Jerry Pierce, proud Springhill native, had deep influence statewide

Incomparable impact over 57 years at his beloved alma mater, Northwestern State University, and in his adopted hometown of Natchitoches, along with significant statewide influence in higher education and sports were hallmarks of Jerry Pierce, who died Tuesday in Natchitoches after a brief illness.

Visitation is Friday evening from 5-8 p.m. and his funeral is Saturday at 2. Both will be held at the First Baptist Church in Natchitoches. 

Born and raised in Springhill, Pierce was a proud 1957 Springhill High School graduate. While in high school, he not only was sports editor of the high school newspaper, but also served in that capacity for the weekly Springhill Press. He maintained relationships with lifelong friends from home until his passing.

Pierce, 83, was executive vice president and professor of journalism at Northwestern, serving under his ninth president, Dr. Marcus Jones. He oversaw alumni and athletic operations and other aspects of the university for decades, and was named VP for External Affairs in 1990 by Dr. Robert Alost. That role was the cornerstone, but hardly the only aspect of his service-filled life.

His behind-the-scenes contributions were integral to the production of the hit 1989 major motion picture “Steel Magnolias,” filmed entirely in Natchitoches, written by NSU graduate Robert Harling and starring Academy Award winners Julia Roberts, Sally Field, Olympia Dukakis and Shirley MacLaine, and entertainer/actress Dolly Parton. That film has since attracted countless visitors to the community while spearheading transformational development of a vibrant downtown area. He also was influential to another Hollywood production, the critically-acclaimed “Man in the Moon” 1991 film shot locally that was the debut of Academy Award-winning actress Reese Witherspoon in a cast that included Sam Shepard and Tess Harper. 

Pierce was a key advocate for over a half-century with governors and legislators not only for the best interests of Northwestern and Natchitoches, but for the region and especially higher education in the state, particularly the University of Louisiana System that serves nine public institutions and nearly 100,000 students annually. He held tenure on the faculty at Northwestern.

Pierce was the driving force behind establishing modern operations at NSU and in Natchitoches for the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame. He was chairman and spearheaded annual inductions from 1971-90, a tenure that ultimately led to the 2013 opening of a $23 million, 27,000-square foot museum in downtown Natchitoches, a facility that has received international acclaim. 

In 1993 the New Orleans Times-Picayune named him one of the 20 “Most Influential People in Sports in Louisiana.” He helped guide Northwestern into four different athletic conferences: the Gulf South (1972), Trans-America (1980), Gulf Star (1983) and its current affiliation, the Southland Conference (since 1987). Pierce served a term as president of the Southland.

He received a vast array of recognitions and honors, including his 2000 enshrinement in the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame with the Louisiana Sports Writers Association’s Distinguished Service Award in Sports Journalism, his 2018 induction in the N-Club Hall of Fame for athletics at NSU as a Leadership Award recipient, and his 2021 enshrinement in the Long Purple Line, the highest honor Northwestern issues to its alumni. Pierce was named the 1979 Natchitoches Parish “Man of the Year” by the American Legion, was presented a lifetime membership in the LSWA and was the first-ever Mac Russo Award recipient from the LSWA for contributions to the organization’s ideals and purpose in 1983.

Pierce, a popular speaker and master of ceremonies around Louisiana for many years, was an accomplished tennis player. He was part of United States Tennis Association local teams that won over a dozen state championships, five regional crowns and a national championship. 

He was an acclaimed writer, columnist and author of a well-received book, “Prayer Meetings and Pink Corduroys, Reflections of Life in Rural Louisiana and Other Stuff.” He won a myriad of writing and publications awards from organizations such as the Louisiana Press Association, the LSWA and the College Sports Information Directors of America.

Pierce was perpetually active in community organizations and civic causes, and active in his church.

