Ken Ardoin is Interim Vice President for University Advancement, and one of UL's biggest fans. He talks about how he came to enroll at UL, about his love affair with the University, and about needs and goals for the future.

Ken Ardoin, Vice President of University Advancement, University of LouisianaYou have a long-standing love affair with UL.

That started in the month of June, 1960. It was a few weeks after graduating from Menard Memorial High School in Alexandria, La. that I set foot on campus for the first time. I had never been to Lafayette or SLI, and I had no plans of coming here to college.

In fact, I was LSU-bound. During the summer between my junior and senior year of high school I was selected as a delegate to Pelican Boys State and lived in a dorm on the LSU campus. After those two weeks, I was sold on attending LSU.

One year later my life changed when I visited SLI, to be renamed USL in a few months. It was just by chance that I visited the campus that summer day.

One of my high school classmates called to see if I wanted to drive down to Lafayette with him while he visited SLI and toured the campus. My hometown of Alexandria was somewhat boring, and I had nothing on my schedule for the day… so I went.

We arrived about 11:00am and parked in front of old Martin Hall. There was no air conditioning in the building, and on nice days they opened all the doors and windows to let the breeze in. As I walked down the hall from the front to the back, I looked out onto the Quad.

It was just beautiful.

Old Martin Hall, University of Louisiana, circa 1901Everything was green, freshly mowed and trimmed. The azaleas were in full bloom and the place felt like home. After being on campus for a few hours, walking the grounds, meeting professors and staff, I was captured. I found the campus beautiful, well groomed, and the people warm and engaging. It was much different than any other college campus I had been on.

In the early 60’s many male students were interested in Engineering, so we visited Madison Hall and met with Dr. Wallace, who was the Dean of the College. As we walked through the campus, we passed by McNaspy Stadium and talked with some of the athletes living in the stadium dorm. Then, we went to the "Stu"… now called the Union. It seemed every girl in the Stu that day was a campus beauty. Once again, I was sold.

The trip back to Alexandria was filled with excitement. I knew USL was the place for me. When I got home that night, sitting at the supper table with my Mom, Dad and brother I made the big announcement.

I said, "Dad, I’ve changed my mind. I’m going to USL."

Dad’s fork hit the plate. He looked at me and said, "Boy, I want to know what went on down there today."

I told him, "Nothing, nothing went on."

He looked at me hard and said, "You have never mentioned that school, you have never been there before. Something must have gone on.  You said you were going to LSU, and that is where you are going to go."

I stood my ground. "Dad, I don’t want to go to LSU. I want to go to USL, and that is where I am going." I believe that is the first time I ever talked back to my Dad.

I had worked every summer from the 7th grade through high school and saved my money to buy a used car when I went off to college. I was 17 my first semester at USL. Do you know how bad a 17 year old kid wants a car?

Well, my Dad said, "Here is the deal; if you go to LSU you can use your money to buy a car. If you go to USL you must use your money toward tuition until it is gone… no car."

I said, "If that is the way it going to be, then so be it." The rest is history.

So here I was at UL, for my whole academic career, without a car. I've never had a moment of regret. It was the right fit for me.

So what brought you back to UL?

There is a magic about this school. It's almost spiritual. UL draws certain people here, not everyone... just some of us.

Ronnie Langlinais said that when you're here day in and day out, your eyes don't see, you become accustomed to what's here.

But I came back here a lot over the years, and every time, as soon as I hit the campus, I'll look at the sidewalk and remember walking to class. I remember students I knew, people I was excited to see... I remember it all. I think of those things even today.

Cypress Lake, frozen, ice skaters, University of LouisianaCypress Lake, when it froze, I'm standing right there on the ice. Carey Mitchell is the one on skates. He had lived in the north, and so he had ice skates. We would take off running from Burke-Hawthorne, and slide across the ice. Was that 1962? '63?

After graduation I hired on with Pfizer. I moved to Little Rock, then to New Orleans working at Big Charity, and then I went to Chicago. Some friends of mine up there, the Ballas-- Ken was a dentist-- they had never been to New Orleans. The Saints were hosting the Bears, so my wife and I flew down with them for Friday and Saturday.

