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Obituary: Dr. Sammie Wayne Cosper - Faculty and Academic Vice-President - Sept. 19, 2017

Dr. Sammie Wayne Cosper

October 8, 1933 - September 19, 2017

Dr. Sammie Wayne Cosper

Obituary for Dr. Sammie Wayne Cosper

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday, September 23, 2017 at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church in Lafayette for Dr. Sammie Wayne Cosper, 83, who passed away on September 19, 2017. Visitation will be observed Friday from 4:00-8:00 p.m. at Martin & Castille Funeral Home on St. Landry Street. A rosary will be recited Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. Visitation will also be held Saturday from 9:00 a.m. until the time of services. Interment will follow at Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eunice, LA. Reverend Father Tom Voorhies of Sacred Heart of Jesus Catholic Church in Ville Platte will officiate.

Sammie was born on October 8, 1933 in Greggton, Texas. Upon his graduation from Eunice High School, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy where he served as a submariner on the USS Corporal. Following his discharge, Sammie earned a Bachelor of Science degree in physics at SLI (now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette) and a Ph.D. in nuclear physics from Purdue University. After two years of post-doctoral research at the University of California at Berkeley, where he and his research colleagues discovered four new isotopes, he returned with his family to Lafayette in 1967.

From 1967-1989, he held numerous administrative positions with USL, including head of the Physics Department, dean of Liberal Arts and Academic Vice President.

Following retirement from USL, he served as Commissioner for Higher Education for Louisiana and interim Chancellor of the Baton Rouge Community College. He was active in civic and community affairs, serving as a member of the Board of Directors of the Council for A Better Louisiana and a member of the Education Committee of the Louisiana Association for Business and Industry. He was a member of the Krewe of Gabriel, Krewe of Triton, and Krewe of Zeus, serving as King Triton XXIV in 2003.

His first love was his family. His curiosity and sense of fun and adventure, however, made traveling a second love and he traveled the world in his retirement. And those who saw him as a reserved academician clearly never saw him on a dance floor.

His passion throughout the years, however, remained education. The first in his family to graduate from college, Sammie continually preached the benefits of education and learning.

Sammie is survived by his beloved wife of 63 years, Shirley Aguillard Cosper of Lafayette; three daughters, Caprice Cosper and her husband George "Mac" Secrest of Houston, TX, Michelle Abshire and her husband Gary of Chattanooga, TN, and Renee Reaux of Lafayette; grandchildren Kaitlyn Reaux Johnson and her husband Kelsey, Parker Reaux and his wife Lauren, Grace Reaux, Christian Bishop, and Alise Abshire, as well as two great-granddaughters.

He was also survived by his brother, R.C. Cosper of Odessa, TX. He was preceded in death by his parents, Sammie Hampton Cosper and Mable Byrd Potter, two grandchildren, and his son-in-law, Jerry Reaux. Pallbearers are Parker Reaux, Christian Bishop, Kelsey Johnson, Gary Abshire, Mac Secrest and Mike Gournay. Honorary pallbearers are Jerome Heinlen, Hal Cromwell, Jimmy Dugas, John Fenstermaker and Marc Mouton.

The family wishes to thank Doctors Bradley Chastant, Jr., Michael Vanderlich, Richard Fei, and Joseph Kowalski and their staffs for their continued care and support. In lieu of flowers, memorials may be made in Sammie's name to Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church Capital/Building Campaign, the ULL Foundation or Southwest Louisiana Community College (SLCC). View the obituary and guestbook online at www.mourning.com. Martin & Castille-DOWNTOWN-330 St. Landry St., Lafayette, LA 70506, 337-234-2311.  .

Athletic Network footnote by Dr. Ed Dugas:
Oct. 29, 2005 - Sammy and Shirley enjoying tailgating with (L-R)Dr. Dave Fisher, Ross Brubaker and Skipper Hunt.

Dr. Cosper was my Academic Vice-President for the four different administrative positions I held at the university.
HONEST, straight-forward, candid, highly intelligent, very knowledgeable, kept the best interest of your department and the university in the forefront in his decision-making process. One could not work with him for very long without becoming highly respectful of him and an admirer.
Probably the hardest working person at the university I can recall. He was always prepared. He dealt with reasons, not excuses.

* * * * *

Former UL administrator, higher education commissioner Cosper dies 

Dr. Sammie W. Cosper, a former vice president for Academic Affairs at the University of Southwestern Louisiana who later served as the state’s higher education commissioner, died Tuesday, Sept. 19. He was 83.

