Posts in Archival Press
Eyewitness News video coverage of the AEC's 2000 Reunion
 

On July 16, 2000 a Reunion of the Adult Education Center graduates took place, organized by Alice Geoffray.

In her signature style, Alice wrote letters and made calls to as many of the 431 graduates as she could find. Plus faculty members she had stayed in touch with, Mr. James Coleman, the biggest financial supporters of the school, the Mayor’s office, Angela Hill at WWL who supported her throughout her career, and Times Picayune. The rallying call went out and it was heard loud and clear.

Enjoy the segment!

–Jeanne Geoffray

 

Eyewitness News reports on the Adult Education Center reunion, 2000

 

 

One hundred of the graduates and many of the faculty members responded with an overwhelming “Yes” to attend. Mr. James Coleman offered to host the reunion at his hotel, Holiday Inn Superdome. The Mayor’s office participated by having Marlin Gusman, Mayor Pro Tempore, represent the Mayor. Angela Hill responded by saying she would do her best to have television coverage. Times Picayune said they would try to have a reporter on the scene.

It was a project that Jeff and I jumped on board to support and help organize. Sunday night came.

We knew the students and faculty would show, and show they did looking beautiful as ever in their Sunday’s finest.  Mr. Coleman arrived beaming and the staff of his hotel provided us all with a 5-star service. Then, Marlin Gusman, the television crew from WWL and a young reporter from Times Picayune arrived—all saying they could only stay a few minutes—intrigued but noncommittal.

Within a short period of time, Marlin Gusman was settled into his seat preparing for his remarks and interviews were being conducted. Midway into the program we realized these special guests were here to stay. They were caught up by the spirit of the graduates, the love and admiration by all for Dr. Alice Geoffray, the inspirational program prepared to showcase how the school made a profound difference, the students as they gave their “testimonies,”  the enchanting remarks by Mr. Coleman and the speech by Marlin Gusman.

Shortly after 9PM, the WWL crew quickly jumped up and said they had to leave so the AEC Reunion could be featured on the 10PM news. And, true to their word, the Adult Education Center’s success was back in the news again after 35 years with a little help from an old friend, Angela Hill, sending a team to cover the event.

Click a photo to view it larger.

Angela Hill features Alice Geoffray in "Quiet Heroes" news video, 1987
 

In 1972 when the doors closed at the Adult Education Center we knew our mom’s life would change but did not know how.  The day of the closing, would this be the day the music died for her?  No…it may have slowed her down for a bit but she quickly got back to business making a difference in other people’s lives as she embarked on other journeys—as State Coordinator of Career Education, as a graduate student earning her Ph.D., as an author of several textbooks used throughout Louisiana public schools, and as a leader of the vo-tech movement to name a few.  In 1987, fifteen years after the AEC closing, WWL’s Angela Hill began a special series featuring Quiet Heroes.  Another first for Alice Geoffray—as not only was this a new segment for New Orleans viewers—but she was the first person to be showcased.  Angela Hill recognized her expansive career including her seven years at the AEC.  As the camera focuses on newspaper articles and pictures from those years, you can spot some of the 431 students and a few of the school’s biggest supporters—Mr. James Coleman, Mayor Victor Schiro, Mayor “Dutch” Morial and Senator Fred Harris.  From my recollection, this segment was aired on Mardi Gras day and widely viewed as people were off from work that day.  Watching again, I loved seeing her poster “Learning Never Ends”, her describing her teaching philosophy, and her typing on the IBM Selectric typewriter as a pianist would play the piano. Enjoy the short video!     

—Jeanne Geoffray

 

Transcript

Alice Geoffray: I’ve just learned over the years that if you take it one step at a time you can get it done better.

Angela Hill: These three people have something in common. They do good things for others because they feel they can help and in their own special way they have already made an impact. Meet New Orleans Quiet Heroes. Tomorrow 6 and 10 on Channel 4’s Eyewitness News.

It has been said that success is not a destination, it’s a journey and Dr. Alice Geoffray has helped many put many people on that road. She is the first in our special series on Quiet Heroes.

