THE TRAILER DAYS: 1979 – 1983
In the late 1960s, Louisiana university representatives began to discuss plans for the development of a marine consortium that could meet the growing needs of researchers and provide educational enrichment for students throughout the state. A proposal to form the Louisiana Universities Marine Consortium was endorsed by the Louisiana Board of Regents and enacted into law by the Louisiana legislature in 1979. LUMCON began operating at the end of Highway 56 in Cocodrie before architectural planning for the Marine Center even began in 1980.
Dr. Don Boesch, a New Orleans native, was Executive Director of LUMCON from 1980 to 1990. “I guess I was crazy for applying to run a marine research consortium… I was only 34″ said Dr. Boesch. Boesch left a faculty position at the Virginia Institute of Marine Science to return to his home state of Louisiana. “This was a dream-like opportunity to build a research center in a place where I was born and raised… in a place where I used to go fishing with my father.”
LUMCON began humbly, with a set of five trailers in the marsh: the library, the administrative offices, the zooplankton lab, the benthos lab, and the kitchen/dormitory. LUMCON’s first faculty member, Dr. Michael Dagg, said that when he arrived, he “… had nothing. I came down here from Long Island and for six months was living in one end of my trailer; my lab was on the other end. Thankfully, we did have electricity—most of the time.”
Dr. Nancy Rabalais has similar stories of her adventures in LUMCON’s early facilities. “There was a big word processor in the middle of the administrative trailer, like a typewriter that remembered so you could fix mistakes. I was working one night on my (Ph.D.) dissertation when the machine started smoking. I thought ‘this is my dissertation- it will be nothing but smoke!’. Thankfully I was able to rescue and then finish it.”
The trailers were not LUMCON’s only facilities. In 1979, LUMCON began leasing the Fourchon field station from Nicholls State University. The Fourchon camp expands LUMCON’s reach because of the manmade coastal structures nearby. Cocodrie, in contrast, offers easy access to Louisiana’s more natural marine resources.
LUMCON EXPANDS AND STABILIZES: 1987 – 2016
Moving into the DeFelice Marine Center marked the beginning of a significant expansion for LUMCON. The Consortium’s first Marine Education Instructor, Dr. John Trowbridge, was hired in June 1987. “My first day I had about two hours of trying to figure out what to do before the phone started ringing and people wanted to bring students down,” said Trowbridge. “It was quite amazing. It blossomed very quickly.” In fact, the interest for marine science education in Louisiana was so strong that LUMCON’s only marine educator often relied on staff from other departments to accommodate all of the visitors. “Everyone was super and really kicked in. It was very much a family environment and a labor of love,” said Trowbridge.
Don Boesch pushed to take advantage of the new facilities by hiring more faculty to be based at the DeFelice Marine Center. Thirteen marine science faculty and dozens of associated researchers called LUMCON home at some point between 1987 and 2016. With higher numbers of faculty came more support staff and increased connections to other marine researchers in Louisiana.
The governing structure of LUMCON has fluctuated through the years. Boesch originally reported to a 13-member advisory board (with seats filled by consortium university department heads and faculty) and the Board of Regents. Other Executive Directors reported to member-university presidents, Vice Chancellors, and Vice Presidents of Research. In 2016, legislation was passed that placed LUMCON directly under the Louisiana Board of Regents.