But on Saturday, we were enjoying ourselves in the French Quarter so much that we didn't get to the stadium until half-time.

So we get in the stadium and we're buying some beer at the concessions stand. Suddenly, I hear the UL Fight Song, coming from the field. I left the beer right there on the counter, I started running and yelling. Ken came chasing after me wondering what the heck was going on, and I hollered back, "That's our band! That's our band!" I get cold chills thinking about it now. That was about 1974.

So that continued my love affair.

Then in 1977 I moved to Dallas. There was no Alumni Chapter in Dallas, and in 1981 I contacted UL. T-Joe [UL President Dr. Joseph Savoie] had just taken over as Executive Director of the Alumni Association; the Institutional Advancement position didn't exist yet. So I called down here, and asked if they could do a print-out for me of UL alumni in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.

The list came off an old daemon printer, with 1,253 names on the list. My secretary had to re-enter all that stuff to do a mail-out. A lot it came back with changed addresses... and at time, the only people who were listed were the paying members.

I rented a hotel room in north Dallas for the meeting, and I had about 23, 24 people who came. I brought the beer & soft drinks, everybody brought pot luck. T-Joe flew up.

From that small beginning, the DFW Chapter grew to become one of the biggest & best UL Alumni Chapters for a while.

After that, I would fly down to Alumni Board meetings in Lafayette, and I was elected President six years later.

How did you get involved in the political side of things?

That started because of my role as a legislative liaison with Pfizer. When we started playing Tulane in New Orleans, it was my idea to invite in our Legislators, and have a big luncheon for them. Since I was lobbying, which is all about building relationships, Pfizer sponsored those luncheons. We ate at Delmonico's, Gallatoire's, so they were expensive lunches. But we did that for years.

Then at an Alumni Association Board meeting, I told T-Joe that we had no representation in Baton Rouge. Meanwhile, LSU was everywhere, and Chancellor Wharton was at the Capital every day.

That was when Armand Brinkhaus was in the Legislature, who was a big UL supporter. I invited T-Joe to meet with him, I picked up dinner, and that's what started T-Joe working with the Legislature.

With T-Joe, Jerry Luke Leblanc & yourself, UL has acquired a good deal of governmental experience.

T-Joe was a very strong Commissioner of Higher Education, Jerry Luke was a Legislator, Chair of Appropriations and then Commissioner of Administration, and I was Governmental Affairs Liaison with Pfizer in Louisiana and a lot of other states-- at one point, everything but the Northeast US.

So yes, right now we have a good governmental group.

Talk about normalizing UL's funding.

We need to get our tuitions up to the same level as the other Doctoral II institutions in Louisiana, which are UNO & Tech. That difference alone is costing $5-$10 million per year.

While UL's Legislative funding has improved a great deal, we still lag behind our peers across the South.

We are very fortunate to have our legislative delegation in leadership roles. UL alumnus Mike Michot is Chair of Senate Finance, one of the most important positions in the Senate. Don Trahan is Chair of Education in the House. And Joel Robideaux & Nick Gautreaux have also stepped up, so we're fortunate to have one of the stronger Legislative Delegations in a while.

The Acadiana Legislative Delegation met recently, with the focus of recognizing the importance of the economic engine that is UL. We are the economic engine of Acadiana. And we are fortunate to have leadership, both governmental and civic, who are stepping up more and more to help drive that engine.

Talk briefly about some of your goals here.

Academically, we are leaders in many areas: Computer Science, Biology, Architecture, Engineering, Nursing, every UL college has great strengths. And our graduates are competing in the work place universally. So as for academics, UL is doing very, very well, we just need to secure more funding for our Colleges.

Our critical need at this time is addressing deferred maintenance, and to get this University campus back to the beautiful condition that it was when I first came here.

And we need to get our athletic facilities and programs at a competitive level with the other mid-major Division I schools. I've been traveling around the conference, to MT, UNT and others, they're starting to pass us up in some areas. They're making major improvements. FAU is about to build a big new stadium. For our conference, our facilities are getting old. Cajun Field was built in 1971, and we have not added to it since then. We have got to improve what we have if we're going to remain competitive.

If we address tuitions, governmental relations, and alumni & community support, we'll be able to improve all of these things, and a lot more.