Cosper was chief academic officer from 1973 to 1989, a period that “witnessed the University’s growth from a regional college into a research institution,” said UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie.

Soon after Cosper became vice president, he convened a committee of faculty and administrators to assess the University’s goals. The panel suggested expanding the University’s existing computer science and nursing programs, and strengthening its ties to the area’s oil and gas industry. It also recommended making the preservation of South Louisiana’s Cajun and Creole cultures a priority.

Cosper’s tenure also saw the University assume a role in the restoration of Louisiana’s coastline.

The legacy of the committee’s recommendations remains evident at UL Lafayette today, Savoie said.

“Sammie worked with then-President Dr. Ray Authement to change how the University saw itself and how others perceived it. Under their guidance, it became nationally recognized for its groundbreaking research and scholarship.

“He was a tireless advocate for this University and, as commissioner of higher education, for colleges and universities statewide,” Savoie said. 

“On a personal note, Sammie was a valued mentor and a good friend.”

Then-Louisiana Gov. Charles E. “Buddy” Roemer III asked Cosper to serve as higher education commissioner in 1990. During his four-year tenure, Cosper was an early advocate for the creation of a statewide community and technical college system. 

Cosper grew up in Ville Platte and Eunice, and graduated from Eunice High School in 1951. After a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, he enrolled at Southwestern Louisiana Institute. SLI became USL before his graduation in 1960, and then the University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 1999.

He graduated first in his class with a bachelor’s degree in physics.

Cosper then pursued a doctorate in nuclear physics at Purdue University in Lafayette, Indiana. After his graduation in 1965, his postdoctoral research at Lawrence Radiation Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley resulted in the discovery of four previously unknown isotopes – Helium-8, Lithium-11, Boron-14 and Boron-15.

Cosper returned to USL in 1967 as chair of the newly created Department of Physics, which was then under the guidance of the College of Liberal Arts. He became the college’s dean in 1971 until his promotion two years later as USL’s vice president of Academic Affairs.

As vice president, Cosper was the chief liaison between the University and the Louisiana Board of Regents, which the 1974 Louisiana Constitution created as a centralized governing body for publicly funded higher education institutions.

Cosper represented USL at Regents’ meetings, and later joked he could count on one hand the number of meetings he had missed. His intimate knowledge of the board’s workings led to his appointment in 1990 as interim higher education commissioner to replace Dr. Sally Clausen, who had resigned.

Asked by the Regents to take the job permanently, Cosper initially demurred, he revealed in a 1990 interview with La Louisiane, UL Lafayette’s magazine.

“I did some soul-searching. I didn’t need the money, the headaches or the glory – and there’s really no glory associated with the job anyway. But I also understood that there weren’t too many people in the state who could walk in and do the job. Ultimately, the state of Louisiana has been good to me for the past 22 years. Higher education is in a bind, and I think I can help get it out of a bind. So I applied.

“I told the board if they wanted somebody to sit in a chair and hold it down, I wasn’t their man.” Cosper said he “was prepared to hit the ground running.”

As commissioner, Cosper worked to stabilize the Board of Regents, which was emerging from a period rife with internal disputes and a series of court cases that challenged the board’s legitimacy. He opposed cuts to higher education funding and advocated for faculty pay increases. Cosper pushed for the creation of a combined community and technical college system, which occurred in 1999, after Cosper’s tenure as higher education commissioner.

Cosper retired as commissioner in 1994. He then worked as an educational consultant and later served as interim chancellor of Baton Rouge Community College.

He and his wife, Shirley, established a student scholarship and endowed professorship in UL Lafayette’s Department of Physics. The couple also created the Cosper Family Endowed Scholarship at South Louisiana Community College. It’s awarded annually to a married student attending SLCC.

“I completed much of my education while I was married with kids,” Sammie Cosper said at the time. “I know the struggle firsthand, and I want to help someone.”

Cosper and the former Shirley Aguillard married in 1955. The couple had three daughters: Caprice, Michelle and Renee. Survivors include his wife, daughters, five grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Funeral services will be held at 10:30 a.m. Saturday at Our Lady of Wisdom Catholic Church on UL Lafayette’s campus. Interment will follow in Mount Calvary Cemetery in Eunice.

Visitation will be held from 4-8 p.m. Friday and from 9 a.m. until the time of services Saturday. A rosary will be recited at 6:30 p.m. Friday at Martin & Castille Funeral Home-Downtown, which is in charge of arrangements.

Source: www.lousiana.edu website Sept. 20, 2017


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