NOLA matriarch will get honorary diploma Dec. 16


Northwestern State University will award an honorary bachelor of science degree in elementary education to Noella Lyons Black of New Orleans, a former student who attended Louisiana State Normal College in the 1940s. Noella will celebrate her 94th birthday on Christmas Day.  Over 25 members of the Black family will join her for NSU’s Dec. 16 fall commencement ceremonies, fulfilling a lifelong goal for the matriarch who left college just a few credits shy of graduation.

“I always intended someday to go back to Natchitoches and walk across the stage,” she said.

When given the news, “it literally brought tears to her eyes,” said her grandson Bill Brigman.  “She’s not often speechless, but this time she was.  Her first comment was ‘How did you know I always wanted this?’ She is excited to drive back up to Natchitoches and see the campus again and receive this capstone recognition in her life.”

Black grew up in Home Place in Plaquemines Parish in a hard-working family of six children and made the journey to Natchitoches by train following in the footsteps of her older sisters who attended Normal in pursuit of being an educator. She attended Normal for three years and was joined by another sister the last year.

When Pearl Harbor was bombed, most of the men from her hometown, including many teachers, quickly enlisted in the military.  The Plaquemine Parish School Board called her home and asked her to teach fifth grade in Port Sulphur.

She met her husband of 54 years, H. Geyman Black, a Naval officer attending the Navy Flight Preparatory School at NSU. Upon their marriage, she left college with little more than a semester left to graduate to support her husband as he served during WWII.  Later, they travelled the country with his job as an engineer for Dupont before settling in New Orleans to raise their family.

As a student at Normal, Black was a member of Pi Kappa Sigma Sorority and a maid on the State Fair Court with Ralph Prather as her escort. She lived in Varnado Hall and remembered Dean Varnado, Dr. Joe Farrah, who was president from 1941-47, and Dr. John Kyser, who president from 1954-1966.

She has waited a long time for formal recognition from the school she loves and her family will be in Prather Coliseum to see her on the stage in cap and gown on Dec. 16.

“I’ve had a great life,” she said. “I’m thrilled to be getting a diploma. Now my dream will be a reality.”