Graduates at LSU’s first commencement – in 1869 from the Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy in the piney woods near Pineville – never envisioned the traditions today’s alumni have come to cherish. However, as early as 1905, LSU graduates realized that a formal alumni organization was needed to encourage continued participation of alumni with their alma mater. Throughout its history, former students and friends have united through an increasingly dynamic series of organizations to create the LSU Alumni Association, which is today committed to maintaining contact with alumni and keeping alive the traditions that are Forever LSU.
In contrast to its humble beginnings, the LSU Alumni Association today is a vast operation. On campus, the LSU Alumni Association staff occupies and maintains an impressive eight-acre complex that includes the Lod Cook Alumni Center, The Cook Hotel, the Thelma S. Woods Building, and the Jack & Priscilla Andonie Museum, and the Warren & Lorraine Pol Building. Off-campus, the Association is affiliated with 136 alumni chapters throughout the world that sponsor local events year round.
With an endowment of more than $19.0 million, the Association sponsors 345 prestigious scholarships and 46 professorships. Total assets are more than $36.5 million. The Association carries no debt. Its annual budget of $10.8 million reflects 17 percent in contributions and 83 percent in self-generated funds through hotel revenue, facility rental at the alumni center and conference center, sales at the Shelton Gift Shop, sports trips, and catering.
The LSU Alumni Association is totally self-supporting and independent; it receives no University or state funds. A member of the Self-Governing Alumni Forum, the Association counts itself among such prestigious institutions as the University of Michigan, University of California-Berkeley, University of North Carolina, University of Texas, Texas A&M University, University of Kansas, and Georgia Institute of Technology, among others.
The tremendous growth of the LSU Alumni Association over the past two decades is a monument to the vision and leadership of its officers, the National Board of Directors, and dedicated staff who oversee the day-to-day operations.
The LSU Alumni Association employs fifty-one professional and support staff in the Lod Cook Alumni Center and The Cook Hotel.
All activities are the culmination of in-house collaboration of staff involved in institutional advancement – development, communications and marketing, and alumni relations. Their efforts include soliciting contributions for the Alumni Fund for scholarships and other special projects, publishing the LSU Alumni Magazine and monthly E-Letter, maintaining chapter relations, inducting members into the LSU Alumni Association Hall of Distinction, administering the Student Alumni Association, managing Association facilities, and organizing alumni activities such as Homecoming events, Alumni Band Reunion, Golden Tigers Reunion, retired faculty/staff events, Past Presidents/Chairs Luncheon and Annual Meeting, Alumni Professors Luncheon, Scholars Banquet, Accolades Banquet, Hall of Distinction, LSU Ring Ceremony, Grad Fair, Traveling Tigers, Touring Tigers, and special celebrations.
In post-Civil War days, the number of graduates was so small and so local that apparently there was little need for a formal organization of alumni. The Louisiana State Seminary of Learning and Military Academy began its first session on January 2, 1860, with only five faculty members and nineteen students. After a decade of existence, only five classes had graduated, bringing the total number of alumni to less than 300.
In 1869, after the burning of the sole university building, the seminary was moved to Baton Rouge to the site then known as the School for the Deaf, Dumb and Blind. On March 16, 1870, the name was changed to Louisiana State University, and thus students were now alumni of Louisiana State University. In 1877, as a result of the merger of Louisiana State University and
Louisiana A&M College, students became alumni of Louisiana State University and A&M College.
Due to Reconstruction, no more classes graduated until 1882, but alumni retained their ties to the school through those difficult times. Legend has it that President David F. Boyd wrote occasional letters to some of the "old boys,” establishing the first real contact between the school and its graduates. In 1886, the University relocated to the federal garrison grounds in downtown Baton Rouge where the state capitol now stands.
By the end of the nineteenth century, the school had been re-invigorated and many more students had passed through the gates, creating a need for a more formal way for graduates to stay connected. Up to this time, alumni activity consisted of sporadic communications from individual faculty members and administrators to some of their former students. Communication with alumni was almost nonexistent. Each class had a president, who, if so inclined, maintained some sort of contact with various classmates.
