GONZALES — After serving on the Ascension Parish School Board for 37 years, A.J. Nickens called it quits Thursday and withdrew from the November School Board election in which he would have faced one opponent.
Nickens notified the Secretary of State’s Office of his decision Thursday.
Nickens, 76, said it was a difficult decision to make but that his family members have said “they would like for me to do more things than be on the School Board.”
“It’s been great. I have no complaints,” he said of his years on the board. “We have some younger people coming up now who I think can take the ball and run with it.”
Nickens, a Democrat, represented District 5, Seat A on the board.
After Nickens withdrew, Shawn Sevario, 47, of Prairieville, who was his opponent, will now be the board member for the district.
“It’s been hard,” Nickens said of his decision to withdraw from the race. “I feel like the school system is a part of me.”
He said that when he was first elected to the board in 1977, the district had 11 schools and now there are 30.
“We had a budget (in 1977) of $20 million a year, and now it’s over $200 million,” he said.
Nickens said that over his 37 years as a board member, he had opposition in three races, in addition to this year’s race.
Nickens, a realtor, is a native of Galvez and lives a half-mile from where he was born, he said.
“First time I ran, I knew almost everybody in my district on a first-name basis,” Nickens said.
That’s changed over the years as the parish has grown, he said.
The population growth in Ascension is one of the most striking changes he’s seen in the school district, Nickens said.
Close to 40 years ago, the parish had three high schools — as it does now — situated on the east bank of the Mississippi River with Donaldsonville High serving the west bank.
At some point, due to the small rural population in the 1970s, the three high schools on the east bank were consolidated into one school, East Ascension High School, Nickens said.
The parish started growing, and, eventually, St. Amant and Dutchtown high schools were built on the east bank.
“Now, we’re back to where we started, and we need another high school in the Galvez area,” Nickens said.
Nickens, a junior whose first name is Alton, said he’s always been called A.J.
Other members of his family served on the School Board before him, he said.
A cousin of his father’s was elected to the School Board in 1946, and one of Nickens’ uncles was elected to the board in 1957.
The cousin elected in 1946 made a motion once for the School Board to buy a horse to pull a plow so that students could grow a garden, Nickens said. The motion was approved, he said.
Nickens, who will turn 77 next month, noted that he would have been 81 when the next School Board term runs out.
Now, he said, he and his family might pick back up a love of music from years back.
He, his wife, Gwendolyn, and his four children had a gospel band called The Nickens Family that toured in the area and produced three albums.
All of the family members play several instruments, and they may put the band back together on a small scale, Nickens said.
He will continue to serve on the board until the current term ends at the close of the year.
Sevario, no party, said that, like Nickens, he was born and raised in Ascension Parish. His father is Joe Sevario, a five-term state senator, who represented District 18, which includes Ascension, East Baton Rouge, Livingston, St. James and St. John the Baptist parishes, from 1994 to 2004.
Shawn Sevario, a supervisor in the parish’s Mosquito Control Department, said his goal as a board member is to “continue doing the good job” that the board has done for a growing school district.