Friends, family and her colleagues adopted the tree in her name on the west side of Smith Hall where Fontenot worked through the McNeese Foundation’s Endow an Oak program, which provides perpetual care and protection of the more than 300 live oak trees on campus.
A bronze plaque with her name was unveiled after a brief presentation. The plaque has been permanently installed near the base of the tree.
On June 20, Fontenot would have celebrated her 60th anniversary as a McNeese employee. She passed away in February.
Fontenot began working as a bookkeeping machine operator on June 20, 1955. Over the years, she gradually made her way up to the position Accountant 2 in the administrative accounting department.
“Delores was meticulous in her work and was always willing to work with people,” said Cheryl Bellard, procurement specialist in purchasing and a colleague. “Delores looked forward to coming to work every day no matter what challenges she would face. She was an inspiration to me and I feel blessed to have been able to work with her every day.”
Fontenot was involved in three major accounting system conversions and assisted the business affairs office in analyzing the current system at the time it was installed.
“She was well-known for her hard work, diligence, and above all, honesty,” said current Business Affairs and University Services Vice President Eddie Meche. “Delores’ dedication and persistence to doing things right has helped to shape McNeese into what it is today.”
Meche first met Fontenot prior to his employment at McNeese when he worked for the Office of the Legislative Auditor. He knew her for 30 years.
Fontenot was much more than an employee to many of her colleagues at McNeese. Pam Watkins, special project coordinator in purchasing and a former student aid of Fontenot’s, thought of her as a maternal figure. She began working with Fontenot in 1983 when she first began attending McNeese.
“I had a bad habit of throwing pennies away and she caught me one day. She gave me a coffee cup and said, ‘Start saving those pennies in this cup, and I’ll roll them for you when your cup gets full. It will add up, you’ll see!’” said Watkins. “I still keep that coffee cup on my desk as a reminder of one of the many things that she taught me.”
Watkins said Fontenot was “a gentle soul with an infectious laugh” and attended many important moments in her life, including her graduation celebration and wedding.
“She was an inspiration to me in many ways. Every time I walk into Smith Hall, I think of her,” she said.
In 1997, Fontenot was one of 12 state recipients honored with the Charles E. Dunbar Jr. Career Services Award presented by the Louisiana Civil Service League. The Dunbar award is the highest honor a Louisiana state employee can receive. Candidates are judged on commitment to their work, contributions toward workplace improvement, personal initiative and volunteer community service. She also received the McNeese Employee Excellence Award that year for her dedication to the university.
When she received the award, her daughter, Velda Vitello, and her granddaughter, Angie, went with her to the ceremony in New Orleans to accept it.
“We were proud of her. She was happy to accept it and she was humbled by it, but to her, she was just doing her job,” said Vitello.
What made Fontenot stand out as an employee was not only her hard work but also her dedication. While most state employees are eligible to retire after 30 years, Fontenot continued her work at McNeese for an additional 30 years.
According to Vitello, Fontenot stayed at McNeese because she was passionate about her job and working kept her sharp.
“She was dedicated to McNeese. She loved her job and she loved the people. McNeese is part of our family,” said Vitello.