LSU’s first formal alumni organization, the Society of the Alumni of Louisiana State University, was formed in 1903 but was not chartered. On June 6, 1905, nearly 100 alumni met in Garig Hall and elected Lewis S. Graham as the first president. The group approved a charter and on June 19, 1905, the Society of the Alumni of Louisiana State University was incorporated.
The Society saw its primary mission as maintaining contact among graduates and ex-students and did so through a monthly periodical called The Alumnus, which first appeared in April 1905. In addition to using dues to cover operating expenses of the Society, the group funded alumni scholarships and awarded an alumni medal to the University cadet who most distinguished himself in conduct and study. It also sponsored its first formal class reunion in June 1905. The class of 1879-1880 convened for its 25th anniversary.
Most importantly, the Society felt the need to demonstrate to alumni the paramount importance of their financial contributions if LSU was to continue to be a great university. This was done by raising funds to finish David Boyd Memorial Hall, which became the first home of the Society of the Alumni of LSU. Renamed Alumni Hall in its infancy, this building was the first structure to dominate the visitor’s view upon arriving at the downtown campus.
In 1913, the Society of the Alumni became the LSU Alumni Federation. Researchers have not been able to determine an exact date for the name change. There are few records available in University archives, and there is a gap in the alumni magazine from 1911 to 1914. Records in the Office of the President contain a few items relating to alumni matters, but no records exist between 1911 and 1917, and no mention of the name change is found in the Board of Supervisors records. The Alumni Bulletin appeared as a directory of LSU graduates, and dues were $3.00 per year, but $5.00 per year for five consecutive years entitled one to a lifetime membership.
Unfortunately, during World War I, the Federation was somewhat inactive, but dedicated active members felt they needed a paid executive. On November 12, 1920, W.B. "Bill” Myrick was hired to run alumni affairs from a central office. Subsequently, in February 1921, a trial edition of The LSU Alumnus and Ex-Student magazine was printed.
By February 1924, many things were changing. The University moved from North Third Street to its new home on Highland Road. This marked the beginning of a period of growth and transition for the University and the Federation, whose main fundraising objective was to encourage alumni memberships through contributions. Its other mission was to maintain contact with graduates and former students through chapters worldwide, reunions, and meetings.
In 1925 the concept of an alumni magazine was revived in a second publication, The LSU Alumni News, published to keep the 2,400 LSU alumni abreast of what was happening at LSU and with one another. As LSU’s academic reputation improved, the number of alumni supporting the University increased.
For a period, the Alumni Federation enjoyed a period of tranquility and stability. By the late 1930s, The LSU Alumni News was being published ten times a year. By 1931, the Federation had been reorganized, and it was rechartered in 1939.
The next decade, however, came in on a wave of turbulence and unrest on the world front, and scandal at the University with stories of political chicanery and misuse of federal funds gained national attention. LSU Law School Dean Paul Hebert was chosen to serve as acting president of LSU, and he leaned heavily on a rejuvenated LSU Alumni Federation to help him reposition the University in the wake of the "Louisiana Scandals.”
After World War II, the Alumni Federation adapted itself to the changes wrought by the social, economic, political, and cultural convulsions of post-war America. Riding the tide of huge enrollments of returning veterans, LSU saw the size of its graduating classes grow, filling the ranks of alumni with aggressive, ambitious graduates intent on progress. Such enthusiasm was to sweep the Federation along toward increased service to LSU. In the fall of 1950, the Annual Alumni Fund – known today as the LSU Alumni Fund – was officially established, though such a fund had been in existence since the 1930s based on a system of fixed-rate annual dues. The new objectives of the fund were to furnish and equip the new location (the Old President’s House on Highland Road), provide additional personnel, complete financing of the T. Kelly McKnight Scholarship, and to serve as a "pace setter.” Volunteers led by William H. "Bill” LeBlanc, Jr., soon made the Annual Fund a major instrument for funding worthwhile ongoing University projects. Thus began the organization’s annual fundraising efforts that continue to this day.
