Bonnie Brown: Q&A with Former Continuing Education, Bruce Bellande

*The latest installment in the Ole Miss Retirees features is former continuing education, Bruce Bellande. The organization’s mission is to enable all of the university’s faculty and staff retirees to maintain and promote a close association with the university. It is the goal of the Ole Miss Faculty/Staff Retirees Association to maintain communication by providing opportunities to attend and participate in events and presentations.

I’ve known Bruce and his wife Mary Betsy for many years and worked with Bruce at Continuing Education (now Outreach) on campus.  Although they left Oxford and continued a successful career, they returned and happily rejoined their community here. Read about his Ole Miss story.

Brown: Where did you grow up?  What is special about the place you grew up?  Talk about your family and childhood.

Bellande:   I was brought up in Biloxi, Mississippi.  Biloxi was a very different city then. The primary businesses were in seafood harvesting, processing, and sales. Tourism was also booming with large conventions filling the many hotels and restaurants. Hurricane Camille changed all that overnight. Virtually all the hotels and restaurants along the shoreline were totally destroyed. There were no casinos at that time. Nonetheless, Biloxi, during my childhood was a great place to live with plenty to do. I enjoyed fishing, swimming, water skiing, and playing sports particularly baseball, tennis, and football. I also liked to bike ride, horse ride, and street and rink roller skate. As I grew older, I played golf.

I am the fourth of five children, a family of four boys and one girl. My father, Alton Bellande, was a native of Biloxi and his ancestors came from Marseille, France. They were among the early immigrants to settle the Mississippi Gulf Coast. My mother, Hazel Bellande, was from Louisiana. I attended Catholic school in the elementary grades and public school from junior high until I graduated from Biloxi High School. Even though my family was of the working class, my father made a good living and we enjoyed a comfortable life. From the age of twelve, I worked during summers to earn spending money, to save for my first car which was a 1957 Chevy, and to save for college.

When I was nine years old, my uncle was the King of Mardi Gras, a big holiday on the Gulf Coast. I was one of two of the King’s pages. This was an unforgettable experience to be a part of the fun and frolic of being on the King’s float in the parades, and attending the Mardi Gras balls. In addition to Mardi Gras, Biloxi hosted many festivals including the annual Blessing of the Fleet (shrimp boats), the Firemen’s Day Parade, Fais do-do dances, and many seafood festivals throughout the year.

Brown:  Tell us how/when your Ole Miss “story” began?   Who hired you? How long did you work at Ole Miss?

Bellande:   During my senior year in high school, a classmate and I spent a spring weekend at Ole Miss—the first and only visit I made. After that weekend, I was certain I would attend Ole Miss the next fall which was in 1965. I was one of seven from Biloxi to attend Ole Miss that fall. I did not join a fraternity my freshman year, but did pledge Pi Kappa Alpha and was initiated in my sophomore year. The Pike life was great, a great group of young men, many of whom I still see and correspond with.

I was not a scholarly student, but did make respectable grades. I graduated in 1969, majoring in biology.  At that time, the Vietnam War was near its peak, and draft deferrals were difficult to get unless you had health conditions and was granted a 4-F status. Deferrals to attend graduate school were no longer available. Because of the demand for teachers in the sciences and with my degree in biology, the Draft Board offered me the opportunity to teach science/biology at the secondary level. With a contract in hand to teach, I was given a 2-A draft status precluding my being drafted and more than likely having been sent to fight in the war. I taught science and advanced science at the junior high level.

In order to retain my teaching contract and draft deferral, I had to earn a teaching certificate.  Accordingly, I attended education courses in summer school at Ole Miss the summer after my first year as a teacher. I needed to work, so I learned that University Extension (the Division of Outreach today) was hiring summer part-time workers.  I was interviewed by Maurice N. Inman, the Director, and offered the job. In the fall, I had to return to Biloxi to teach. During that fall, due to the nationwide protests against the military draft, the draft lottery was initiated wherein every one of draftable age was randomly assigned a lottery number. Mine was 314 which meant everyone with a number below 314 would be drafted before me. Without the risk of being drafted, I requested and was granted a release from my teaching contract. I wanted to return to Ole Miss and start graduate school, but I needed to work full-time to support myself while taking graduate courses as a part-time student. I began work at University Extension as a Staff Assistant. I worked at Ole Miss from 1970-1986. I held positions as Assistant Director and Associate Director of what then became the Division of Continuing Studies. In 1973, I was transferred to Jackson to serve as the Director of University’s Degree-Granting Branch Campus located at the University Center. In 1977, I returned to Oxford. In 1978, I earned my M.A. degree in Higher Education and in 1983 a Ph.D. degree in Healthcare Administration. I married to Mary Betsy Bryant in Oxford in 1970. Both our children were born in Oxford.

