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Curtis Bodin
Veteran to get degree 50 years after leaving NSU
By David West

NATCHITOCHES – Curtis Bodin faithfully served in the U.S. Army, raised a family and won multiple national sales championships in a division of pharmaceutical company Abbott Laboratories.

But Bodin, a Lafayette resident, always felt “an emptiness” in his life for not finishing his Northwestern State University degree.

What Bodin didn’t know is that he completed enough hours to receive an associate’s degree, and the 72 year-old will fulfill a life-long dream Friday, May 12 when he walks across the NSU graduation stage Friday -- 50 years after when he would have received his original degree

Just before his senior year, Bodin was drafted into the Army. After five years in the military, Bodin had family obligations that prevented him from completing his bachelor’s degree. However, he had earned enough hours to earn an associate degree from NSU.

Several weeks ago, Bodin attended a Sigma Tau Gamma reunion and struck up a conversation with Associate Director of Alumni Affairs Van Erikson.

“I was curious why I received an invitation to the Golden Jubilee even though I never graduated,” said Bodin. “ I attended alumni events and Sigma Tau Gamma reunions over the years, but didn’t feel like I was an alumnus since I didn’t graduate. I asked Van why I got an invitation and he said he would look into it.”

Several days later, Erikson called Bodin to let him know he would be receiving his degree.

“When I found out, it was the biggest shock of my life,” said Bodin. “I always felt an emptiness because I was not able to graduate.”

In the mid 1960s, Bodin was enjoying his time at Northwestern State. He was majoring in accounting and was a member of Sigma Tau Gamma. Bodin was on the staff of the campus yearbook, Potpourri. Things suddenly changed.

 “I got a letter from Uncle Sam that said ‘We Want You,’’’ said Bodin.

Bodin did basic training at Fort Polk, and then was stationed around the country as he learned to pilot a helicopter. Bodin received the rank of warrant officer and was assigned to the 101st Airborne Division in Vietnam.

“I praise Northwestern for preparing me to go into the military,” said Bodin. “I had never flown anything other than a kite, but they prepared me for what I did for the rest of my life.”

After a tour of duty in Vietnam, Bodin returned home and received an honorable discharge. He had an 18-month old daughter and six-month old son and needed to provide for them.

“Going back to college to finish my degree just wasn’t in the cards,” he said.

Bodin put his skills to work as a helicopter pilot in the oil industry for four years. He decided to make a major career change and applied for a job in pharmaceutical sales with Ross Products, a division of Abbott Laboratories.

In a 25-year sales career, Bodin won seven company national championships in sales, the most ever by anyone in the sales district, but his career in sales wouldn’t have gotten started without a Ross executive willing to take a chance on him.

“The pharmaceutical sales field required a college education,” said Bodin. “The gentlemen who hired me realized I was as prepared as the others he hired with a degree and got a waiver to hire me.”

Bodin retired in 2003. The May 12 commencement at NSU will be another milestone for Bodin.

“This fills a big hole for me,” he said. “Even as I talk about it, I get a bit emotional.”