Jerry came to Northwestern from his hometown, and served four years as a trainer/manager for beloved football coach Jack Clayton. He earned his journalism degree in 1961 and went to work for the New Orleans Times-Picayune, rapidly rising to serve as executive sports editor at age 24. In time for the 1965 football season, he and his family returned to Natchitoches and he began working at Northwestern, first as sports information director. He soon assumed additional duties as news bureau director and other external roles, including management of alumni affairs, assistant to the president and ultimately, his vice presidential post 32 years ago. He became a journalism professor soon after joining the university staff and later was awarded tenure.

Pierce is survived by his wife of 20 years, Regina Bruce Pierce, and two sons, Randall “Randy” Craig Pierce (Beama) of Baton Rouge, and Richard J. “Rick” (Denise Deville) of Natchitoches, and his daughter, Natalie Prewitt Ducote (Keith) of Natchitoches. He has nine grandchildren, twins Evan Randall Pierce (Grayson) of Baton Rouge and Amanda Pierce Brignac (Branden) of Baton Rouge, along with Miranda Pierce of Baton Rouge, Karmeyla, Ava, Allie, and Charlee Ann Ducote, all of Natchitoches; Spencer Sanson (Holly) of Metairie; Sayle Sanson (fiance’ Kyle Hammack) of New Orleans; and six great grandchildren. 

Other survivors are his brother, James Pierce (Janet) of Haughton; and two aunts, Fern Mulholland of Cantonment, Fla., and Gloria Legeti of Lebanon, N.H. He was preceded in death by his parents, George Love Pierce and Jerrell Floreece Pierce of Springhill. 

His life will be celebrated with a Friday evening visitation from 5-8 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Natchitoches. The funeral service is Saturday at 2 o’clock at the church. Services are under the direction of Blanchard-St. Denis Funeral Home.

Brother Tommy Rush, pastor of First Baptist Church, will officiate the funeral service. A eulogy will be shared by Dr. Jim Henderson, an NSU journalism graduate who became president of the university from 2014-16 before ascending to his current role as president of the UL System.

Serving as pallbearers will be former NSU athletics director Greg Burke, NSU provost Dr. Greg Handel, Henderson, Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts executive director Dr. Steve Horton, LSHOF chairman Doug Ireland, current NSU president Dr. Marcus Jones, retired NSU president Dr. Chris Maggio, and NSU assistant vice president for external affairs Dr. Drake Owens. 

Jerry was blessed to have his dear friend Angie Perot as his secretary for over 20 years, and she will be among the honorary pallbearers.

Other honorary pallbearers will be Patric DuBois, Edwin Dunahoe, Coley Gahagan, Don Kelly, Lovan Thomas, Tommy Whitehead, and Jerry’s Monday lunch group, The Gerousia, along with all members of the Natchitoches Agitators. He was a founding member of both social organizations.

The Rev. Tommy Rush, pastor of First Baptist Church of Natchitoches, will officiate. Henderson will give the eulogy. Michael Rorex, retired professor of music at NSU, will perform some of Jerry’s favorite hymns, “How Great Thou Art” and “It Is Well With My Soul.” The Rev. Steve McAlister, pastor of Westside Baptist Church of Natchitoches, will share scriptures of joy and comfort to close the service.

Jerry asked that this occasion be considered a time of celebration, not sorrow. In his final days, he marveled at having been blessed by such a long and joyful life filled with fun and laughter, and time spent with treasured family and friends.

The family expresses its deep appreciation to Dr. Phillip Cole, Dr. Andrew Werner, to Natchitoches Regional Medical Center CEO Kirk Soileau, Dr. Otis Barnum, Dr. John Hogg and the NRMC staff, Dr. Pouya Mafi, the Seventh Floor Critical Care Unit nurses and personnel at Shreveport’s Willis-Knighton Pierremont hospital and staff at The Hospice of Natchitoches, for their compassionate, high-caliber care.

For anyone considering a memorial gift, the family suggests contributions to the Jerry and Regina Pierce Endowed Scholarship for NSU Lady Demon Tennis through NSU Athletics; the Pierce-Bruce Scholarship in Education through the NSU Foundation; an In Memoriam gift to the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame Foundation; or a contribution to St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital.