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UL unveils statue honoring first university president

Katie de la Rosa, The Advertiser, May 17, 2014


A bronze statue of the Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute’s first president Edwin Lewis Stephens was unveiled on the now-University of Louisiana at Lafayette campus today.(Photo: Katie de la Rosa, The Advertiser)

A bronze statue of the first president of the University of Louisiana at Lafayette, Edwin Lewis Stephens, was unveiled on campus Friday, with current President E. Joseph Savoie leading the 10-minute ceremony.

Standing more than 6 feet tall in front of Girard Hall, the bronze Stephens — who served as president of Southwestern Louisiana Industrial Institute from 1900 to 1938 — is holding an acorn, symbolic for Stephens’ connection to the campus oak trees. He planted the oak seedlings in January 1901 on the corner of Johnston Street and University Avenue, according to the university, and a few, known as the Century Oaks, remain today.

Stephens founded the national Live Oak Society, "an association whose members were the trees themselves with dues of 25 acorns a year," according to the university’s website. Under his leadership, SLII remained an industrial institute until 1921, when it underwent the first of its three name changes.

UL’s fifth president, Ray Authement, Ph.D., who is known as the longest-serving president for a public university in the U.S. at 34 years, helped Savoie reveal the sculpture, which director of executive office operations Liz Landry said was funded through a UL Lafayette Foundation private fund for beautification of the campus. No state money was used for the statue, she said.

Also attending were some of the Golden Graduates, proud alumni from the class of 1964. That class includes former Louisiana Gov. Kathleen Blanco. Savoie recognized them, as well as the spring 2014 outstanding graduates, who will receive their degrees Saturday in several different commencements at the Cajundome.

Savoie said it is fitting Stephens had such an affinity for oak trees.

"They both represent the strength and stature of our university," he said.