Two to be honored with humanitarian awards

The Louisiana Council on Human Relations will honor a professor emeritus from LSU and a retired state mental health worker for their efforts to improve human relations for people in Louisiana at the group’s 12th Annual Oliver-Sigur Awards Program on Saturday.

Paul Y. Burns and Joyce M. Ben-Richard will be honored with the Oliver-Sigur Humanitarian Award at 10:30 a.m. at University Presbyterian Church, 3240 Dalrymple Drive, said Thelma Deamer, vice president of the Louisiana council and president of the Baton Rouge council.

The Baton Rouge Council on Human Relations will co-host the event, which will include a panel discussion on issues facing the state and the nation.

The board of directors for the Louisiana Council on Human Relations chose the winners based on nominations from board members.

Burns, a professor emeritus at the LSU School of Renewable Natural Resources, was a charter member of the Louisiana council, which was founded in 1964 to promote racial integration. He worked 38 years in higher education, most of them at LSU, and served as the head of the School of Forestry at LSU.

He continues to work with the council as a historian and promotes social justice through local agencies.

Deamer said Burns has worked diligently over the years to help the council further its goals and that Saturday’s recognition is sort of a lifetime achievement award for his years of service

“I think he probably should have been given this a long time ago,” Deamer said.

Ben-Richard, a Baton Rouge native who lives in Lafayette, recently retired from the Acadiana Area Human Services District, where she worked as a counselor and administrator, helping people in a seven-parish area.

She specialized in mental health and substance abuse counseling and has continued to help people even after retiring.

“I grew up in a home where helping people was the thing to do and I married a man who felt the same, so it came easy for me,” she said.

Deamer said Ben-Richard has a reputation for working hard to make sure people are treated fairly in receiving the services they needed.

The award is named after Msgr. Alexander Sigur and Dr. James Oliver.

Sigur in the 1950s and 1960s was director of Our Lady of Wisdom, the Catholic student center at what is now the University of Louisiana at Lafayette. Racial tensions were high at the time Sigur served as director as the university was integrated well before other public institutions.

Oliver was a professor of chemistry and a pioneer in computer science who took the social gospel of Christianity seriously and worked untiringly for social justice and against racism.