Personality: November 2015
Louis Lancon’s Life Of Public Service
By Scott Brazda | Photos by Fusion Photography
“I told my son, ‘You gotta stop doing all this free stuff, and work a little bit and get paid sometimes.’ Then he looked at me and said, ‘Well, it’s your fault, Dad.’”
Louis Lancon’s 20-year old son Robert has seen his dad volunteer a time or two…or three. But even as his oldest child playfully re-directs the blame for their selfless community involvement, the 44-year-old Jeanerette native gets a bit serious about the concept of civic responsibility. “You can sit back and look at all the things that are wrong in your community, but… what are you doing about it? You gotta do something about it.”
And that he is. No matter the project—home schooling his children, or heading up the Acadiana Growers Alliance, or helping soldiers reintegrate into society as director of the Jeanerette Veterans Association—Louis Lancon is doing something to improve the place he calls “home.” Lancon says it’s the least he can do for some special people… in a special part of Acadiana.
“In this part of the world, right here in South Louisiana, you do things for people, and people do things for you,” explains the retired Army veteran. “People take care of each other here and that’s not something you find everywhere. You don’t have that caring culture in a most other places.”
But Lancon’s path to changing the world, or at least, improving his corner of it in Jeanerette, wasn’t standard operating procedure. In fact, you might say the odds were completely against Lancon ever becoming anything resembling a viable member of society.
Credit family and a desire to serve our country for helping him beat the odds.
Born June 25, 1971, Louis was the youngest of six children, four boys and two girls. His father worked in the oil field, while his mother ran Roberta’s Grocery Store in Jeanerette, but all wasn’t well. By his sixth-grade year, his parents had divorced and four of his siblings had moved out, leaving him and one of his brothers still at home. It was not a pleasant situation.
“My mother was a harsh woman, but my father was a very kind man,” remembers Lancon. “Things had gotten so bad that by the age of 12, I had to move away. Officials took me out of my mother’s home, and I was a ward of the State (of Louisiana) from 12-to-18 years old.”
But cutting through the darkness was a light of hope, light coming directly from his siblings. “I was blessed that when I had to be taken out of my mother’s home, I had a sister, Debbie, who was living nearby in St. Mary Parish. She was able to take care of me and put me on the right track,” says Lancon.
Lancon’s brother also stayed nearby, moving in with an older brother who lived next door, meaning the six siblings were still there for each other. “So even with all that had happened, with me and my brother being taken from my mother’s home, we were still a family. I never left my family. And to this day, we’re still very close.”
Even with the familial upheaval, Lancon believes he was part of a pretty normal high school situation and for that he credits to his sister. “It was a stabilizing environment and my sister encouraged me to do well, to make good grades and to make good decisions. And working part-time at Landry’s Seafood in Jeanerette taught me how to make choices, helped me to realize that if I wanted ‘this’, then I’ll need to make some sacrifices ‘here.’ Just because I wanted something didn’t mean I needed it.”
Though he worked throughout high school, Lancon remained a good student. While he didn’t have much time for extracurricular activities or going out on weekends, Lancon believes his Franklin High School environment was a beneficial one. “It taught me an appreciation for hard work, and I wouldn’t be here today if it wasn’t for that.”
College was always part of Lancon’s post-high school plan, and because he was technically a ward of the State of Louisiana, scholarship money was available. Or at least it was. When former governor Edwin Edwards failed in his attempt to get a lottery approved, a hastily revised state budget eliminated the scholarship dollars….only two weeks after Lancon’s graduation in May of 1989.
“So I decided to enter the military, to go into the Army, which was one of the better decisions of my life.”
He was planning on just a four-year stint, just enough time he thought to make some money for college. But life had another surprise for Lancon and his carefully-laid plans.
“I got in the Army and I enjoyed it,” laughs Lancon. “I thought I had a sense of purpose, thought it was where I belonged.”
But the word ‘belonging’ would soon take on a higher meaning: Lancon didn’t just join the Army…he joined The Rangers. “There you have the ‘Ranger Creed’ and everybody lives by that,” explains Lancon. “It’s tough, but it’s very high standards, very goal-oriented. Once you get in that environment and experience that kind of camaraderie, you don’t want to give it up.”
His military ties weren’t that different from the family ties Lancon cherished so dearly. “We all worked so well together and we looked out for each other each and every day. I loved being a Ranger. It challenged me, made me grow and made me a better man. I still keep in touch with a lot of those guys.”
Becoming a Ranger took Lancon’s four-year plan, and turned it into a 20-year reality.
However, college wasn’t completely off the table. In fact, when stationed at Fort Lewis, Wash., Lancon, now a lieutenant, graduated in political science from St. Martin’s University where an instructor (whose name he can’t remember) stoked the fires of reasoning, of ideas and of independent thought. “To this day, I can’t tell you if my political science teacher was a Democrat or a Republican. I valued that education because I had a professor who really made you think and taught you how to think.”
