Northwestern State University honored one of its longest serving employees Sunday by surprising Vice President of External Affairs Jerry Pierce with a golden anniversary celebration in the home of NSU President Dr. Jim Henderson. Pierce has been employed at Northwestern State since Sept. 13, 1965, and is known throughout the state as one of the university’s most effective advocates.
During the gathering of friends and NSU administrators, Henderson acknowledged Pierce’s long service and commended him for using his gift as a storyteller for the betterment of Northwestern State and calling his service to the university a true labor of love.
Nineteen presidents have served Northwestern State during the school’s 131-year history and Pierce has served with seven of them, Henderson said.
“[Presidents] Kyser, Kilpatrick, Bienvenu, Orze, Alost, Webb and now Henderson all knew or soon learned the importance of telling the story, and they all gained an appreciation for Jerry’s uncommon ability to help them do that. They also gained an appreciation for his uncompromising loyalty, not to them as individuals, but to the university he loves,” Henderson said.
According to Sen. Gerald Long, who graduated from Northwestern State eight months after Jerry started work, “Jerry Pierce is a Webster’s Dictionary definition of a public servant. No one has done more to promote NSU than this man. Jerry is the best example I know of when it comes to giving one’s best.”
“People have asked how I could do the same thing for 50 years, but the fact is that you never do the same thing two days straight at a university,” Pierce said. “People, events, circumstances and conditions continually change at universities, and that keeps the job exciting and interesting. Working at Northwestern has allowed me to establish friendships and relationships with folks not just at the university and in the community but with alumni and people in the media, athletics, higher education, government and other areas across the state and nation.”
The golden anniversary celebration included several honors. Pierce was presented with a ring commemorating his five decades at NSU, a plaque and in his honor, the NSU Columns were lit purple Sunday evening.
A native of Springhill, Pierce earned a degree in journalism at Northwestern State in 1961 and began his career as a sports editor at the Times-Picayune in New Orleans before returning to Natchitoches and dedicating his career to NSU.
“Northwestern provided me scholarships, student employment and other opportunities to obtain a college degree that were not available to me at other universities. That support and the atmosphere of encouragement and compassion at the school created within me a deep and lasting loyalty to the university,” Pierce said. “Because of the love and allegiance that I feel for Northwestern, working at the university has never felt like a job. Northwestern has been through peaks and valleys over the years like other universities, but I can’t imagine a more enjoyable and rewarding place to work than your alma mater even when there are challenges and difficulties.”
In addition to public relations work, Pierce was instrumental in lobbying for funding for the university and for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame in Natchitoches and served on the journalism faculty. He also produces a weekly column for Louisiana newspapers and magazines and published a book of collected essays. He is well-known throughout Louisiana as a speaker and master of ceremonies and helped bring the filming of “Steel Magnolias” to Natchitoches.
“In fact, my passion for the job has been intensified in recent months by the opportunity to work with our new president Dr. Jim Henderson,” Pierce said. “He is generating a greater spirit and atmosphere of vitality, optimism and enthusiasm than I have seen at the university in all these decades. It is exciting to be a part of it.”
“Jerry is almost as iconic on this campus as the three columns. So much of our business is about telling our story and Northwestern State has benefitted for five decades from the best story teller in the business,” Henderson said. “He is the epitome of what a public relations and an external affairs person should be. He loves Northwestern and its evident in the way he works everyday and the way he represents us in public.”
“Being at the university for 50 years has also allowed me to spend most of my life in Natchitoches, which truly deserves the honor it has received as the Best Southern Small Town,” Pierce said. “So I have had a great job in a wonderful town for a half century. I would do it all again if I had the opportunity and hope to keep doing it for a good while longer. I cannot imagine any job that would create within me more passion and a greater sense of purpose than working at Northwestern has done over these 50 years.”