In 1966, a 21-year-old Carroll Bourgeois moved his family to Addis upon his taking a job at National Food Stores in Plaquemine.
Bourgeois said he was turned away from renting homes in Plaquemine, as owners did not want to rent to families with young children.
“So we moved here to Addis and we’ve been here ever since,” he said as he reminisced Thursday afternoon. “The people here made us feel very welcome.”
A year after moving to the village of Addis, population 486, Bourgeois was hired to work as an operator at a start-up industrial plant – Copolymer. He said he thought it was a good career move, as his young family was growing – he and his wife had five young children. Though Bourgeois was a mainstay at the company for 32 years, retiring in 1999, his legacy will be his 32 years spent in office as Addis’ mayor.
On December 31, at noon, Carroll Bourgeois’ final term of his 32 years as mayor will end.
“In life, we have to say enough is enough. I’m getting up in age and there are some things (My wife and I) would like to do,” Bourgeois said. “The people here were good to us, and I’d like to think that I kind of helped pay back a little bit. But it’s time to let the younger generation get their feet wet.”
An employee at National Food Stores in Lake Charles, the grocery store chain relocated Bourgeois to the Plaquemine location in 1966. He moved his family to Addis and commuted to work for a year before switching jobs, but it was his 1980 election as mayor of Addis that helped steer the town to where it is today.
“I’ve known Carroll since he moved here from Lake Charles, he and his wife.
They fell in love with the community, and the community kind of responded back,” remembered Riley “Pee Wee” Berthelot, West Baton Rouge Parish President. Berthelot became friends with Bourgoies, and served on the town of Addis’ council for seven years before being voted in as parish president. “He was involved in baseball, basketball and other community activities. He ran for mayor and he’s done a lot of great things for Addis.”
Bourgeois said that his entrance into politics was, in a sense, a natural progression of his desire to help others.
“I got involved in baseball and softball, and got involved with the volunteer fire department. This was just a continuation of community involvement,” he said. “I do not call it getting into politics. I call it giving back to the community.”
But it wasn’t easy to get into office. According to Bourgeois, he lost his first two bids for mayor.
“I won the first election by two votes and it was contested… It was ruled a new election, and I lost that one,” he recalled. “Then I ran for a four-year term and I lost that one outright.”
But in 1980, he won the mayoral election with nearly 80% of the vote.
He said that his goal as mayor has been to maintain what made him fall in love with Addis – the small town atmosphere.
The biggest thing I’ve tried to do was maintain that hometown atmosphere that was shown to me and my family when we got here,” he said. “We want to grow, but still try to know everybody.”
And grow, they have.
Bourgeois proudly states that he has seen Addis grow nearly tenfold from a village of less than 500 people.
According to the 2010 U.S. Census, the town of Addis’ population lies at 3,593 people, though Bourgeois contested the government saying he believed the population was more than 5,000.
He attributes the growth of the town, in population and physical space, to the sewer system that was built within his first few years in office.
“The people had voted for a sewer system prior to my being elected,” he said, adding that because of then-U.S. President Ronald Reagan’s “Reaganomics,” the town was forced to seek innovative and alternative technology for their sewer system – which became the grinders the town still has today.
With a federal grant worth 75% of the project, and a Louisiana Community Development Bloc Grant worth the other 25%, Bourgeois and his council at the time were able to procure 100% funding for their sewer system, and unincorporated areas near the town quickly began to take notice.
Developers in outlying areas of the community asked to tie into Addis’ sewer system. But a town ordinance denies all but residents of the town of Addis the opportunity to tie into the system.
“They’d ask ‘where do I sign?’” Bourgeois said, adding that when they became a part of the town of Addis, tying into the sewer system, “they wouldn’t have to deal with EPA or DEQ or anything like that.”
The SugarMill, Benedetto, Mouch, and other subdivisions became incorporated with Addis.
“The growth is because of our sewer system,” Bourgeois said. “When I was elected, the highway was the town limits. Sewer was the catalyst that the area across the highway wanted.”
Berthelot said that Bourgeois’ way of thinking outside the box brought the sewer system in, and ultimately, the growth.
“It was something that was controversial at the start, but ended up being a really good thing,” Berthelot said. “He’s always had the town of Addis at heart. He would do anything for the people. He fought for Addis for a lot of issues, with the parish, with the railroad, with the state and the red light at SugarMill issue. A lot of those things, he stood firm.”
David Toups, incoming Addis Mayor, agreed, saying that Bourgeois’ impact on the community has been great.
“He’s done a lot of great things for the community and he’s truly been an asset to the community,” said Toups, who grew up in the same neighborhood as Bourgeois’ residence.
Toups said that he was a freshman in high school when Bourgeois took office as mayor.
“Hopefully I can follow in his footsteps and just be as great an asset to the town as he was,” he said. “It’s just been really an honor to work with Mr. Carroll and I wish him well in his retirement years. He surely deserves it. I’m just looking forward to following in his footsteps.”
Berthelot said that he learned a lot from Bourgeois in his time as a council members in Addis, and has tried to assert some of the same qualities in his style of leadership.
“It may not be the popular thing to do, but if it was the right thing to do, he stuck it out.
And time was able to tell us that it was some good decisions that he made,” Berthelot said. “He’s always kind of inspired me. I think he was a good leader for Addis.”
Bourgeois said that he is looking forward to retirement and plans to spend time traveling with his wife.
“I promised the wife I’d take her to Hawaii on our 10th anniversary. Well, we’re going to celebrate our 50th come August 17, 2013, so I guess maybe it’s time to go to Hawaii,” he said jokingly.
He said, though, that no matter how far away from Addis he may roam, he plans to continue to call Addis home.
Berthelot said that Bourgeois was an invaluable asset to not only Addis, but to West Baton Rouge as a whole.
I would like to publicly thank him for serving; for dedicating 32 years of service to the town of Addis. It takes a lot away when you’re serving these positions. Sometimes you can’t make your children’s events, or maybe you have to put some things off to take care of some business you have to do, but I really appreciate him for staying 32 and doing the job that he’s done,” Berthelot said.