JENNINGS — Former state Sen. Gerald “Jerry” Theunissen of Jennings said Wednesday that he is honored by his appointment to the state Board of Regents by Gov. John Bel Edwards.
Speaking after his swearing in, Theunissen said he is ready to make a mark in higher education by serving as a member of the state’s top higher education policy board.
The 15-member board is responsible for planning, coordinating and budgeting for 33 of the state’s higher education institutions, including McNeese State University and Sowela Technical Community College.
“One of the biggest things facing higher education right now is the lack of stable funding,” Theunissen said. “In the last legislative session we didn’t know if higher education would be funded until the week before the session began.”
As a member of the Board of Regents, Theunissen said, he will work to seek stable funding so colleges, universities and technical schools can continue to properly perform their duties and prepare students for future careers.
“The new (Jennings) Morgan Smith (Sowela) campus was a win-win for Jeff Davis Parish,” he said, noting the joint effort of the city, parish and School Board to seek funding for the project.
Theunissen, a graduate of Jennings High School and the University of Nebraska, served in the Air Force for 21 years. He served a one-year tour in Vietnam as a combat pilot, flying over 100 missions.
His commendations include the Legion of Merit, two Bronze Stars and four Air Medals. He retired from the Air Force as a lieutenant colonel in 1974.
Following his retirement, he entered private business and was active in the local community, serving as president of the Jennings Chamber of Commerce, as well as other civic and business organizations.
In 1992, he was elected to the Louisiana House of Representatives for five years and served as chairman of the House Environmental Committee.
He was later elected to the Louisiana Senate, where he served for 11 years. During his tenure in the Senate, Theunissen served as chairman of the Senate Education Committee.
Due to term limits he retired from the Legislature in 2008.
Theunissen also served as chairman of former Gov. Bobby Jindal’s Education Transition Team.
He remains active as a consultant for several entities in Southwest Louisiana.
He was married to the former Pat Reaud for 61 years, until her death in February. He has three children, five grandchildren and four greatgrandchildren.