Darrel LeJeune of Basile (right) receives the J. Blanton Belk Outstanding Up with People Alumnus Award from J. Blanton Belk, the founder of Up with People and the award’s namesake. The presentation was made on Friday, June 29 during the organization’s annual alumni reunion held in Tucson, Ariz. (Photo courtesy of Darrel LeJeune)
Basile native LeJeune wins prestigious Outstanding Alumnus award
For the better part of the past six decades, the Up With People (UWP) educational and performance program has been reaching individuals around the world through its music, message, and service.
The mission of the group is primarily to increase respect and understanding for people of all races, colors, genders, and nationalities.
Every year, the UWP International Alumni Association presents an outstanding alumnus award to one of its 23,000 former participants from around the world. The award goes to the alumnus who has most embodied the mission of the program. The award is named after J. Blanton Belk, UWP’s founder.
This year’s award went to Basile’s own Darrel LeJeune, who performed with UWP from 1983 to 1984. According to a release from UWP, “Darrel lived by the beliefs and strengths of Up With People long before being accepted (in 1983) and has continued to live by these beliefs many years after.”
LeJeune’s time as a performer began in high school at Basile as he was a member of the Basile Sing Out (an offshoot of the UWP program on the local level). After returning from UWP, He then became director and brought the group to perform all around the state and at Houston’s Astroworld and Orlando’s Walt Disney World.
“Besides statewide charity and school events, Basile Sing Out performed for four consecutive years on a local television station’s Cerebral Palsy Telethon show,” said UWP in a release. “In Basile Sing Out’s final year under Darrel, they made a record 40 appearances.”
“Darrel never let the Sing Out group forget who and what they were representing,” the release continued. “Four of the Sing Out groups he directed actually performed for Up With People casts when they were in Louisiana. He simply packed up the Sing Out group and took them by bus to see UWP perform and perform for them as well.”
LeJeune was responsible for organizing the 50th anniversary reunion of the founding of the Basile Sing Out in 2017.
“I must say, Darrel LeJeune’s passion for the Sing Out reunion is something that you just don’t see anymore,” said Basile Mayor Mark Denette in a Facebook post from June 9, 2017. “The planning, organizing, constant post updates, setting up, ordering items, locating past members, etc., etc., etc. I’m hoping Darrel gets the turnout he deserves. Tomorrow will be a time to remember for Basile and everyone in attendance. Thank you, Darrel, for all your hard work. We can’t wait to see what tomorrow brings.”
As part of local involvement in the selection of the award winner, Darrel’s former cast mates reached out to leaders in the Basile and Eunice communities to share their thoughts about him so that the selection committee could get a personal look at his activities here. The mayor’s letter to the committee best summed it up. He said, “I have heard for many years from many different people in and around Basile, ‘I do not know what we would ever do without Mr. Darrel LeJeune.’”
In his year with UWP’s Cast A, LeJeune appeared across the U.S.A. and in England and Ireland as a featured soloist of the group and used that learning experience in his classroom and his extracurriculars at BHS.
After his year on the road, LeJeune returned to Basile where he helped recruit the next batch of talent for UWP including Basile’s Dawn (Douget) Bertrand, who travelled in 2000. He also was responsible for getting three UWP casts to perform in Bearcat country back in 1985, 1986, and 1998.
Upon returning from the road, LeJeune became involved with his alma mater of Basile High School. He spent 32 years teaching English, social studies, speech, art survey, and yearbook. He used videos from UWP in his classes and used his UWP experience to direct many outstanding group talent acts at Beta conventions on the state and national level. The highlight was winning the Louisiana group talent championship and placing second at nationals in Washington, D.C. in 1992.
LeJeune also became band director at BHS even without having the experience of playing an instrument or marching. According to an UWP release, “Still, the high school knew that even without formal training, his dedication along with skills in music and stage could benefit the band. He learned to march and direct, and so did his students.” His efforts were so successful that the BHS Band was one of 15 bands from across the nation who performed at halftime of the 2014 Sugar Bowl in New Orleans.
Besides getting involved with his school, LeJeune also got involved with the community by becoming a board member and actor at the Eunice Players’ Theatre following his UWP tour. He has also served on the Board of Directors of the Swine Festival for his entire adult life and has been a music minister at St. Augustine Catholic Church for most of his life. Over the past few years, he has been serving on the Evangeline Parish Tourism Commission.
Among the litany of other community involvements, LeJeune is the editor of The Basile Weekly, the town’s newspaper, for 23 years now. He was owner and publisher of the paper for 10 years before he sold to Louisiana State Newspapers in 2005.
For LeJeune, receiving the outstanding alumnus award brought with it a mixed-bag of emotions. “Winning this prestigious international award was a shock for me. Past winners have been exemplary individuals of whom I never would have considered putting myself on equal footing, and the award’s namesake is an idol to me. I have devoted my life to the standards and principles of the Up with People organization, but for the alumni association to name me its outstanding member is overwhelming. I want to thank the incredible cast that I was part of in 1983-84 for nominating me for this honor, and thank the loving community of Basile for backing me financially in my travels that year and for supporting my endeavors here in Basile since then. The importance of community service in my year of travel with Up with People led me to a lifelong commitment to make Basile a better place. I am honored to carry on the ideals of Up with People and hope to bring more of that spirit to my people here in Basile in the years to come.”