Dathene Brown started a new career 42 years ago, never expecting the Governor of Louisiana would one day honor her for a job more than well done.
On May 10, Gov. Bobby Jindal and the State Legislature recognized Brown for 42 years of service to the Council on Aging.
Brown began her position with the COA on October 1, 1969 and is the only remaining original director in the state for the COA.
"It doesn't seem like it's been 42 years," Brown said. "This has been fun, for the most part. You get a certain satisfaction out of helping out your fellow man. I'm just trying to make life better for seniors."
Brown was approached about the job in August of 1969, following a conversation with the Rev. Terrell Lowe. Brown was considering going back into the workforce because her son Mickey, whom she'd quit work to raise, was nearing his senior year of high school, and there were expenses that needed to be paid.
"Well, I said 'yes' because I've always loved older people," said Brown on being approached for the job. "Dr. Carl Kemmerly, Dr. Robert Kemmerly's father, was sent up from Baton Rouge to train me. We have to follow state laws, even though we are a non-profit organization.
"I worked out of my home because I didn't have an office and they paid me $260 a month for what was almost a full-time job. It came in real handy with Mickey coming up for graduation, because things just weren't as expensive in those days."
Brown started this job as a fairly young woman at the age of 44. Now, she's 85 and considered a senior citizen herself.
When asked if her view of the job has changed since she's become older, she said it hits a little closer to home, but she's always had sympathy for the elderly she has helped.
"Some of the suffering and things these older people go through will keep you up at night wondering 'What can I do' or 'Who can I call' or 'What path can I take' to help them," she said.
Brown has seen a lot of changes over the years, including moving three times to new office buildings and (her personal favorite) the implementation of new programs that benefit senior citizens.
"When we've been able to get programs that will benefit senior citizens, that has been the best part of all this," Brown said. "Just knowing we can help them."
Brown was convinced to go to Baton Rouge for her award by state Rep. Jean Doerge who told Brown she would be meeting with people about funding for a new Senior Center.
"I should have known something was going on because she (Doerge) called twice to find out when I would be going to Baton Rouge. She said she needed me there at 1 p.m., but I told her it would be 3 p.m. because I had a hair appointment that morning. Well, she called back and asked if I could move my hair appointment to Monday, but they don't do hair in Minden on Monday. I called the person who normally does my hair and asked her if she could do my hair on Monday, and did you know she opened the shop just for me? I was able to make it to Baton Rouge when Jean needed."
Once in Baton Rouge, Brown and others from the Webster COA met with other COA's from around the state for a presentation. During the presentation, Rep. Doerge made the proclamation to honor Brown.
"I can't even tell you what all she said because when I realized she was talking about me I went into, I don't know, shock, I guess. I just thought 'Jean Doerge... well, she can't be talking about somebody else, but me?' When I walked up to get my award I was in another land, I guess.
"I was surprised and shocked. I went to get my award, turned around to go back to my seat and saw my son Mickey sitting there with his movie camera. My mouth just flew open. He and his wife were supposed to be on vacation. He knew the whole time and didn't even tell me. Everyone knew but me."
Brown said she would retire one day to spend time with her three beloved Lhasa Apso's and her fond memories of a life dedicated to helping the elderly, but right now she has unfinished business.
"I tell my staff I'm going to make sure we get the funding for the new Senior Center. I'm not giving up," said Brown. "It's been an interesting journey."