Transformative Gift from Arlen “Benny” Cenac, Jr. to Renovate Greenhouse, Name Building After Father

Benny Cenac Bridge Donation 2019 (Misty Leigh McElroy/Nicholls State University) 8/19/19

THIBODAUX, La. — Nicholls State University is excited to announce a $1.2 million gift from local businessman and philanthropist Arlen “Benny” Cenac, Jr. 

Of that,  $500,000 will be used for the Nicholls Greenhouse Renovation Project. The gift will allow Nicholls to demolish the existing facility and build the Arlen Cenac Greenhouse in honor of his father pending ULS Board approval. The glass portion will be constructed at a later date. 

The new multi-use building will include a classroom to hold community cooking and gardening classes and a kitchen space. The facility has been designed to host events and receptions for campus activities and for rent to the public. Once constructed, the glass greenhouse will house hydroponic towers to grow vegetables and herbs that are used in the classroom and sold to the community by the Bridge to Independence Program and the Chef John Folse Culinary Institute.  

“I was first introduced to the Bridge program about three years ago, and I immediately saw how marvelous the program was. To see the students’ faces and to see them grow and learn on their own, to be independent, it meant a lot to me,” Cenac said. “I get a lot of requests for money but this one hit close to home for me because I have a son with a physical disability. When they talked about the new greenhouse, I said this is something I have to do.” 

Demolition of the old building and greenhouse took place in February, and construction of the new facility began in April. The construction of the glass greenhouse will begin once the multi-purpose facility is complete.

“We have many generous donors, but Mr. Cenac is a game changer for us. He is transforming the lives of these young people,” said Dr. Jay Clune, Nicholls president. “Bridge to Independence gives opportunity and purpose to special students who have so many gifts to give in life. And this gets them started on that road.” 

The remaining $700,000 of Cenac’s donation will go to the Nicholls Foundation and be used for campus activities and sponsorships across campus.

The Nicholls Foundation manages approximately $25 million in endowed funds and provides about $2 million annually to the university through over 26 endowed scholarships and 63 professorships. Additionally, the Foundation assists with ongoing needs across the campus through annual funding and major donor acquisition efforts with a focus on facility improvements and construction.

A long-time boat captain and offshore captain, Arlen Cenac, Sr.,was the president and owner of Cenac Towing Company from 1964 to 1983. 

Third-generation owner of Cenac Marine Services, Cenac has also dedicated himself to Nicholls and the community. He has served on the Nicholls College of Business Advisory Board, Nicholls University Foundation and the board of Restore or Retreat. He is also a member of Waterways Operators, the South Center Industrial Association, the Bayou Community Foundation, and the Greater New Orleans Foundation. 

“Nicholls is my alma mater, and I try to give back as much as Nicholls gave to me,” Cenac said. “I was very fortunate to come to school here. Nicholls gave me the foundation to be successful in life. It’s an institution that I believe in and I believe it has been great for the Bayou Region.”


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