THE DEFELICE MARINE CENTER RISES FROM THE MARSH: 1983 – 1987
Boesch’s job as LUMCON’s first Executive Director was more difficult and complex than he had ever imagined. “My job, which I thought was to build the Consortium, turned out to be convincing everyone to provide funding for the facilities.” Rabalais says the proof of his success became inescapable: “We were continually reminded of the construction because of the ground shaking and the noise.”
In April 1983, Governor David Treen (1980-84) flew in to attend the much-anticipated groundbreaking for LUMCON’s Marine Center. “After an unusually long period of dry weather, we had this tremendous rain that turned the construction site into a quagmire,” said Boesch. “Governor Treen had traveled down from Baton Rouge by helicopter and had almost turned back because of the intensity of storms. I remember the Governor getting out of the helicopter and looking rather green in the gills because of the harrowing ride… I also remember wondering if he was thinking he had made a big mistake.”
The groundbreaking ceremony was moved into a National Guard tent that LUMCON had borrowed in anticipation of rain. Soggy guests packed into the hot and humid tent as plans were quickly rearranged in response to the less-than-opportune conditions. “I had a lump in my throat and my heart was at my feet, but we still started the ceremony as planned with the Dusenberry Family singing the National Anthem in French,” recalled Boesch. “When they sang in their beautiful harmonizing voices, it was so moving. I believe it transformed the whole process and everyone forgot about the adversities we were encountering that day.”
As ground was broken under the army-green tent, LUMCON took its first steps towards construction of its current Cocodrie facilities. LUMCON employees moved into the new Marine Center in 1986, even though its construction was not completed until 1987. “Moving into the building was absolutely wonderful. It was a joy to finally be in here,” recalled Dagg.
Even before the building was completed, LUMCON received its first research vessel, the R.J. Russell, from Louisiana State University. The R/V Pelican replaced the Russell in 1985 and the R/V Acadiana was added to LUMCON’s fleet soon after, in 1986 (click here for a more complete history of LUMCON’s vessels).
The Marine Center’s dedication ceremony was held beneath the facility in May 1987 and was attended by approximately 200 people, including Governor Edwin Edwards, LUMCON Council Chairman Dr. Darryl Felder, U.S. Representative Billy Tauzin and U.S. Senator John Breaux. “John Breaux can clearly be considered one of the political founders of LUMCON. He supported the concept of the Consortium back in the late 1970s,” said Boesch.
Another strong advocate of the Consortium was Woodrow J. DeFelice (1914-87). In January 1996, the Marine Center was renamed the W.J. “Woody” DeFelice Marine Center in recognition of his support for LUMCON and his dedication to improving education in Louisiana. DeFelice served as Lafourche Parish School Superintendent from 1959-71 and served on the Louisiana Board of Regents from 1974-80.