Eligibility is open to students of freshman through senior level status for up to five years until graduation. The student must maintain a 2.5 grade point average. Townsend established the scholarship because he “wanted to do something to honor my deceased wife and son’s memory.”
“I thought this would be a way to help any student that might need help, who might not be able to go to college,” he said. “When my wife Dot began college, she had to work for her education. Northwestern has been a part of my life – a part of all my family’s lives – and I thought this was one way I could help the school besides supporting the symphony and athletic programs.”
The scholarship was initiated in conjunction with Townsend’s 90th birthday celebration in August.
After graduating from Coushatta High School in 1939, Townsend, moved to Natchitoches with his family, including his parents, Claude and Nelia Beaird Townsend; his brothers, Louis and Larry “Hot Shot,” and his sister, Claudine. Claude Townsend was the supervisor of the livestock barn at Louisiana Normal, as Northwestern State was then known. As a freshman, Townsend walked onto the football team and earned a scholarship. He studied and played tackle on the team until 1941. After Pearl Harbor was bombed, he enlisted in the Army Air Corps at Barksdale Air Force Base and became a pilot. Townsend was copiloting a B-25G on a combat mission in November 1943 when he was shot down over China. The entire crew was taken captive by Japanese soldiers and imprisoned. After nearly two years as a P.O.W., he was released when the war ended in 1944.
After World War II, Townsend taught and coached boys’ basketball for a year at Martin High School before resuming his undergraduate studies in agriculture at Louisiana State University. After graduating, he worked for the Agricultural Extension Service as a county agent is St. Tammany, Grant and Bienville parishes. At one time, a visiting diplomat offered Townsend the position of Secretary of Agriculture in Borneo, but Townsend tactfully declined since he did not believe that was a country in which he wanted to raise his family.
In 1956, Townsend moved his family to Coushatta because of his wife’s illness. Because a County Agent could not work in their home parish, he became a cattleman and returned to Northwestern State to earn his elementary education certification. He also later earned his plus 30 from Northwestern State. Townsend taught sixth grade at Coushatta Elementary School for eight years and at Springhill for one year before becoming the media specialist for Red River Parish School Board until his retirement in 1986. After several years of retirement living in Shreveport, Townsend relocated to Natchitoches in 1992 to be closer to his son and daughter.
Townsend met his wife, Dorothy V. “Dot” Sledge, through a 4-H Club program his senior year of high school. She was a native of Red River Parish and one of five children born to Charley and Valery Sledge. She enrolled at Normal in 1939 and continued until 1942 when she was recruited to teach home economics in Livingston Parish. In September 1942, Sledge and Townsend were married in Pine Bluff, Ark., where Townsend was in primary flight training at Grider Air Base. Townsend graduated from multi-engine flight school in Houston in February 1943 and received his commission. 2nd Lt. and Mrs. Townsend moved to Greenville, S.C., and in September 1943, he took his pregnant wife back home to Martin to stay with her parents while he was deployed overseas.
Townsend recalled buying a 1942 Ford on the black market to drive back to Louisiana and leave with his wife because her family did not have a car at that time. He hitched a ride from Barksdale back to Greenville Army Base. Dot, meanwhile, taught home economics at Martin High School while completing her education at Northwestern State. After her graduation, she taught another year at Martin before teaching home economics at Pollock, Montgomery and Saline.
In 1955, Dot became ill and in early 1956, the Townsends moved their young family from Arcadia to Coushatta to be near both sets of parents. Dot died in 1958 from a brain tumor at age 35, leaving three children, Alton Jr., 14; Cathy, 9, and Leta, 3.
Alton Townsend Jr. graduated from Northwestern State in 1966 with a double major in accounting and business administration. After serving in the United States Army at Fort Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, and completing an assignment in Vietnam, he worked as the accounting manager and assistant comptroller for hospitals in Indianapolis, Detroit and Miami. Known for efficiency and persistence toward quality in the business world, he was responsible for converting large corporations from paper and pencil calculations to computer programming. Upon his return to Louisiana in the late 1970s, he began working for the Equitable Insurance Agency and attained the distinction of Million Dollar Round Table for many years. According to his family, he was successful in the business world because he considered himself to be a servant to his clients, not a salesperson. Alton Townsend Jr. died of pancreatic cancer in January 1999.
Northwestern State has impacted many others in the Townsend family. Alton Townsend’s mother-in-law also graduated from Louisiana Normal. His elder daughter Cathy Townsend L’Herisson attended Northwestern State in a pilot program between her junior and senior years of high school in the summer of 1966 and later from 1967-68 when she married. Her husband Charles graduated from Northwestern State with a master’s degree in industrial technology in 1968. They now live in Garland, Texas, where he retired from Texas Instruments.
Younger daughter Leta Townsend Garner Brown first attended Northwestern State at age 16 after skipping her junior year of high school and graduating one year early. She attended Northwestern State until 1976. Later, while working as an accountant at the Natchitoches Mental Health Clinic, she returned to Northwestern State and earned a degree in business in 1995. She is retired from the Office of Family Services, Child Support Division, and lives in Natchitoches with her husband, Powell Ronald Brown, who holds several degrees from Northwestern State, including a B.A. in political science in 1969; M.A. in student personnel and Counseling in 1972, and M.S. in psychology in 1977. He is retired from the State Department of Health and Hospitals where he served as manager of mental health clinics in DeSoto, Red River, Sabine and Natchitoches parishes.
Daughter-in-law Karen Clevenger Townsend Gordy, Alton Townsend Jr.’s widow, received her Plus 30 from Northwestern State and was a member of the first violin section of the Natchitoches/Northwestern Symphony Orchestra and was concertmaster from 1991-1997. She earned her doctorate in teaching from Ball State University in 1997 and taught music in Natchitoches Parish from 1983-2003 when she married Buster Gordy and moved to Anacoco. She continues to give private music lessons and is active in the Vernon Parish Community Orchestra, which she founded and organized upon moving to that area.
Alton Townsend Jr. and Karen Townsend’s children, Chris Townsend and Michelle Townsend Reynolds, also attended Northwestern State. Chris Townsend is employed in Stonewall and his son attends NSU Elementary Lab School. Michelle Townsend Reynolds earned a bachelor’s degree in 1996, a master’s in 1998 and a specialist in education in 2001. She is a middle school teacher with the Vidor, Texas, Independent School District. She and her husband Michael have three children.
Alton Jr.’s eldest daughter, Deseree Brieden Crotez teacher science at Northwood High School I Rapides Parish. She earned a bachelors in education from Northwestern State in 1998 and a master’s degree in education technology in 1999. She and her husband Monty have two children.
Townsend encourages other “who have been favorably influenced by Northwestern State to contribute to promoting higher education and the financial stability of an important institution in appreciation for its contributions to our community in its past, present and future.”
For more information, contact Director of Development Drake Owens or Jill Bankston at (318) 357-4414.