Earl and Hazel Etienne Scholarship Fund

Earl and Hazel EtienneAs the youngest of seven children in our family, it has always been my honor to witness the values my parents, Earl and Hazel Etienne, instilled in my older siblings.  They were and still are a hard act to follow.  Our parents gave us many gifts, not the least among them, a love for education.  When it came time to memorialize them, it was an easy choice to establish a scholarship in their names.

But that is not the end of the story.  Let me tell you a little bit about the beginning – our parents.

Charles Earl Etienne was born on March 23, 1912, one of five children of Jule and Alma Etienne in Mt. Pleasant, IN.  A son of a poor dirt farmer, he and his older brother hitch-hiked weekly from Mt. Pleasant to Oakland City and back to receive a college education.  Dad began teaching in one room schoolhouses throughout Perry County.  After moving to Tell City in 1952 and beginning his long tenure at St. Paul School, he twice returned to college, gaining his Master’s Degree and Administrator’s License.

Dad was very instrumental in working out a special arrangement between the Tell City-Troy Township School Corporation and the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Indianapolis.  The church owned the school building, but it was a public school for most of the day, relinquishing one half hour daily for those wishing to take advantage of religious education.  While perceived as a Catholic school by most of the community, it truly was a public school and many non-Catholic students received an excellent education there.

Dad truly loved being a teacher – and he absolutely loved his students.  He stayed after school nearly every day to help with after school activities.  He was a coach, a playground monitor, a friend and mentor to every student that sought him out.  As a principal, he recognized the hardships of working parents who had nowhere for their children to go before school started in the morning.  He would arrive at St. Paul School every morning at 6 AM so parents could drop their children off in a safe atmosphere.  Knowing there was no money in the budget for this service, he performed this task alone, watching over the students in the school cafeteria.

After retiring as a principal, Dad stayed involved with youth and St. Paul School by teaching religious education in that special arrangement he had helped to establish.  When he passed away in 2008, we were heartened by the many former students (ranging in age from teenagers to those in their 80’s) who came to pay their respects and relate the impact Dad had in their lives.

Our mother was a perfect complement to Dad.  Hazel Katherine Sweat was born in Leopold, IN to John and Emma Sweat.  Along with her 5 brothers and sisters, she had to go to work early to help support the family.  At the age of 13, she had to quit school to help take care of her sister’s family and bring some money into her parent’s household.  While Mom never graduated from high school, she was a lifelong voracious reader who valued education and instilled that value in her children.

Mom was the one who kept the house running, raising seven children and always supporting Dad in his job and need for further education.  She never shied away from hard work, as she worked outside of the home for many years, took care of a garden, took her elderly father into our home, and always made sure her children knew how much we were loved.

As a sign of the value they placed on education, two of their children became teachers (one who became a college professor with a PhD and one finished his career as a school superintendent; one led a multi-million dollar educational network serving southwest Indiana, two served on their local school boards, one became an attorney, and one was the CEO of the state’s largest Council on Aging; another a successful businessman and another directs a social service agency.

The scholarship fund established in their names reflects the high esteem they felt for education and the Perry County community.  It is the hope of our family that the recipients of the Earl and Hazel Etienne scholarship will enjoy a lifetime of learning and giving back to their communities.  As a family, we are grateful to the Perry County Community Foundation for this opportunity to honor our parents.

-Joan Hess