Nineteen newly planted fledgling trees dot the south entrance to Kirschman Hall, a reminder of the contributions of a man University of New Orleans administrators, faculty and alumni remember as a legend.
John Altazan, founding dean of the UNO College of Business Administration, died in January at 89, leaving a legacy of service to the University that today’s university leaders say they strive to uphold. Altazan worked for UNO for five of its nearly six decades.
On Monday, UNO administrators, faculty and alumni gathered with Altazan’s widow, children and other family to dedicate the new Dr. John Altazan Plaza in his memory.
Located in the green space between Kirschman Hall and Milneburg Hall, the newly landscaped area includes a new Lucite sign that honors a man who many say saw in UNO and its students boundless capacity for success despite some early odds.
“Words like ‘pioneer’ and ‘legend’ are entirely appropriate,” UNO President John Nicklow said, “and yet he was a whole lot more to this university and these students.”
“Throughout his 50 year career at the University Dean Altazan fervently believed this this university was an essential asset to this city and this state,” Nicklow continued, “especially in its ability to provide an affordable yet quality education to those that wanted it and were willing to work for it. Those twin pillars of academic quality and accessibility make up the bedrock of this institution today.”
Marie Altazan, his wife for 58 years, stood before those gathered and said thank you. Like her husband, the former chemistry instructor came to the university in the 1950s, when classes were held at the old U.S. Naval Air Station barracks.
The garden is a fitting tribute, she said.
“John so loved trees and flowers,” she said. “After Katrina, John planted 11 fruit trees. Before he had a stroke in 2012, he went out every day to water the trees and he also planted a garden and we’re still getting grapefruit and, once in a while, an orange. I know John is looking down from his chair in heaven and remembering each one of you.”
Many family members attended the dedication from Port Allen, La. where John Altazan grew up and graduated from Port Allen High School as valedictorian in 1943. From there, he received his bachelor’s degree in accounting and a master’s degree in business administration from Louisiana State University as well as a doctorate in economics from University of Illinois.
One of his most enduring legacies is the time he spent mentoring students, especially those who might have encountered difficulties with the rigor of the business program. His mentees became known as “Altazan’s Allstars,” a group of people who often credit Altazan’s guidance for their college degrees and their careers.
Altazan retired from UNO in 2008, when the idea of creating a garden in his honor was first proposed. John Williams, the current dean of the College of Business Administration, said that given the qualities of trees, it just made sense.“They’re robust. They’re hardy. They build character. They’re vigorous. They have a dense root system. And they provide a memorable landscape,” Williams said. “Sound familiar? That was Dean Altazan.”