(October 25, 2012) McNeese State University officials and members of John McNeese's family officially opened John McNeese Park as part of the 2012 Homecoming ceremonies.
"John McNeese has been called an innovator, a reformer and a great pioneer of education," McNeese President Dr. Philip Williams said. McNeese State University is the only public university in Louisiana named for an educator.
McNeese came to Southwest Louisiana in 1873 and supported himself as a professor of penmanship and music. He married Susan Bilbo, the daughter of one of this area's earliest settlers, William Bilbo.
He studied law and received his degree from Tulane University in 1887. John McNeese practiced law briefly in Lake Charles, but his passion was education.
McNeese became superintendent of public education for Imperial Calcasieu Parish in 1888. During his 25 years as superintendent, he directed the construction of elementary and high school buildings, increased student enrollment and improved teacher qualifications.
When John McNeese retired on July 1, 1913, the American Press newspaper said, "The name of John McNeese is synonymous with the life, the entire history and the progress of the schools of Calcasieu, and for that matter the entrance of this now venerable educator into the arena of public instruction practically designates the beginning of life in the schools of the entire state."
The newspaper went on to say that "John McNeese had an incomparable history as an educator" and "it was only a short time until every parish in the state was copying after or emulating the example set by Mr. McNeese, the result being that there was a general shake-up in the old methods."
He died in 1914 at the age of 70 and is buried in Orange Grove Cemetery in Lake Charles.
Quoting from McNeese's obituary, Williams said, "It was due to his efficiency and hard work that year by year the schools improved until today no section of the state and few in the nation can boast of a school system superior to that of Calcasieu Parish."
"This statue and park will be a reminder to this university's students, faculty, staff and guests of the unique connection we have with the man known as the 'Father of public education in Louisiana'," Williams said.
In honor of the occasion, Lake Charles Mayor Randy Roach proclaimed Oct. 25, 2012, as John McNeese Day.
Williams also unveiled two new university logos that will soon be added to the official marks for McNeese. "These logos represent the image of John McNeese and are being publically displayed for the first time today," Williams said. The logos with the image of John McNeese will be used by the university in addition to the horse and rider and the official seal.
Mrs. Rebecca "Becky" Andrews, great great granddaughter of John McNeese from Baton Rouge, addressed the crowd on behalf of several McNeese relatives on hand for the opening, including one of John McNeese's granddaughters, Mrs. Laura Bishop of Falls Church, Va., by saying how proud they all were of John McNeese.
"John McNeese worked so hard for the education of the children," Andrews said. "He changed the way the schools were held accountable and really nudged and changed the whole concept of education in this area and the state." This also included new textbooks and methods of teaching.
"Many of our relatives attended and graduated from this university so today's event was truly a homecoming," said Andrews. "We are truly proud of the legacy of John McNeese and the connections to this great university."
(above) Rebecca "Becky" Andrews, great great granddaughter of John McNeese and a 1974 McNeese State University graduate from Baton Rouge, addressed the crowd on behalf of several McNeese relatives on hand for the opening of the John McNeese Park on campus. The university's namesake was a pioneer in education in Louisiana.