With the post-war boom in higher education and the massive growth and complexity of a nationally recognized LSU, by the mid-1950s a new home for the Federation was clearly needed. In November 1956, under the presidency of Bill LeBlanc, the Federation began renovations of its new home – the Old President’s House – and the Alumni House opened its doors in the fall of 1958. By that time, the Federation had grown to six full-time employees, double the number of staff from just three years earlier. Irwin J. Becnel,
Lucien Laborde, J. Huntington Odom, I. Kent Anderson, and Elaine D. Abell were some of the past presidents who presided over the organization when it was housed on Highland Road at Raphael Semmes Drive.
A blue-ribbon study commissioned in the late 1950s made some far-reaching recommendations about the Federation. President Troy Middleton and leaders on the Board of Supervisors and in the alumni body moved to help implement these recommendations. The Federation was re-chartered in 1958 as a 501(c)3 organization.
The 1960s witnessed the observance of LSU’s Centennial Celebration, beginning in October 1959, with the dedication of Middleton Library. By this time the Alumni Fund had become an annual event and was raising more than $50,000 per year.
In the early sixties, the first Alumni Fund Federation Scholarships were given to twelve incoming freshmen. These students were given cash grants of $800 each to assist them in their first year at the University. Over time these evolved into the Top 100 Scholarships and the Chancellor’s Alumni Scholarships (1983) and are now known as the Global Leaders and Flagship Scholars awards, respectively. In 1963, after two years of low state appropriations, the Federation presented a $10,000 check to the University President’s Emergency Fund for Quality Education, the first time monies had been used for fundamental support rather than for enrichment.
Throughout this time, efforts were made to improve relationships with the general public and renew alumni interest. The goals of the Federation were reiterated in the September 1963 issue of Alumni News. The reason for the very existence of the Alumni Federation is "to assist our University to achieve and retain the status of a truly great university.” Efforts undertaken in pursuit of this goal included effective communication between the University and its alumni, high school relations, legislative actions, and private contributions. Quality education was supported through the new Alumni Professorships established in 1966. Throughout the seventies, the Federation continued to grow in membership and resources to share with the University through professorships, scholarships, and faculty awards. And, as in the past, it continued to provide a solid foundation of support and strength for LSU.
In 1973, Federation President J. Huntington Odom urged alumni to turn out in force on April 20 to accept or reject the new document hammered out by the 1973 Constitutional Convention – not recommending a vote for or against the document but rather soliciting support for Alternative A (number 3 on the ballot) – protecting the LSU Board of Supervisors’ constitutional status – believing that this election was "one of the most crucial events in LSU’s history.” He wrote in the June issue of the LSU Alumni News:
If I ever had the slightest reason to forget or doubt the value to L.S.U. of its alumni, it vanished on Election Day, April 20. There is not the least question in my mind but that you alumni were the principal reasons why Education Alternative A received an even larger percentage (62%) of the vote than did the new constitution itself (58%). But the victory you helped to win is no partisan victory. Alternative A would not have been worth supporting if we had not been persuaded that it would redound to the benefit of all higher education in Louisiana.
A few months earlier, LSU had been designated a Bicentennial Institution by the American Revolution Bicentennial Administration, and the University played a major role in the celebration of the nation’s 200th birthday. The bicentennial year was also occasion for other celebrations at LSU – the 50th anniversary of the present campus and the centennial celebration of the Agricultural Experiment Station.
As LSU continued to serve Louisiana as the state’s comprehensive university it reached a point at which further academic and research progress was dependent on new levels of state, federal, and alumni support. The effort would require telling LSU’s story in a whole new way.
In early 1984, Chancellor James H. Wharton recognized the need to modernize the organization along the lines of those he had seen at other major universities, an alumni organization better able to create and nurture relationships between the University and its former students and friends. Thus began the most massive reorganization the entity has ever known, resulting in a self-sufficient unit with the freedom and ability to aid the University.
