A tradition of service: Dinvaut family’s legacy lives on

Published 11:00 am Sunday, March 19, 2023

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“To know one life has breathed easier because you have lived…This is SUCCESS!”

Those were the words Corine Pipion Dinvaut lived by. She and her husband, Rudolph G. Dinvaut, had a lot in common as U.S. Veterans, coaches, and career educators in St. John the Baptist Parish.

Driven by faith and bound by a passion for serving others, the community-minded couple built a legacy that lives on through their three daughters. Billie Dinvaut-Duncan, Bonnie Dinvaut and Bridget Dinvaut strive every day to live up to the example their parents set.

“To them, success was never materialistic,” said Bridget Dinvaut, who has served as District Attorney of St. John Parish since 2015. “It was always about being spiritual, thankful for every blessing, and able to give back.”

Rudolph Dinvaut served in the U.S. Army during his younger years, while Corine was part of the Navy WAVES and also served as a basketball coach for the United States Navy. Education and athletics were at the heart of their respective careers as they grew their family on the West Bank of St. John Parish. Corine taught at Leon Godchaux Grammar and Fifth Ward Elementary, and Rudolph served as a coach and principal at Second Ward High School, later known as West St. John.

The Dinvaut daughters grew up camping in an RV and tailgating at Southern University, their parents’ alma mater. Each summer, their daddy would have them focus on a specific sport, whether it was basketball, softball, tennis, swimming, or running track. Their household was built around structure and discipline, but it contained just as much love.

“We had a very strong Christian upbringing, and that’s where a lot of the service comes from. We always gave thanks, no matter what our situation was,” Bridget said. “Our parents taught us that you could do anything if you put God first and if you have an open mind and an open heart with the intention of helping somebody else.”

Much of Rudolph and Corine’s community service was done quietly, without any expectation of recognition.

Corine would pay tuition to help other families afford a Catholic education. With a goal to see all children succeed academically, she would often hold after-school tutoring around the table at her home. She’s remembered as a charming, classy lady and a dedicated parishioner of Our Lady of Grace Catholic Church who always took a special interest in Black History Month and Martin Luther King Jr. Day programs. She had big plans for her retirement that sadly never came to fruition, as her family lost her early to cancer in 1992.

Rudolph was hugely successful in his coaching career, especially coming from such a small community. His impact extended beyond the field as he became a father figure to the young men who he coached. If a child needed a ride to get to school, he was there. Years later, his daughters are still hearing accounts of how he changed lives and even saved them.

According to Bonnie Dinvaut, Rudolph was blessed to see the fruits of his labors when special legislation was passed to name West St. John’s Rudolph G. Dinvaut Stadium in his honor while he was still living.

Building on Rudolph’s commitment to his home, community and West St. John was the birth of the Rudolph G. Dinvaut Athletic Foundation in 2004.

“Our Daddy believed that sports made you a better student and a better person,” Bonnie said. “Daddy wanted to give back to the community. Being that it’s such a small community and West St. John is such a small school, there’s not a lot of financial support that comes through. He wanted to form this foundation to ensure that these kids had some of the same things the other kids had when they would go play other teams.”

In 16 years, the foundation raised roughly $500,000, providing for equity in athletic equipment and uniforms, as well as scholarships for students.

The annual Rudolph G. Dinvaut Athletic Foundation golf tournament had a two-year break due to the COVID-19 pandemic but will be starting up again this year with a four-man scramble scheduled for April 21 at Riverlands Country Club.

The Dinvaut sisters are at the helm of their father’s foundation today, but they also strive to make a difference in little ways by helping out whenever a need arises.
“Our parents are our role models, number one, because of the moral and ethical behavior that they demonstrated,” Bonnie said. “They showed us how to go forward, and that is how we live our lives to this day.”

Both Billie and Bonnie landed in education after having worked in the private sector for years. Bonnie had established her career with Nielsen Entertainment and was working in Washington DC as a project manager for a telecommunications company when her mother fell ill. She returned home just to visit, and her mom asked if she could go into her classroom to watch her kids. The memory still brings Bonnie to tears because it was the turning point in her life that steered her path to becoming a kindergarten and early elementary teacher.

Bonnie has now been in education for 31 years, and she was proud to serve the community she calls home at Fifth Ward Elementary. Today, she serves as supervisor of instructional technology for the St. John Parish School District, and she plans to be fully retired by May 2024.

Billie’s journey to education was influenced by her father. She recalled that Rudolph Dinvaut wasn’t a man of many words, but when he spoke, it was usually something profound.

Billie had been in the business industry for nearly 20 years and had welcomed two children when her father asked her, “Do you know why you and your sisters never got into any trouble?”

“Because Mom would have killed us,” she answered.

“No,” he responded. “It’s because when you guys were off, we were off.”

He asked Billie if she’d ever considered going into education, and at first her answer was a resounding “no.” But the thought stuck with her, and she ended up starting her journey as a teacher while living in North Carolina. Later, she returned home to teach at East St. John High School, and she currently serves as the coordinator of curriculum, assessment and instruction.

“Before I got started, he told me the one thing he wanted me to make sure I do is treat students the way I would want someone to treat my own kids. That’s what I’ve done. I have a lot of great relationships with students that have passed through my hands in the last 17 years,” Billie said.

Rudolph Dinvaut’s words also guided Bridget’s path as she started her career as a police officer. He reminded her, “When you are a police officer, you can’t just protect the people that you love. You have to protect everybody.”

Like her sisters, Bridget worked out of state before being drawn back home. She was working in the federal system in the Southern District of Miami prior to 9/11. Her father wasn’t well at the time, so she returned to St. John Parish to be with him and attend law school.

Bridget has since become the first African American District Attorney in Louisiana and the first woman to serve as president of the Louisiana District Attorneys Association. While she doesn’t work in education like her parents and sisters, she has introduced a number of programs to move today’s youth in the right direction, including Education Matters, St. John P.R.O.U.D., Opportunity Now, the Juvenile Diversion Program, and the Restorative Justice Electronic Classroom.

“With the strong connection and bond in our family, I think it was inevitable that we would be drawn back home,” she said. “As you get older and you transition and evolving your journey, you return back to your roots.”