Southeastern Magazine

Giving Back: Jeanne Brooks

For Southeastern alumna Jeanne Brooks, the spring and summer of 2014 forever changed her life.

Tonya Lowentritt

December 13, 2023

In the darkest of times, one member of the Southeastern community was able to create a new light through giving to others.

For Southeastern alumna Jeanne Brooks, the spring and summer of 2014 forever changed her life. In May she lost her husband of 30 years after two major heart attacks. Just nine weeks later, her son Jordan was tragically killed in an ATV accident on the job as an interpretative ranger at Bogue Chitto State Park in Franklinton.

In 2014, Brooks had been working at Southeastern as the Library of Congress Coordinator and continued in that role for one more year.

“I was a mother and wife for 30 years, and overnight I wasn’t either one. Though she lived just a few doors from me, I was the primary caregiver of my mother, now in her 90s,” Brooks recalled. “I knew I couldn’t continue. I did all the things grief counselors say not to do. I quit my job, put my home on the market, and connected with a tour group as a counselor for students touring the United Kingdom.”

Brooks had worked at Southeastern as a “retired rehire,” having retired from both Louisiana and Mississippi schools. She worked with literally hundreds of people rebuilding schools, libraries, communities, and lives after Hurricane Katrina. This time, however, it was time to rebuild herself. Upon her return from the UK, Brooks contacted Southeastern because she felt she belonged there.

“I knew I needed to work with students, and I needed to make a difference in the lives of others,” she said. “The timing was perfect. An opening in the College of Education, Department of Teaching and Learning had become available just the day before my call. This time though, it was not with the Library of Congress program; it was as a full-time faculty member. I was exactly where I belonged!”

After a long and rewarding career, Brooks retired once again after having been a teacher for decades, reaching
thousands of students. “Retirement” though did not mean sitting in a rocking chair and knitting—not for Brooks. With no children or grandchildren, she chose to establish the Jordan Brooks Smith Endowed Scholarship to give back to those who had given her so much. Established in honor of Jordan, himself a Southeastern graduate, the scholarship will go to a student who has been admitted to Southeastern and is majoring in one of the teacher preparation programs in the College of Education.

“Education enriched my life and Jordan’s life. Even on my darkest days, it was the medical staff at University Hospital who became my family. And yes, many of those were Southeastern graduates,” Brooks recalled. “I have
a deep love for Southeastern. Across campus, across departments, Southeastern gave me so much. It is only fitting that I give back.”

After the establishment of the endowment in memory of her son, Brooks still felt like she needed to do more. She began to ask herself what she could give as a visual reminder of Jordan and what his legacy entailed.

“We were both ‘teachers,’ but in different ways, so there must be something to continue to teach generations of children,” she thought.

Therefore, after nine years of talking, researching, volunteering, fundraising, and mountains of paperwork, the Interpretative Ranger Jordan Brooks Smith Kids Trail in Bogue Chitto State Park was born. The trail is an accessible children’s trail complete with animal sculptures created for inquisitive children’s minds. Its purpose, Brooks said, is to connect children and families to nature through environmental education and hands-on experiences with native flora and fauna. One of the animal sculptures, the fox, a central part of Jordan’s legacy, includes Brooks’ handprints and those of Jordan as a child.

“Southeastern has etched its handprint on my heart,” Jeanne said. “With the Jordan Brooks Smith Endowed Scholarship at Southeastern and the Interpretative Ranger Jordan Brooks Smith Kids’s Trail at Bogue Chitto State Park, Jordan and I have etched our handprints for generations to come.”

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