2015 is a unique year for The Boivin Center of French language and Culture at The University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. It’s our 30th anniversary, and this will prove to be a very special—and important— year for the Center.
Thanks to a generous gift of $100,000 from Dr. and Mrs. Omer Boivin from Fall River, whom I knew very well, the Omer T. and Laurette M. Boivin Center was established at the then Southeastern Massachusetts University on April 11, 1985. Dr. Boivin, who had been educated in French in Canada, but had spent most of his life in Fall River, was chief of urology at St. Anne’s Hospital until the age of 70.
Boivin was then 95 years young in 1985, and wanted to bring French language and culture to the fore in his native region of Southeastern Massachusetts. He also wanted to show that the French language, which he and his wife cherished, was the lingua franca in the world alongside English in the arts, humanities,, technology, hospitality, medicine and diplomacy, and he focused on the then SMU to do just that. I remember vividly that glorious, historic April day, as there was a very large gathering of very distinguished and prominent colleagues, officials and dignitaries representing France, Quebec and other Francophone areas. It was a day like no other day in the Francophone annals. That was the moment that the Boivins’ dream came true!
As I begin my 16th year as director, I feel a sense of great pride, satisfaction and accomplishment in what The Boivin Center has accomplished over the past three decades. The Center has helped students financially, for example, for study in Middlebury College’s prestigious École française, or in Paris or Montreal or other major Francophone cities and locales, by giving scholarships. The Center has been generous in bringing a multitude of notable Francophone speakers, and bringing important French film series to campus. The Center has
supported faculty research, dealing with French subjects, when the University has not had the necessary funds to do so. We have interviewed French and Franco-Americans in our region to document their history and to preserve for posterity their anecdotes, songs and stories. We have offered a certificate program in international marketing and French studies. Lastly, we have, like the Academie française, promoted and supported the French language to the best of our ability, and tried to act as an advisory, consulting board to schools and to those individuals who needed our advice and counsel. Succinctly and objectively, the Boivin Center continues to grow and prosper in trying to meet even new greater goals and challenges in the second decade of the 21st century.
We are targeting April, the month the Boivin Center was founded, as our “celebratory anniversary month” with the arrival of world-famous French chef, television personality and author Jacques Pepin on Wednesday, April 1, 2015. Pepin will give a food demonstration/lecture from 4-5 in Woodland Commons followed by a book signing from 5-6. Thereafter, the UMass Dartmouth catering service, headed by Patrick Cotter, will be preparing a truly elegant, memorable dinner with Pepin, also in Woodland Commons, to which the public is invited. A special ceremony, honoring Pepin for all he has done and accomplished in the realm of French cooking, will take place at the time of the dinner. Reservations may be made at $100 a person, and the check, made out to The Boivin Center, may be sent to our most capable administrative assistant, Maria Sanguinetti, 6 Cindy Lane, New Bedford, Ma. 02740.
On April 15th, at noon, The Boivin Center, in collaboration with the Center for Jewish Studies, will present a lecture with Sarah Lew Miller and Professor Joyce Lazarus. These two women collaborated in writing Ms. Miller’s fascinating memoirs, HIDING IN PLAIN SIGHT, which details her family‘s eluding the Nazis in occupied France. A book signing and light reception will follow this free lecture which will take place in the Claire T. Carney, Grand Reading Room.
To finish the April festivities, Mo Willems, an Emmy award-winning writer for Sesame Street and who is considered to be one of the most popular contemporary writers and illustrators of children’s books, will speak on April 29th about the year he and his family have recently spent in France. His books have been translated into many languages, and his illustrations and ceramics have been exhibited in galleries and museums throughout the United States. A book signing and reception will follow Willems’ free talk which will be held in the Main Auditorium of the University at 4pm.
The list of luminaries who have graced the Boivin Center stage at the University is indeed long and impressive, to put it objectively; therefore, let me note those who have highlighted our cultural programs over the past 30 years, and have been distinguished with the title of Honorary Life Member: Quebec writers, Marie-Claire Blais, Gaetan Brulotte, Helene Dorion and Naim Kattan; Francophone/ Francophile writers, Nelson Brooks, Art Buchwald, Adam Gopnik, David Plante, Polly Platt and Richard Wilbur; French authors, Ambassador Pierre de Boisdeffre, Jacques Borel, Frederique Hebrard, Henri Peyre, Louis Velle; French Academician, Florence Delay; French mime, Marcel Marceau, French chanteurs et chanteuses, Maxime LeForestier, Annie Royer, Eric Vincent; Language Advocates: Senator Paul Simon; Humanitarians, Dr. Jeremiah Lowney, and Francophone scholars, Prof. William Carter and Prof. John Rassias. Two local luminaries, Jean- Louis Clapin and Dr. Lillian Lamoureux are also Honorary Life Members.
We could not, of course, host these outstanding individuals, and others, were it not for the steadfast support of our board of directors, who, over the years, have displayed top-notch commitment and devotion to our Center and its multifaceted programs. My ardent hope is that over the next 30 years the Boivin Center, which considers itself indeed fortunate to have had such an ambitious, and preeminent following in the past, will continue to have an equally talented pool of individuals who work with the direct goals of the Center, and continue to enhance awareness of France, Quebec and other francophone countries in our rapidly expanding, present-day, global society.
Dr. and Mrs. Boivin’s lives and careers demonstrated the importance of civic engagement, civility and service. The perpetuation of their legacy is more important than ever. This is why we look forward to welcoming you to the aforementioned programs, and to other academic and cultural events we habitually hold throughout the year.
Mel B. Yoken