Dr. Alice Geoffray is now director of special programs for the Orleans Parish School System. She coordinates all elective subjects, all vo-tech classes, all special cultural events. But Alice Geoffray’s career, her life, has been teaching students the importance of having a dream then showing them how to make that dream come true. She is the mother of career education in Louisiana.

Alice: You can just imagine when you see people get a job and see them succeed at a job and see them get better financially from a job it’s a joyous feeling to think that I had a little part in this.

Angela: Thousands of students have been touched by the works of Dr. Geoffray both in her concepts of vocational education and her philosophy of a total education.

Alice: Why can’t a plumber appreciate Shakespeare you know and why can’t a college professor be able to do electrical work? You know, why do we think that you either have to do one or the other?

Angela: What makes Alice Geoffray an amazing person is not only what she’s accomplished but how she did it. After marrying, having seven children, she suddenly became a single parent and worked three jobs while raising her family.

Alice: I went to Catholic Schools with the Dominican Sisters and you never dwelt on how hard your life was. You know you just did what you had to do and you offered it up to the Lord and it made everything seem easier.

Angela: So at age 46 she got her Master’s Degree and at age 54 her Ph.D. and in between spent 13 years teaching business education then 7 years directing the first adult education school in the city, a school which graduated 431 welfare women. 

Alice: They were women who just never had a chance because when they were growing up and going through high school there was no hope of them ever getting a secretarial job.

Angela: The school’s success caused headlines on the Wall Street Journal and an invitation to Dr. Geoffray and three of her students to testify before a Congressional committee on Human Resources. 

Alice: It was the kind of project I think that just caught people’s imagination. 

Angela: It was the turning point in her career. When it closed she worked for the State for two years coordinating the direction career education was to take and writing five books that are now used in all of Louisiana Public Schools.

But today the drive to help students find direction in their lives has not diminished. A leader in the vo-tech movement, Alice Geoffray has just hit her stride. But her motivation remains the same.

Alice: That something I did made a difference in other people’s lives, that’s important to me.

Angela: This is Angela Hill.

Garland Robinette: What an inspiration.

Angela: Yes she is.

Business articles of the times showcased AEC grads
 

Going through Alice’s files, Jeff and I find hidden treasures.  

Four such gems were in-house business articles we discovered showcasing AEC graduates:

  • Mercedes Mackie and Elaine Songy ’66 – Western Electric

  • Cecile Scorza ’68 – Shell Oil Company

  • Eloise Camel ‘68 – Hibernia National Bank

  • Lisa St. Julien ‘ 72 on cover of Shell Oil Company Publication 


The graduates opened doors for change not only for themselves but for New Orleans businesses.

These modern, hard working women became the best advertisement for other companies to hire future graduates.

They earned their secretarial positions with their exceptional skills acquired at the AEC.

–Jeanne Geoffray


Cecile Scorza ’68
Shell Oil Company


Eloise Camel ‘68
Hibernia National Bank

Eloise-Camel---Hibernia-Bank-RT.jpg

Mercedes Mackie '66 and Elaine Songy '66
Western Electric

 
Mercedes-Mackie-'66-and-Elaine-Songy-'66---Western-Electric-RT-1.jpg
Mercedes-Mackie-'66-and-Elaine-Songy-'66---Western-Electric-RT-2.jpg

Lisa St. Julien ‘ 72
Shell Oil Company Publication, Cover page

Cover page

Cover page

Lisa-St.-Julien---Shell---Story-featuring-pics-of-other-students-RT.jpg
AEC, Press, Archival PressMaya Eilam
Adult Education Reunion, 2000

In 2000 an AEC reunion was planned.  With growing interest in the number of students and faculty who would be attending, a press release was sent out to the Times Picayune for coverage.  This article appeared the day following the reunion – on the front page!  


Secretarial School Faculty, Alums Reunite

By Nicole Itano, Staff writer. July 17, 2000, Times Picayune


Thirty-five years ago, in a few rooms at 112 Exchange Place behind what is now a Popeyes restaurant, an extraordinary experiment changed the lives of more than 400 women. 

