Inducted on June 14, 2014
C. Paul Bergeron was born on September 16, 1922 in Abbeville. He spoke only French when he started school, but learned English in record time because students who were heard speaking French on the school grounds were paddled. Bergeron lived near Coulee Kinney and spent many happy hours swimming and fishing in the coulee and exploring the woods around it.
In high school, he took all the business courses that were offered and graduated in 1939, then went to college at Southwestern Louisiana Institute, now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. In November 1941, during his junior year, he resigned from college to go to work for the Continental Oil Company at their district office located in the middle of the Tepetate oil field, located between Basile and Iota.
In January 1950, Bergeron went to work for the Bureau of the Census, supervising the 13 people who were taking the census on 1950. Later, he went to work for the Louisiana Department of Highway Engineers. The road to Pecan Island was being built and the highways to Crowley and Gueydan were being paved. The Pecan Island project was extremely interesting.
In June 1952 he left the state and went to work in the accounting department at the Jefferson Island salt mine. Early in August we arrived at the mine to discover that the union workers were on strike. He was told that the issue was relatively minor and should be resolved soon. But that was not to be. In early October, management began to hire people to replace the strikers. Word went out by newspapers and radio and applicants streamed in. Then the violence started. Some people were beaten; others were shot. Buildings and automobiles were damaged by bombs. Replacement workers carried weapons and shot back when they had the opportunity. Jefferson Island was referred to as “Little Korea.” Eventually the violence stopped. The strike was ruled illegal and the replacement workers held onto the jobs. A handful of strikers were rehired as new workers and lost all their seniority. In 1958, he became personnel manager. During the early 1970s, to meet surfacing government requirements and mine needs, he was named Superintendent of employee relations.
There were several oil wells on Jefferson Island and some in Lake Peigneur as well. So in late 1980 when a drilling rig was positioned in the lake to drill for oil people in charge of the salt company saw no cause for alarm. The two companies had been working side by side for over three decades. At 7:00AM November 20, 1980 the salt mine’s general manager and his staff were meeting with a vice president from the home office in Michigan who was making a periodic visit.
A few minutes after the meeting started there was a report that the drilling derrick had fallen off the platform and was lying on a service barge tied to the platform. The staff member in charge of the salt company tug immediately radioed the tug captain to report to the well site and render whatever assistance it could. After investigating, the tug captain radioed that no one was on the drilling platform. At about 8:00 AM the general manager was notified that there was water in the mine and the mine workers were evacuating. The evacuation of the mine was complete by 9:00AM. When it was determined that everyone was accounted for, the workers were sent home. During the morning Bergeron saw service barges going around the drilling platform, which was soon pulled under as the vortex became stronger. He also witnessed the salt barges–some loaded, some empty all tied to sturdy piling and to each other–straining to break away to the vortex. Bergeron also witnessed the narrow escape of the two fishermen in the little aluminum flat boat barely avoid the vortex and then nearly being crushed by colliding barges as they travelled through the barge basin.
At 11:00 AM the director of the mine safety office arrived and ordered those personnel still at the mine site to vacate the premises immediately. As the general manager and Bergeron walked to the gate, they could hear a loud “wail like” sound coming out of the two shafts as the air that was in the mine was being forced out as it was being replaced by water and mud. That wail, which was probably heard miles away, stopped suddenly at about 1:00 PM. The mine was full of water and mud. Bergeron became the personnel and purchasing manager from April 1, 1981 until March 31, 1986, when the company closed the operation permanently. The salt company hired him for nine years as a consultant to help retirees with benefits situations.
In 1954 Bergeron married Audrey Hardy. She was not only his sweetheart but also his very best friend. They are the parents of four children.