Clyde Vincent *
Inducted on February 09, 2013
John Clyde Vincent:
a true Texas Cajun gentleman with a passion for his Cajun language & culture
John Clyde Vincent, a very self-effacing, unassuming Cajun man has strived hard to keep the Cajun language and culture alive in an area of East Texas where Cajuns were at one time the object of scorn by the Dutch, not to mention attacks by the area Ku Klux Klan. You see, they had two things going against them: they spoke French and they were Catholic. The area of Port Neches where Clyde was born was called “Little Abbeville” due to many of its inhabitants being of Cajun descent and also being from the general area of Abbeville.
As president of Les Acadiens du Texas for 30 of its 32 year history, he has worked diligently, sincerely, and strongly for and with his cultural links to Vermillion Parish.
A genealogist and friend of Father Hebert, an activist of the French language and culture, a Cajun ambassador to Canada & France, John Clyde Vincent was born in Port Neches, Texas on August 8, 1925 to Léonce Vincent and Della Broussard Vincent who were both from Vermillion Parish.
Clyde’s father Léonce left Louisiana prior to WWI to work in Texas at the Texas Company Refinery, but he always kept close ties with his relatives in the Kaplan and Maurice area and visited each year.
Soon after, he was drafted into the army where he faced combat in the Alsace-Lorraine area in France. He was pretty popular with the French women because he spoke French. He could also read and write it.
After the war, Léonce met Clyde’s mother and they were married in Maurice, but made their home in Texas. While in the war, Clyde’s father had unfortunately been exposed to mustard gas which caused him to have poor health for the rest of his life and contributed to his lungs collapsing to pneumonia in 1936. He left behind 4 children.
When Clyde was growing up in Texas, there was much French spoken by the elderly around him, so he was exposed to the Cajun language and culture at a very early age. Although he was not encouraged to speak French, he did pick up some French before his parents became aware of it. When, as a young boy, he laughed at an off-color joke his dad was sharing with his mother, his parents knew at that moment that they would no longer be able to speak French in front of him. He understood the language.
Clyde graduated from high school in Port Neches in 1942, just a few months shy of his 17th birthday. All of his friends were being drafted into the army so at 17, he talked his mother into signing a minor’s release and joined the Merchant Marine. Clyde says, “After serving 4 1/2 yrs. in the Merchant Marine during the war, I returned home with a stronger interest in the Cajun history and culture.”
He saved up money with the intention of going to college, but with younger siblings at home, his savings went to help his family. He then went to work for Texas Gulf Sulphur. He later married and raised his family (3 sons and a daughter (Richard, Ernie, David and Clydelle) in the Beaumont area, but his Cajun roots always remained close to his heart.
Because of this passion and love for his roots, in 1979 he formed a group called “Les Acadiens du Texas” whose primary goal was “to sponsor educational activities for its members that encouraged, assisted and promoted interest in the preservation of the Acadian language and culture. As area interest grew, it became a non-profit, tax exempt corporation under the laws of the State of Texas on December 21, 1983.
During his time as president of this group, Clyde worked tirelessly to renew and strengthen the ties between the Cajuns who had moved to East Texas for a better life and those who had stayed behind in Louisiana.
Club members opened their hearts and homes to Le Théâtre Cadien from Lafayette. They established strong ties with CODOFIL and also with France-Louisiane in Paris.
In May, 1985, in cooperation with France-Louisiane, Clyde organized a group trip of 45 Cajuns to Belle-île-en-Mer, Archigny and the Poitou areas of France. Tourists they were, but received with such a warm welcome that it was like arriving at a home of long ago. Clyde brought a gift for them: a small oak tree which was planted in honor of the Acadians.
In addition, the club sponsored three trips to the Canadian Maritime Provinces, the last one in August 1987. There they were met by their Acadian cousins, many of whom they later hosted in Texas. A monthly club newsletter documented all of these events.
Clyde invited many guests speakers from Louisiana at their monthly meetings,... guests like Bona Arsenault (well-known genealogist and member of the Canadian parliament),... ULL Prof. of Folklore ,Barry Ancelet ....author and professor of Cajun French at LSU, Amanda Lafleur, actor, writer and Louisiana State Dept. of French Education supervisor Richard Guidry,...history professor Stephen White from the French University of Moncton in New Brunswick....and well-known Louisiana genealogist, Father Hebert.
When Clyde was offered an old Acadian house from the Milton area (circa 1810) in October of 1989, he didn’t hesitate. He began planning how he could get it to Texas where it could serve as a center for the Cajun language and heritage that were both so dear to him. The old house, originally owned by the Duhons, was donated by the seven Broussard brothers who had inherited it. It was in bad shape, but the main timbers were excellent.
With all the members of Les Acadiens du Texas in favor of the idea, Clyde made arrangements to have it floated on a barge from Vermilion Bayou, south to the Intercoastal Canal and then west all the way to its present-day location on the Port Neches River. This was no small undertaking and was documented in a film that you will see shortly.
The task accomplished, efforts began to locate cypress lumber for restoration. Shortly thereafter, an article and picture appeared in their local paper about the Clary family of Orange. It appeared that while dredging the river by the docks of their shipyard old sinker cypress logs sunk for 110-120 years were brought up.
Clyde contacted this family who was very receptive and donated the logs for restoring the old house. Surprisingly, the restoration lumber was possibly as old as the house. A small sawmill in East Texas processed the logs and members of Les Acadiens du Texas began work immediately. In order to respect the old house’s historical integrity, Clyde contacted Robert Smith from Breaux Bridge for his expert advice in early Louisiana architecture and furniture.
The group is very proud that all restoration funding came from its own members’ hard work. Money was raised through dinners, raffles, used item sales, baked goods sales, cookbook sales and many donations of labor....a labor of love.
On November 6, 1988, the old house was given the name La Maison Beausoleil, dedicated to the memory of Joseph dit Beausoleil, an Acadian militant against the deportation. At the dedication, over 700 people were in attendance. The day began at 10:00 a.m. with a mass and dialogues in French and ended at 5:00 p.m. with an Acadian band which was enjoyed by everyone. All day, everyone participated in various activities and many favorable remarks were heard about this wonderful accomplishment. Clyde could finally sit back and savor his feelings of pride for this remarkable project that he and Les Acadiens du Texas had successfully undertaken.
Presently, la Maison Beausoleil is open on Saturday and Sunday from 1:00 - 5:00 p.m. For the past 24 years, it has served as a museum for our Acadian cousins in Texas and visitors alike. The museum is staffed for public tours by club member volunteers. It is also open for special requests. A French mass continues to be held once a year on October 2nd, reuniting Cajuns from the Port Arthur, Port Neches, Orange & Beaumont areas with their visiting Louisiana cousins and any number of tourists from Canada, France and the U.S.
During the years since its completion, it has been considered a “must” on the travel circuit for French tourists thanks to Clyde Vincent. The French have always been surprised and delighted to find such a stop on their trip.
And this, all due to our Texas cousin, a true Cajun gentleman, Clyde Vincent.
Merci, Clyde, for keeping the light burning for us in Texas.