Wharton charged Charlie W. Roberts, past president and CEO of the LSU Alumni Association, with making his vision a reality and named him to the newly created position of Vice Chancellor for University Relations, effective April 1, 1984. The new division included the LSU Alumni Federation, the Office of Public Relations, the LSU Foundation, the LSU Faculty Club, and the Rural Life Museum. At that time, the Federation had assets and endowments of $28,000 with annual membership contributions at $25 totaling $485,000.
In April 1984, the Alumni House was falling into disrepair. Fortunately, Roberts knew the incomplete Alpha Phi sorority house on West Lakeshore Drive was owned by the national Alpha Phi organization, and the University purchased and renovated the house for University Relations. Exactly one year to the day that Roberts assumed his vice chancellorship, the Alumni, Foundation, and Public Relations staffs moved into its new quarters at 3956 University Drive (now West Lakeshore Drive), the current site of the Office of Communications & University Relations. The city of Baton Rouge never had a record of University Drive; the name was assigned by LSU and never officially changed in city records.
In November 1985, after a raffle held by the Federation to raise money for faculty and staff salary increases, Ruth Loyd Miller, a member of the LSU System Board of Supervisors, charged the Federation as to the legality of the venture, and the Louisiana Board of Ethics opened hearings on the matter. The commission published its findings on February 18, 1986, and as a result, on July 1, 1986, the Federation became totally private. The building was leased from the University, and salaries and support were paid retroactive to July 1, 1985.
Another major change occurred in November 1987 when the Federation was renamed the LSU Alumni Association and continued as an independent 501(c)3 non-profit organization whose main objective was fundraising and maintaining contact with graduates and former students through chapters and reunions. Annual membership fees were $25.
The transformation of the Federation into an independent, non-profit entity was a defining moment in the history of the organization. This new mission was immensely more ambitious than in earlier times, but suddenly the challenge was likewise daunting: for years the organization had provided students and the University with financial support through scholarships, professorships, and other contributions raised by the Alumni Fund, but this generosity meant the Association began its new life with only $28,000 in endowments. The boost required to make the Association’s mission viable came quickly. In 1985, an airplane crash claimed the life of LSU supporter Noel "Butch” Baum, who bequeathed $1.2 million – and a new beginning for the organization.
Although expanding its activities and chapter numbers from the base of its new home, the Association still did not have an adequate place to welcome alumni and friends. For the most part, functions were held off-campus, obviously not the best way to host alumni and laud the University’s accomplishments. During the late 1980s, Association leaders began planning for a definitive home for returning alumni, a home on campus where they could meet to remember their days at LSU.
The space problem was solved with the help of Lodwrick M. "Lod” Cook, a major donor, and H. Rouse Caffey, then-chancellor of the LSU AgCenter. Caffey, who shared the Association’s vision for continued success, transferred the majestic eight acres of property currently controlled by the organization. Cook, then, chairman and CEO of ARCO, made the lead gift for the building. Cook, a longtime LSU benefactor, earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from LSU in 1950 and 1955, respectively.
The magnificent Lod Cook Alumni Center, overlooking University Lake, was dedicated on May 20, 1994, one of the most glorious moments in the history of the LSU Alumni Association. The grand opening took place with special guests former United States Presidents Gerald R. Ford, James E. "Jimmy” Carter, and George H.W. Bush; Chief of Staff Mark McLarty representing President William J. "Bill” Clinton; and Louisiana Governor Edwin Edwards in attendance. The gala included the reading of congratulatory letters from former President Ronald W. Reagan and President Clinton, a 21-gun salute, a jet flyover, a spectacular fireworks display, and a stirring rendition of God Bless the U.S.A.