Brown:  I know you left Ole Miss and Oxford.  Can you talk about your career path since your departure and what brought you back to Oxford?

Bellande:   In 1986, I accepted a position as Director of Education with Southern Medical Education (SMA) in Birmingham, Alabama. SMA is a multi-state, multiple-specialty, and regional medical society consisting of physicians in 17 states and the District of Columbia. In 2007, I accepted the position as Executive Director of the Alliance for Continuing Education which is the international association of professionals in medical and other healthcare professions in continuing education. I relocated the headquarters from Chicago, Illinois to Birmingham. In 2007, I assumed the position as President of CME Enterprise, an accredited program offering continuing education for physicians and other healthcare professionals located in Carmel, Indiana.  At the end of 2012, I retired and Mary Betsy and I returned to Oxford.

Brown:  What are the highest and lowest points in your life? 

Bellande:  The lowest time in my life was when I graduated as an undergraduate from Ole Miss. Not only did I have to leave my many friends, but also Mary Betsy.  Also I was certain that I was going to be drafted as soon as I returned home. At that time in my life the future looked very bleak.

The highest time in my life was when our children were born healthy and beautiful. They brought joy into our lives then and it has continued as they have made us very proud of their many accomplishments.

Son Chris and wife Laura Bellande, Dylan, daughter Betsy, Blake and Austin Smith,
wife Mary Betsy and Bruce Bellande Photo courtesy of Bruce Bellande

Brown:  What is your biggest time waster?

Bellande:  Sitting on my front porch in the rocking chair or in the swing.

Brown:  What are some of the events in your life that made you who you are?

Bellande:     

  • My wonderful, loving, caring, and hardworking parents who instilled in me a strong work ethic and values
  • My teachers and mentors who taught and nurtured me
  • My good fortune in not being drafted (the Draft Board Clerk was a saint and she saved me from going to fight and possibly die in a needless and unjust war)
  • My lifelong association with Ole Miss and many memorable experiences as a student, alumnus, and employee
  • My wonderful wife, Mary Betsy
  • My mother and father-in-law, Alton and Willie Hume Bryant, whose examples taught me to respect others regardless of race, color, creed, or sexual preference
  • My intelligent, talented, and successful children who bring me pride every day
  • My two grandboys who bring joy to our lives
Grandsons Dylan and Austin Smith Photo courtesy of Bruce Bellande

Brown:  I know you and your wife Mary Betsy have traveled.  What has been your favorite trip/destination? Where would you like to travel next?

Bellande:  We are fortunate to have traveled extensively during our 47 years of marriage. We have visited most of the Caribbean islands both on cruises and land-based trips. My favorites of these beautiful islands are Barbados, Grand Cayman, and the US and British Virgin Islands, particularly St. John. We also enjoyed Bermuda. We especially enjoyed a family vacation in Montana retracing a portion of the Lewis and Clark Expedition on the Missouri River. Since returning to Oxford, we have spent several weeks in Italy and France traveling with family.

In February of 2019, we plan to go snow skiing in the Colorado Rocky Mountains with friends who have a home there. In June, as an early celebration of our fiftieth wedding anniversary, we set sail on a 15-day cruise departing from Athens, Greece, going north in the Adriatic Sea with ports of call in the Greek islands, Croatia, Venice, and Bari, and then into the Mediterranean Sea with stops at Sicily, Naples, and Rome.

Brown:  Among your friends and family, what are you “famous” for?

Bellande:  My friends would say it is my ability and propensity to have a comment, opinion, or position on most things we discuss. My family considers me to be a liberal in politics and social issues which they are not, so we rarely discuss politics.

Brown:  Tell us something about yourself that people may not know.

Bellande:  For years I was a closet smoker. Fortunately, I kicked the habit and I do not intend to ever smoke again.  

Brown:  What is your retirement routine?  What are your hobbies?

Bellande:  I am not fully retired. I work as a consultant for my former company in Indiana. However, I do not have to travel and I can work from home by computer and cell phone. In my retirement, I enjoy reading, gardening, and traveling to see my daughter Betsy, her husband, and our grandboys in Little Rock, Arkansas and also my son Chris and his wife in Washington, DC. I have also been taking one course a semester in the University’s Lifelong Learning Program. In December, I will graduate with a B.A. degree in religious studies.  I have enjoyed the classes and I have learned a great deal about religious history, spiritual cultures, and religious traditions and practices. I plan to start playing golf again in the spring. Living near the Oxford Square, I walk to and from the Square several times a day. Living in Oxford near the University is a real pleasure and we are so glad we returned here.


Bonnie Brown is a retired staff member of the University of Mississippi. She most recently served as Mentoring Coordinator for the Ole Miss Women’s Council for Philanthropy.

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