Sylvia Segura Bienvenu
Inducted on July 28, 2015
Sylvia Bienvenu first became involved with the Acadian culture when she agreed to participate in the French as a Second Language program at St. Martinville Primary School in 1975. It was the result of the newly-formed Council for the Development of French in Louisiana, better known as CODOFIL, whose goal was to reverse the decline of the use of the French language within the state. In this program, her second-grade students began learning the French language, using it daily to speak, read, and write in French, plus study mathematics, science, and the local culture. It was her first introduction to the Acadian story and the rich contributions it made to Louisiana. She readily absorbed it as she learned along with her students while pursuing a Second Language Specialist Certification in French. In 1977, the opportunity to study for a month in France was provided through a joint venture of CODOFIL and the French government, followed by another month studying in Belgium the next year.
In 1989, she became an adjunct professor at USL, teaching Reading Methods in the College of Education. One course, Reading for the Culturally Different Learner, led to research on local cultures, in particular, that of the Cajuns. Soon, as Curriculum Specialist for the Louisiana Challenge Grant, she was asked to develop technology-based lesson plans to serve as models for teacher training, and wrote a unit plan focused on the Acadian culture with lesson plans in every subject area, which was posted on the then-new Internet. As a result, teachers and their students all over the state, and even nation-wide, were learning about the trials and triumphs of the Acadians. She also worked for the Louisiana Department of Culture, Recreation, & Tourism on Louisiana Voices, a collaboration between folklorists and educators to develop an Educator’s Guide for the study of cultures through sound educational techniques and technology. She developed classroom lesson plans focused on learning about Louisiana cultures and folklife, including the Acadians.
Christy Maraist became president of the Acadian Memorial in 1990 and approached Sylvia about writing grants for some of the projects she had in mind. The first was The Tiles That Bind, a name symbolic of the families separated and “broken” by exile then reunited in Louisiana. Three Grants from the Louisiana Division of the Arts between 2002 -2004 totaling $20,301 and $17,500 of matching funds from families funded the installation of 33 Acadian Family Crests.
In 2002, her grant request of $7,500 was funded by the Tauck Travel Group and matched with local donations to erect an exact replica of The Deportation Cross in the Meditation Garden. Then, in 2003, a grant of $2,500 was awarded by the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities for installing an audio interactive exhibit to “give voices” to five of the figures in the Robert Dafford’s Mural, The Arrival of the Acadians in Louisiana.
As part of The History Channel’s Save Our History project in 2004, a national contest was held to encourage schools to develop programs for instilling a love of students’ and communities’ own histories. Sylvia wrote a grant that proposed that students from three area French immersion or bilingual schools research their Acadian ancestors and history, then write stories to be recorded to “Let the Children Speak." The project won first place in the national competition, a $10,000 grant to accomplish the project, and another $10,000 award from Lowe’s Building Supplies, the main supporter of the project. The following year First Lady Laura Bush invited The Acadian Memorial to participate in the Preserve America Summit’s Student Component that she chaired in New Orleans. Sylvia and teacher Peggy Feehan chaperoned 12 students who received all-expenses-paid trips to participate in discussion groups led by the First Lady and Dr. Libby O’Connell, chief historian of the History Channel. They were asked to discuss their views of history and preservation, and to make recommendations to Mrs. Bush on how to make history education more engaging. Their work was used as a basis for educational resources developed by Gilder Lehrman and the History Channel.
Then, Sylvia worked with Dr. Julia Fredericks of the University of Louisiana Lafayette and received a grant from Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities to present a Teaching Institute to “teach the teachers” about Acadians and their culture, so that the history of the Acadians would become part of the school curriculum in Acadiana. The LEH portion was $27,562.19, the total grant was $56,779. In a few short years, awareness and study of the Acadians and their culture reached all levels of Acadiana’s educational system.
In 2005, the Louisiana Endowment for the Humanities contacted the Acadian Memorial to sponsor an art exhibit featuring the Saga of Marie Rosalie, a genealogy of the Pecot family presented solely through paintings by Mary Ann de Boisblanc. Sylvia’s grant provided $10,300 for the publication of a catalog to accompany the exhibition. The Acadian Memorial Festival Board decided in 2006 to stage The Re-enactment of the Arrival of the Acadians to demonstrate the key role that Bayou Teche and wooden boats played in the event. Sylvia and her son Eddie planned and carried out the event, which honors two Acadian families, and has been repeated each year since. The Acadian Memorial Festival Wooden Boat Congrés also became an integral part, with wooden boat enthusiasts encouraged to bring antique wooden dugouts, pirogues, Putt Putt boats, and other historic remembrances of the “old times” in Louisiana's bayous and swamps for either static or active display. In 2010, she instituted the election of Monsieur ou Madame Bateau de Bois to recognize persons showing outstanding achievement in preserving or restoring traditional South Louisiana vessels. In 2012, she added a jam session to the festival, in recognition of music’s inherent place in the hearts of all Acadians/Cajuns.
As a fundraiser in 2013, Sylvia designed a Raffle and Auction of an Authentic Cajun Wooden Pirogue built by her son Dr. Hal Bienvenu. After the Louisiana Legislature declared the pirogue as the official boat of Louisiana, Sylvia obtained an official proclamation from Governor Jindal declaring March 2014 as the Month of the Cajun Pirogue and planned a christening ceremony to recognize it. Also that year, the Christening of the Acadian Wooden Dugout Pirogue, planned by Sylvia and her son Eddie Bienvenu, recognized the dugout as the earliest paddled watercraft of the Louisiana Acadians and ancestor of all Cajun boats.
In recognition of the importance of gathering word-of-mouth information about all of these typical Acadian boats, Sylvia initiated the Wooden Boat Oral History Project by forming a committee at the Acadian Memorial for partnering with the Center for Louisiana Studies at the University of Louisiana at Lafayette to collect oral stories of the men and women who locate, retrieve, restore, preserve and rebuild wooden boats and antique motors in Louisiana. These will be transcribed and archived at the University of Louisiana Lafayette and made available to the public for research and information.
As an Acadian Memorial Foundation Board Member, Sylvia continues to contribute her time and talents to other projects, including the L’Ordre de Bon Temps galas and the designing of a sponsorship program for funding Memorial projects.
To quote Sylvia, “By working on these projects, I discovered my own Acadian roots in the LeBlanc, Dugas, and Broussard lines, something I probably never would have learned otherwise. I hope that my work encourages many others to take this journey and to help us keep the Acadian story alive and growing.”