Beginning with Lod Cook and the ARCO Foundation’s lead gift of $1.2 million, the Lod Cook Alumni Center was finally completed at a cost of $5.4 million including all fixtures and furnishings which were also provided by ARCO. Constructed completely with private donations and restricted gifts, the center was built by offering patrons the opportunity to purchase individual rooms in the facility and ultimately through funds generated by Tiger Tiles, which allowed patrons the opportunity to have their names inscribed on walkway tiles surrounding the facility. The building of the Lod Cook Alumni Center did not utilize any funds generated by the Association to provide for its sponsored scholarships and professorships. Everything associated with the center was raised above and beyond the Association’s mission, and by September 1, 1996, the total construction debt was paid.
The 36,000 square foot facility, which is managed as a conference center, houses one banquet room and six meeting rooms, as well as the offices of both the LSU Alumni Association and the LSU Foundation. The second floor of the center also serves as an art gallery, housing works from such notable Louisiana artists as Robert Gordy and Elemore Morgan.
Following in the footsteps of the American Legion, which had built Memorial Tower, sometimes called the Campanile, as a memorial to Louisiana World War I dead, the Association showed its patriotism by completing funding and construction of the LSU War Memorial located on the Parade Ground. In October 1998, with former President George H. Bush as keynote speaker looking on, this monument was dedicated to the memory of LSU alumni, faculty, staff, and students who made the ultimate sacrifice in the armed forces of the United States during all of America’s mobilizations since World War I.
As with other Association construction, the War Memorial construction cost of $476,000 was funded entirely by private donations, not from the Association’s endowment dedicated to students, faculty, and the University. By December of 1998 the construction debt was paid thanks to a generous contribution from the Dalton Woods family.
With the dawning of a new century came another shining moment for the Association. For years, alumni returning to campus had the option of staying at the aging Pleasant Hall or at a local hotel or with family or friends. This changed on October 21, 2001, with the dedication of the Lod & Carole Cook Conference Center, also known as The Cook Hotel, the only privately owned and operated alumni association hotel in the country. Another gala event was held, with President George H. W. Bush in attendance.
Just as he had for the Alumni Center, Cook and his wife, Carole, made the lead gift to encourage others to commit to creating the 128-room facility, now considered one of the premier lodging choices for travelers visiting the Baton Rouge area. Using the most unique financing ever for an alumni association, the hotel was built based on a state bond commission approved loan of $10 million. The Association borrowed $9.9 million based on the signatures of six guarantors who each pledged varying amounts to secure the loan for one year. By 2009 the loan was repaid. Together, the hotel and conference center are highly sought after venues for meetings, conferences, weddings, receptions, and other events. Like the Lod Cook Alumni Center itself, the hotel chiefly serves as a beacon for alumni returning to campus.
Going above and beyond its first mission, the Association also generated private funding to construct the Jack & Priscilla Andonie Museum, which opened in May 2004. This was also a first for an alumni association. Located next to the Lod Cook Alumni Center, the museum contains an impressive display of great moments in academics as well as athletics. Its initial exhibit – "Celebrating LSU Athletics - A Salute to All Those Who Have Brought Honor, Fame, and Glory to LSU” – has traveled to the Louisiana State Exhibit Museum in Shreveport.
As The Cook Hotel continued to prosper, more storage space – especially climate-controlled space – was needed. Thanks to the generosity of longtime donor Thelma S. "Sugar” Woods, a state-of-the-art climate-controlled storage building was constructed on the south side of the hotel. Dedicated in February 2006, the facility is lovingly referred to as the "Sugar Shack.”
The LSU Alumni Association is a vibrant organization supported by former students and friends. The ultimate goal of the LSU Alumni Association is to encourage and support continued participation of former students and friends with Louisiana State University – today, tomorrow, and forever.
The mission of the LSU Alumni Association is to protect, promote, and foster the welfare of Louisiana State University and Agricultural and Mechanical College and to create and nurture mutually beneficial relationships between the University and its alumni and friends. The Association, using the talents and resources of alumni and friends, supports the University in pursuit of excellence in teaching, research, and public service for current and future alumni.