It was there that Alice Geoffray and a handful of teachers ran a free secretarial school for disadvantaged women. Without the dream of a chaplain at St. Mary's Dominican college and the help of a local businessman willing to take a chance on the program, there would have been no school.

On Sunday night, almost 100 graduates and former teachers gathered for a reunion at the downtown Holiday Inn on Loyola Avenue. Decked out in their finest attire, they returned to reunite with old schoolmates, tell their stories and pay homage to Geoffray, the woman some students call their "fairy godmother."

Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had prohibited discrimination in the workplace, many women...lacked the training needed to take their place in the business world.

Most of the students who graduated during the center's seven-year existence were African-American. All were poor. Most had been employed in menial jobs or had no work history at all. They left with new skills and job prospects.

 

Providing wings

The youngest women to graduate from the Adult Education Center are now in their late 50s. The oldest is 81. Many are retired. But three decades later, they still remember the center and how it changed their lives.

"I went in like a caterpillar, with a low feeling of myself," said 1969 center graduate Marion Hymes. "I came out feeling like a butterfly." Hymes, then a 30-year-old mother of five, worked as a custodian in the New Orleans public schools. After graduating from the center, she was hired as a secretary for several local universities and has written a religious book published by a Baptist publishing company.

During its seven-year lifetime, the center educated 431 women, with 94 percent of them placed in jobs after graduation.

In 1965, when the doors of the Adult Education Center first opened, advancement opportunities for poor black women with ambition but few marketable skills were scarce. Although the Civil Rights Act of 1964 had prohibited discrimination in the workplace, many of the women who could benefit from the new law, like Hymes, lacked the training needed to take their place in the business world.

St. Mary's chaplain, Father Timothy Gibbons, who has since left the order, developed an idea for an intense training program that would give these women the skills they needed to enter New Orleans' largely segregated secretarial pool. He applied for a federal grant and enlisted Geoffray, a graduate of St. Mary's and a teacher in New Orleans public schools, to make the program a reality. Ironically, at the time, St. Mary's did not accept black students.

 

Center's success

By all accounts, Gibbon's brainchild was a resounding success. During its seven-year lifetime, the center educated 431 women, with 94 percent of them placed in jobs after graduation. Its graduates integrated many of New Orleans' largest companies, including oil giants Shell and Exxon. Some went back to school and received bachelor's and master's degrees. The Department of Labor called the program one of the most successful government-financed programs of its time, and the Wall Street Journal ran an article about its success in job placement.

The center had an unusual methodology. In addition to classes on typing and shorthand, the center taught etiquette, dress and what director Geoffray calls "business speech." Its graduates say the center did what too few schools today do: in addition to giving them job skills, it taught them how to act in the professional world.

"I wish it was around now," Hymes said. "Even with integration, that special combination of special skills and social skills isn't quite open to young people now."

Not everyone, however, was supportive of the center and its aims. Geoffrey said she went to 60 landlords before she found one willing to rent to them.

"When we were negotiating for the space, we said there would be 90 black women there," Geoffray said. "They just didn't want to deal with that issue."

Then-Mayor Victor Schiro, left, visits the Adult Education Center in 1968. Local lawyer and banker James J. Coleman, center. Dr. Alice Geoffray, right.

James J. Coleman at the AEC Reunion, 2000.


Helping hand

Finally, Geoffray met local lawyer and banker James J. Coleman, who not only leased the school space on Exchange Place, but also became chairman of its board and actively recruited local businessmen to support the school by hiring graduates and donating money to keep the program afloat.

Coleman, who sponsored Sunday's reunion, said the program changed his outlook on life.

"It opened my eyes to see more clearly, that regardless of race, each individual has the ability to accomplish what they want," said Coleman, who is white. "Frankly, miracles happened in that little school."

We saw that, more and more, businesses were hiring black women.

For many of the women, the center was a stepping-stone that enabled them to pursue further education. Many of the graduates, like 60-year-old Melva Anatole, were inspired by Geoffray and the center and returned to school to pursue careers in education and social work.

