Established to help local farmers in times of desperate need, this organisation has evolved into a modern-day force for the greater good of all.
The story of The Inseparable Friends Benevolent Society (IFBS) of Opelousas, Louisiana is an extraordinary one and one that should have drawn to a conclusion by now. That’s because the founders of the charitable endeavour decreed it be around for less than 100 years. But hereafter its success, and the fervent loyalty of its many members, it has been given a new lease of life and is sure to be around for many more years to come. This is an all-American tale of digging in with heroic acts of unselfishness towards one’s fellow man; of a society with tight-knitted social bonds that have since spread all over America and an organisation that today is helping out more people than ever before.
Born out if a need to help farming communities at a time in the United States when there was little of any official support structure, the Inseparable Friends Benevolent Society (IFBS) of Prairie Laurent, a small farming community just outside the city limits of Opelousas, Louisiana, is now well over a 100 years old. The cherished, male-only organisation, which was founded in 1906, now has a ladies ‘auxiliary’ to strengthen its community ties for better service and more connectivity to the many, extensive government services are available throughout our communities, the United States, and the world.
But back at the turn of the last century, it was a far different world — and a harsh and cruel place, particularly for farmers, trying to eke out a living on the land. People worked incredibly hard; many became ill and because there was no healthcare — sadly, many died early deaths. “That’s why the society started, to be there to help each other. That’s why it’s named Inseparable Friends Benevolent Society — always there to help, ‘like a family,'” explains member Bryant Fuselier, whose father, Henry Fuselier III, is a member and whose male relatives have also been part of the organisation.
The IFBS filed its founding charter with the Clerk of Court’s Office in St. Landry Parish, Opelousas Louisiana, in early 1910, even though it began life four years earlier. Later in 1910, the founding members purchased property so they would have a building to operate from; the transaction, with then help of a local man Andre Fournier, went through for the princely sum of $12.50. Over a decade later and right up to 1957, the society gave permission for the School Board of St. Landry Parish to use their building to educate children of the families in the surrounding community.
Although membership of the organisation is open, it’s not available to everybody. The IFBS board employs a strict set of entry criteria that, it says, results in a membership of like-minded people who keep it going strong and are responsible for its longevity. “You have to be 18 to join,” says Bryant, “of Catholic faith and you have to present a Baptism certificate and you have to be a direct relative of ascendant. Now, you can be an in-law, but you have to be a family member.”
Indeed, the benevolent society grew so much over the year, that by the late 1970s it was in need of a much larger location or dwelling. The members/brothers decided on a path of constructing the “Lodge”, which the members in turned purchased 20.2 acres of land besides the Lodge, for a total of $19,950 dollars, with a sizable donation from member or brother as they are referred to, Robert Lemelle Sr.
By now, the population of this select organisation that was helping people in the surrounding communities had long attracted the attention of then women-folk in the area, who, of course, were unable to join because of the gender. So in 1996, the IFBS went ahead and voted to organise the founding of the ‘Ladies Auxiliary’ of the Inseparable Friends Benevolent Society, (which was strongly supported be then President Gabriel Fuselier), has since grown from its initial membership of 35 women to approximately 75 members today.
Development of the society, both physically and in terms of its guiding protocol, continued in 1997 with the filing of Articles of Association in Louisiana that were approved by Secretary of State Fox McKeithen and the construction of a Pavilion on the grounds near the ‘Lodge’ the following year. Indeed, founding members had never intended that the society, founded in the year 1906, as they had set out that it be dissolved after a period of 99 years. But its continuing appeal in the community saw the Charter amended in 2009 so that the society would be “perpetual”.
Helping had for All
Today, the organisation is still engaged in helping others in the community, and not only for the benefit of those who are members. “The rules have obviously changed,” says Bryant of its evolution as a caring society, “but only in then part of farming and stuff. We support a lot of non-profit organizations through joints efforts, with the sick, and participating in fundraisers for those who may need assistance. We help whom we can. Of course we don’t help just members, but unfortunately you can’t help everyone.
“Some people want momentary donations and can’t even see where the money is going; that’s not how it works nowadays.”
Members are no longer just local men and women but are spread far and wide — largely due to economic reasons, to find better employment elsewhere — with many living in places like Texas and other states, while still remaining loyal members to their farming and community roots. That doesn’t mean they’re only distantly connected with the society either because they still socialise with one another and are in constant communication with the help of modern-day technology. We could say our founding fathers could have never imagined our existence today, and then who knows. Members meet on the first Sunday of every month, as well as a special gathering once a year, when we celebrate founder’s day on the closest Saturday to the 15th of August with our annual group picnic, and our IFBS convention is held the day after Christmas in which we vote and choose new officers for the upcoming year.
Norbert Auzenne has been a member of the society for more than half century. His grandfather, Italian-born Joseph Auzenne, was a founding member — one among a group of 19 farmers who came together to help one another out in times of need. As he says, if someone became sick, other would jump in and help with the livestock or crops, which typically included cotton, corn, and potatoes. This meant farms could keep going and families could keep food on the table.
Norbert decided not to follow his grandfather into farming and entered into a local vocational school and took carpentry instead, later becoming a carpenter and construction teacher at the Vocational school, a job he did for almost three decades. His grandfather, who had also spent time in France before immigrating to the US, had been a carpenter as well as a farmer; he died before Norbert was born, so he never got an opportunity to meet the man who would be so instrumental to the IFBS. As in Norbert’s case, many of our present day members took up different vocations besides tending to their land and property. Values and hard work, along with many other attributes were handed down by the 19 gentlemen who founded the organisation. Everyone is truly grateful to them.
“Those concepts, and in large part many of the ‘family’ concepts, were instruments used by the society when they formed this society with no support system… no hospital, no welfare,and no social security. So that’s why they get together, to help one another.”
Brother and current President Julius Alsandor, echoed these sentiments, “I would like to see the society continue to grow, prosper, and recruit young men in our communities; who have the values of our forefathers, who can take us into the 21st century, who have the beliefs and visions which we were founded on, and sustain what we have built the previous 110 years”. Present and past members and the 19 founding members without a doubt, believed that coming together as families should do and helping one another in the time of need, that anything was possible if we did this together, putting the ‘Man’ above first, our family could survive. 110 years later, we still live by that philosophy; then, now, and as we move forward into the future. We may bend, however, this ‘family’ will not break. To the “’IFBS 19’, Thank You,” chants Julius Alsandor.