketball was the school sport students rallied behind. Bob played basketball and his older brother, Calvin, helped coach. Prior to the game between Henry High and Meaux High schools, Bob was goofing off more than practicing his warm-ups. Calvin, having had enough of Bob’s antics, sent him to the sidelines to keep score. Keeping score for Henry High was freshman student, Lilly Ann Vincent. It didn’t take long for Bob to take notice of the pretty student by his side.

Upon graduating from Meaux High School, Bob enrolled at Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now called the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, to study history. Since he did not own a car, Bob would hitchhike to school or catch a ride with friends. Bob was always fascinated with history, particularly with the World War II era. As a child, his oldest sister had captured his imagination by talking about faraway places. Many of Meaux’s young soldiers were going off to war during that time which only added to Bob’s interest in World War II. Bob graduated with a Bachelor of Arts degree from SLI in 1959.

A fellowship offer by Florida State University allowed Bob to move to Tallahassee, Fla., to pursue his graduate studies. Bob received his Master of Arts degree in 1961 and a doctorate degree in 1966, both in history. Lilly Ann, now Bob’s wife, provided support by typing his master thesis on a manual typewriter at a time when carbon copies were the norm.
Dr. Hebert Laughing

Bob was soon offered the opportunity to teach at the collegiate level at Mississippi State University in Starkville. His specialties were European and Russian history. He also moonlighted teaching history at a small college in the Delta town of Itta Bena, Miss. By then, Bob and Lilly Ann were raising three little boys. The comfort from their extended families and the familiarity of their native culture tugged at their heartstrings. After seven years in Starkville, a chance encounter with McNeese’s Dr. Joe Gray Taylor, history department head, lured the Heberts back to Louisiana to fill a history position at McNeese. A fourth son would soon round out the family.

McNeese offered Bob the opportunity to share his passion for history with his students. As the years passed, Bob progressed up the academic ladder, moving to full professor, director of basic studies, academic vice president, and ultimately, president, a post he has held for 23 years.

Dr. Hebert’s accomplishments have been vast and have included expanding electronic delivery of instruction, improving campus-wide technology, ensuring that campus operations continued in spite of the devastating effects caused by Hurricane Rita in 2005 and improving and enhancing the University’s private fundraising. When he became president in 1987, the assets of the McNeese Foundation were less than $1 million. Today the assets are over $55 million and growing.

According to Lilly Ann, Bob also takes great pride in the beautiful live oak trees that shade the campus, many planted and nurtured during his tenure in office. Another source of pride tied to his interest in preserving historical artifacts is the creation of the McNeese Archives and Special Collections housed at Frazar Memorial Library. The Archives act as a manuscript repository for historical collections for the five-parish area of Allen, Beauregard, Calcasieu, Cameron and Jefferson Davis parishes.

Bob remains close to his family roots. He and Lilly Ann are both descendents of the Acadian ancestry from Nova Scotia. Bob has spent considerable time researching family genealogy and traveling to places of his heritage. In fact, traveling has always been a passion for the Heberts. Every summer took the family to a new destination, exposing the children to the world around them. Bob made sure that he knew everything about their destination prior to travel. He also made sure that everything was in order before the date of departure – even going so far as to conduct “dry runs” to ensure that the luggage would fit into the trunk.

Serving as official photographer, Bob would come home from a trip and develop his own film in a small darkroom he had created at the Hebert home. He made a habit of selecting one particular photograph from each destination to frame and hang on the wall. A store-bought frame was not acceptable. Bob would scour flea markets and antique shops in search of old picture frames, preferably ones that required repairing and refinishing. When he inherited his grandparent’s breakfast table, he used his skills to build a new table top large enough to seat his growing family.
Dr. Hebert Nova Scotia

As a reminder of his roots, Bob maintains a large collection of Hadacol bottles. Hadacol, a product marketed as a vitamin supplement, was created by Dudley J. LeBlanc, a native of Abbeville. Bob’s other hobbies include gardening vegetables and flowers, reading history, mystery and westerns, cooking Chinese and Indian foods and listening to music. While Dr. Hebert will be retiring from McNeese, it is evident he will never retire from his love of education.

Inez Hebert’s emphasis on education was not lost on the Hebert children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. Bob and his siblings have all obtained graduate degrees. Each of Bob and Lilly Ann’s sons – Greg, Chris, Gerry and Edward – have all graduated from McNeese and gone on to obtain medical degrees. The eldest of the Hebert’s four grandchildren will enter the University of Pennsylvania in the fall.

The Heberts look forward to continuing their passion of following McNeese sports – now as spectators in the stands rather than dignitaries in the SkyRanch. They will celebrate their golden anniversary this summer.

It is unfortunate that Inez Hebert did not live long enough to see her son in his role as McNeese President. She would have been proud.