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In the News

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Bunch received first four-year McNeese diploma

By Crystal Nix

Olan Bunch, a long time resident of Marcantel Settlement, was the first student to receive a diploma from McNeese State University as a four-year college.

Lethar E. Frazar was president of the college at the time. Mr. Bunch was 32, married and had children when he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in Agriculture in 1952.

The former Air Force veteran returned home after World War II ended. His military career took him to San Antonio and Eagle Pass, Texas, and the south Pacific arena, including Biak Island, Morotai Island, the Philippine Islands, and Okinawa. He worked as an Air Force mechanic and was a Tech Sergeant when he left the military.

Once home, he found jobs hard to come by. At 27, he soon found a job with Missouri Pacific Railroad as a boilermaker’s helper where he helped to rebuild steam engines. (For those to young to remember, the MOP shop and roundhouse were once located where the Union Pacific Sports Complex is now.) Soon, the railroad replaced the steam engines with diesel engines, leaving Bunch unemployed once again.

Bunch married Merle Marcantel, and they soon started a family. Unemployed, he decided to take advantage of the GI Bill and pursue a career in agriculture, and enrolled at McNeese. While living on campus with his wife and kids, he went to school, studied agriculture and animal husbandry. To help make ends meet, he worked part time at a service station and received a cash scholarship. He made excellent grades, which allowed him to graduate in three years. He made history to become the first student to be handed a college degree during the 1952 graduation ceremonies, making him the first McNeese State University graduate.

Mr. Bunch will be 95 on Jan. 5, 2015.

Ironically, he was never hired for a job in his chosen career field. Upon graduating, he went to work for the new plant in Carlyss, W. R. Grace, where he worked in the lab, and was promoted within a year to coordinator. He worked there for 32 years before retiring.

Bunch remembered Lethar Frazar, president of the college when he graduated, being a running mate of Earl K. Long. There were only two buildings on campus when he started college. You could look out almost any window on campus and see pine trees, pasture land and cows. “I suspect that is why the McNeese annual is called the Log.” he said.

His wife of 50 years, Merle, passed away several years ago. They had attended New Hope Baptist Church almost all of their married life, raised four children: two daughters, Cheryl Dosher, a retired nurse, and Beth Koop, a teacher, and two sons, Jerry Bunch, industrial worker and Clayton Bunch, who has worked almost as long as his father at W. R. Grace.

Although Bunch was never employed in his chosen career of agriculture, when I arrived at their homeplace, it was evident that his knowledge of agriculture did not go to waste. He has planted almost every kind of fruit tree you can imagine. There are citrus trees, persimmons, figs, pecan and pear trees. Much of his life, he raised cattle and always had a garden. Their pantry was always stocked with canned goods from their land.

Upon retirement, he applied his education at McNeese to his land, which is now being enjoyed by his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

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