In 1968, 28-year-old Anatole was working as a cashier at Schwegmann's supermarket. But Anatole, the youngest of eight children in a family struggling to survive below the poverty line, had big dreams. She intended to go to college and become a teacher.

Today, she is a teacher at Sarah T. Reed High School. She says it was the Adult Education Center that enabled her to return to school at Southern University and pursue a bachelor's degree in English.

 

No longer a need

Despite the center's successes, three years after Anatole graduated, the program closed its doors. Geoffray said it became increasingly difficult to raise money, and as society integrated, the need for such a school decreased.

"In the beginning, it was a real struggle to get the black women hired," said Geoffray, who is now writing a book on her experience at the school. "That doesn't seem to be a stumbling block anymore, and that's why we thought we had outlived our time because we saw that, more and more, businesses were hiring black women."

But many of the center's graduates say the need today is greater than ever.

"There are so many black women who are in that position, below the poverty line," Anatole said. "They need something like this."


If you attended the reunion, please share with us your comments or photos of the night.  

Dr. Alice Geoffray Delivers Final Public Speech
 

On January 13, 2001, my mom, Alice R. Geoffray, travelled from Dallas to New Orleans for a Martin Luther King, Jr. breakfast where she would be honored at the Torch Bearers’ event for her work at The Adult Education Center. Accompanying mom that day were several members of the Geoffray family and many former Adult Education Center students. My mom was 77 at that time and we were all so proud of her and delighted by the accolades she was receiving at this time in her life. What I did not know was that she was being honored with six other well deserved New Orleans citizens -- one being Ruby Bridges Hall. Mom among this distinguished group of recipients reinforced how she played an important role as an educator and one who made such a difference in so many lives. Here is the speech mom gave on that day.

– Jeanne Geoffray


I shall never forget the summer of 1965,

Dr. Alice R. Geoffray

when I became Director of the Adult Education Center.  If I live to be a hundred-and, incidentally, I’m not so far away from that now-I can never forget those challenging days, nor would I want to.  In fact, if the Good Lord would say to me now, “If you could, Alice, which part of your professional life would you choose to live over?”  I would be compelled to say, “This part—the period between July, 1965, and October, 1972.”  If He would ask “Why?” I would have to say that it represented the most incredible, most significant period of my professional life.

Why is it, that even after 35 years, after many successful positions, promotions, and recognitions, I still feel the same?  It is very simple to explain.  During that time, I met and taught 431 remarkable women.  I bonded with them.  I laughed and cried with them.  I shared their dreams.  I learned from them.  I loved them.  More importantly, I helped them get the jobs they needed to gain access to the American dream.

These women succeeded at those jobs for 35 years.  Their taxes and their skills have enhanced the economic progress of New Orleans.  They have paid back, in taxes, a thousandfold, the money that the Federal Government had invested in their education.  They have seen the tremendous impact their sacrifices have made in the lives of their children.  For 35 years, I have reveled in their achievements.

Dr. Alice Geoffray being interviewed for another award — 3rd Annual Celebration of Women's Week Award from YWCA in 1995

Somewhere, Reverend King, I pray, that you may know that your dream has never been realized more eloquently or more graciously as it has been through these 431 women...

Today, as I sit at this Saturday Prayer Breakfast, two thoughts occur to me.  First, I want to thank God for giving me the opportunity and privilege to have played a tiny role in the Civil Rights Movement.  Secondly, I give praise to Dr. Martin Luther King for inspiring such a movement, thus becoming the conscience of America.  “Somewhere, Reverend King, I pray, that you may know that your dream has never been realized more eloquently or more graciously as it has been through these 431 women I have mentioned.  Their successes give testimony to your faith in all of humankind.”

So, it is with pride that I accept this recognition today.  I accept it not only in my name but in the name of the Adult Education Center.  Certainly, my graduates are as deserving as I to receive this prestigious honor.  May I ask your indulgence, then, as I invite those graduates, who accompanied me here today, to stand with me as I accept your applause and to cherish it as their own?  Thank you.

- Dr. Alice Geoffray


 If you attended this breakfast and award program, please let us know as we would like to include all participants.  And, please share with us your thoughts and feelings from that day with us. Contact us.