After graduation, Lancon went to Fort Benning, Ga., for the Captain’s Career course, which prepared him for the next level: a command of his own. He headed to Germany and spent five years in Europe, although most of the time he was actually in Iraq, working for Generals Sanchez and Dempsey. Soon after, Lancon took command of Bravo Company and was once again re-deployed to Iraq.
“That second deployment into Iraq we went to Ar Ramadi in the western province, which was about one of the worst places to be,” he says. “My company fought to regain Ar Ramadi. And that’s what we did back in 2006.”
“We lost a lot of guys there, but that’s where everything I had done previously in life really paid off,” continues Lancon. “What our company did was amazing: We ran patrols there for 14-16 hours a day, every day.”
His only regret? “I’m disappointed that we let it go, because we’d fought so hard. And we’d told so many Iraqis to join us in the fight, but then? We stopped supporting them. That’s the hardest part.”
Stints in Baghdad and a return to Germany followed his service with Bravo Company, and then, for the last three years of his Army career, Lancon went in an entirely different direction: He became a Space Operations Officer, as in ‘outer space.’
“It was interesting, learning about satellites and space systems, what we have up in space and what they’re capable of doing,” Lancon remembers of his final tour in Colorado Springs. “I had guys from the Air Force and Navy working for me, and being the guy with ‘ground’ experience, I could tell them this is the kind of support our soldiers really needed.”
Only four years into his 20-year Army career came what would be Lancon’s greatest joy. It happened in Atlanta, Oct. 24, 1993, the day Louis returned from Somalia. He was inside Fellini’s Pizza while a friend visited with some female customers, and as he walked out, he began a conversation with a woman named ‘Patty.’
“We talked about everything, and we hit it off from there. She actually knew what was going on in Somalia and had an opinion.” They married seven months later.
“Patty was an amazing commander’s wife,” he says proudly. “There’s a lot of pressure on someone in that position and it takes a lot of patience. She’s expected to be sort of the matriarch of all the wives and that she was. She pulled ‘em all together.”
The Lancon family began to grow, while at the same time, Louis approached 20 years in the Army. He and Patty contemplated life after the military and thought about settling down in Washington or North Carolina. But any decisions about their new ‘home’ took the Lancons back to Louis’ childhood home. “In between my first and second deployments, our whole family, all my brothers and sisters, met at the lake in Morgan City. We were visiting, having fun, watching all the kids play together and suddenly my wife and I looked at each other and said, ‘Let’s go get a house.’” Two years later, in 2009, Louis Lancon retired from the Army and returned to Jeanerette.
“I’d been in 36 states and 26 countries. But there’s something about South Louisiana, the camaraderie, the care and the love our people have for each other. We wanted our kids to understand that culture and that kind of life.”
Patty soon started her own business, The Bayou Bath Company, where she still sells homemade soaps and bath products. But as flexible as she was about the Army life, it took some time for Patty to grasp Acadiana’s rather broad definition of ‘family.’ “She was amazed by the number of people who just stopped by to visit or the many times we’d come home and there’d be a couple bushels of corn on our front porch brought over by a friend or neighbor. She wasn’t used to that,” chuckles Lancon.
Five children— Robert, 20, Sydney, 17, Mary, 14, Katie Grace, 11, and Zachariah, 6 —kept Louis busy in his retirement. But still a young man, 44, Lancon was also able to fill his need to be involved. He joined the Jeanerette Chamber of Commerce and within a year became its president. He ran for mayor, but lost a close election. And he became a Junior ROTC instructor for three years at Jeanerette Elementary. But working full-time meant a lack of freedom. “I wanted the flexibility to go into action immediately. If I see a need, I want to be able to fill that need.”
What came next was the opportunity to get his hands dirty, literally and figuratively, and to help the people of Iberia Parish reconnect with agriculture, both in terms of consumption and production. “I got involved with a project at the Iberia Development Foundation, and we put 50 vertical hydroponic gardens in the West End,” he says proudly. “It was about giving people access to locally produced food, with the focus on health and wellness among the residents.”
Taking that a step further, Lancon helped to create the Acadiana Growers Alliance, within which he and other volunteers not only teach people to grow, but through a four-week summer program, also get young people to think about agriculture as a possible career path. “In this part of Acadiana, our economy is technology, oil field and agriculture. But in our schools, we don’t focus on that enough.”
You will no doubt understand that the military still plays a role in his life, although this time, Louis Lancon is helping those who have retired but feel lost in their non-military lives.
“How can somebody go out there, serve overseas and not be affected?” Lancon asks rhetorically, now the president of the Jeanerette Veterans Association. “It’s getting veterans to realize we have to check on each other, and with the ones just getting out, there’s a transition. We veterans need to take care of our own and supply that one-on-one connection to those in need.”
Out of the Army for six years, he is well into the next phase of his life. But as evidenced by what came before, and what’s happening now, Louis Lancon is proof that someone whose life has been genuinely shaped by the foundations of family, God, community and country….never loses touch with those priorities.
“Yes, I served in the Army. I served my country. But you can’t stop serving. And I think the Lord has blessed me so that I’m in a position to give back.”