Spirit of Erath Centennial Series
“Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”
It is part of human nature to want to leave a sound legacy worth passing on. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile”. If that holds true, then Clement Bourgeois Jr.’s life was undoubtedly worthwhile and noteworthy. His unprecedented and selfless work with the town’s recorded historical roots will be forever remembered, as well as the history itself.
The Bourgeois family roots in Erath began when Clement Bourgeois Sr. started as a postal clerk and met postmistress Josephine Bussy. The duo married and Josephine became pregnant for twins. In 1907, tragedy struck the young couple when Josephine Bussy Bourgeois tragically died at childbirth with one of her twins. At that time, Clement Bourgeois Sr. was appointed the new postmaster.
Widower Clement Bourgeois Sr. later married Marie Antoinette Rodi, a New Orleans native born to French and Italian parents. From that time until their retirement in 1953, the Bourgeois couple alternated as postmaster and postmistress. Upon their retirement, son Clement Jr. replaced the couple as post master and remained there until 1977. Through the years, Erath has seen many postal workers, however in this community, the Bourgeois family is considered Erath’s first family of the town’s Postal Service. Beginning with the Senior Bourgeois' appointment of postal clerk in 1907, this family served the area a total of seven decades.
The Bourgeois couple had two sons, Robert and Clement Jr. Clement Sr. and his wife Marie Antoinette welcomed Clement Bourgeois Jr. on February 15, 1913. Though the Bourgeois family would play a role in the roots of the community, Clement Bourgeois Jr. would play dual role in the it’s history.
“Junior” Bourgeois’ involvement in a unique hobby would be one that future generations of Erath residents would gain from. In addition to many years of community service, he laid the ground floor for Erath's historical legacy by recording information using paper, pencil, a typewriter and photographs. Most noteworthy of this feat is that he did all of his work during the “pre internet” era. Though a long and tedious task, his unending research and years of devotion to the town’s history eventually paid off and earned him the title of Erath's "first and true historian".
It has been said that Bourgeois was a quintessential South Louisiana "Renaissance" man. Through his love of research and reading, he lived on a life time journey of self education. The World War II veteran’s love of history, reading and genealogy would prove to be stepping stones for his hobby as well. As a student of the Arts, his library contained a complete collection of Shakespearian literature as well as books on Voltaire and Rousseau.
Family member Carl Doumit once stated that Bourgeois “read anything and everything.” He taught himself math, physics, and electronics. He became a Ham radio operator. Though French was a familiar language in his area, he was not only able to speak French fluently, but he could read and write it as well. He also taught himself Spanish. Genealogy was a passion for him. He owned forty five three and a half inch thick volumes of genealogical information and had also had 10 volumes of letters in his own collection. He did his own photography and developing as well. Like his own personal hero Albert Einstein, his love of learning was seemingly an unending circle.
Clement Bourgeois Jr.’s family included wife the former Louise John. John was the daughter of Lebanese immigrant, Salin John. The John family settled the Erath area just after the turn of the century. They built a home at 110 West Bourque. Salin John acquired a lot at 115 West Edwards and opened a grocery Store, which stood until the property was acquired in the mid sixties, for the new City Hall and Post Office. The Salin John couple had thirteen children. Louise John was the ninth child. Clement Bourgeois Jr. married Louise John. Carl J. Doumit a nephew of Louise John Bourgeois was raised by the Salin John family and later by the Bourgeois couple. Their family was active in the Erath community and also in Our Lady of Lourdes Catholic Church.
Carl Doumit attended school in Erath. He currently holds a baccalaureate degree in chemistry from UL. He obtained MAT, MS (chemistry), and Ph.D. (inorganic chemistry) degrees from Tulane and did post doctoral studies at the University of Alabama. His teaching career spanned 33 years at MS U for Women. He is married to Karen Reed (37 years) from Ville Platte and together they have a son, Kevin and three grandchildren.
On July 20, 2006, Clement Bourgeois Jr. passed away, but not without leaving behind a historical legacy which would enlighten the town residents about their past. With a goal of leaving a link between residents and their history, "Junior" Bourgeois undoubtedly accomplished that feat. It is often said that what goes around comes around. That holds true for Clement Bourgeois Jr. What began as a quest to document history, ironically twisted and came full circle. Without realizing it, through his commitment and service, Bourgeois in turn made a definite mark of his own. That one of being Erath's "true historian." It is not only an unprecedented role; it is one that could never be matched in terms of time, energy or love of a community. In essence, through his unique journey to leave a record of Erath's history behind, Junior Bourgeois made history himself. It is through unselfish service to the Erath community, that the Bourgeois name earned a "stamp of approval" in the small town.
It believed by many that his life’s work in preserving Erath’s past was a rare and priceless gift for the community. It is through his tireless efforts that generations of community children will be able to learn and embrace their town’s roots and legacies.
The Bourgeois family graciously donated the recorded information and historic photographs to the Acadian Museum. With his commitment, vision and focus to document Erath's early years, the historical legacy is now at the community's fingertips.
It is evident that through his work and family that Bourgeois’ life made a difference. If there is truth in Einstein’s statement “Only a life lived for others is a life worthwhile,” then the same truth shows evidence that Clement Bourgeois Jr.’s life was indeed one that was worthwhile.
Spirit of Erath Articles (Keys to the Past Series)
Written by Stacy Bodin, Erath's 100th Anniversary Erath Centennial Historian (1999)
A Special Thank You
goes out to Attorney Warren Perrin;
the Acadian Museum in Erath;
Curney Dronet, (Erath Author);
the Abbeville Meridional (Local Newspaper);
(The late) Clement Bourgeois Jr., (Erath Historian);
John LeBlanc (Town Official);
The 1999 Centennial President Jackie Vincent;
Robert Vincent (Acadiana Museum Director);
and my parents Larson "Cap" and Gertie Hebert Bodin
who assisted me in my research in this project.
The articles presented in memory of
Relie LeBlanc III
whose enthusiasm and love of Erath
inspires me still today in my quest of
researching and writing about our community.
His "Unity in the Community" motto
will forever remain in my heart.
Photo of LeBlanc is
Courtesy of Dickie Durr's Thrifty Way of Abbeville
Questions or comments?
Email Stacy Bodin