A total of 1,786 degrees were awarded during the UL Lafayette’s 161st Commencement ceremonies Friday at the Cajundome and Convention Center.
When Kaliste J. Saloom Jr. entered Southwestern Louisiana Institute in the fall of 1935, he went first to the registrar’s office and then to the barber.
It was customary for incoming male freshmen to have their heads shaved. They were then issued beanies – a small, cloth hat branded with the initials SLI – to cover their baldness.
Saloom died Dec. 2 at age 99. He was a link with the University of Louisiana at Lafayette’s past who knew all six of its presidents.
When Saloom entered SLI, its enrollment was slightly over 1,000 students, and its faculty included some of the most iconic figures in the school’s history.
Edwin Lewis Stephens was in his 35th year as the school’s first president. Agnes Edwards was dean of women. Harry Lewis Griffin headed the College of Liberal Arts, and Edith Garland Dupré chaired the English Department.
Obituaries that recounted his 40-year career as Lafayette City Court judge invariably mentioned the role longevity had bestowed upon him, that of an historian.
During his four years at SLI, Saloom chronicled campus activities as an eyewitness – as a sportswriter for The Vermilion, the student newspaper; a photographer and staff member of L’Acadien yearbook; and an inaugural member of the school’s publicity department.
He also filed sports reports for the Lafayette Daily Advertiser, the Beaumont (Texas) Enterprise, and other publications.
Saloom was born on May 15, 1918. His family’s home was near the corner of what is now Jefferson and Lamar streets, four blocks from the SLI campus and “in the shadow of Martin Hall,” he later recounted. He played football, basketball and baseball in high school, but was too small to play collegiate sports. So, he turned to sportswriting.
A June 1939 profile of Saloom in the Alumni Association’s quarterly magazine said he “covered every football game, basketball game, boxing match, as well as dinners, banquets, conferences, and other activities” held on the SLI campus.
Saloom’s sports columns for The Vermilion were breezy and conversational.
In late 1937, he offered advice for freshmen: “(1) Freshman should never fail to attend the athletics events. (2) Cooperate with the cheerleaders. The success of their job depends on your support. (3) Display true sportsmanship at all times. (4) Pull for Southwestern, whether winning or losing. The athletes appreciate your support so give it to them. (5) For freshman boys only: Now that you have lost your hair, don’t go about losing your head at football games. Catch the hint?”
Saloom was also active in many student organizations and campus politics. With his “head shorn of locks,” he was elected freshman class president in 1935.
Four years later, following Saloom’s graduation, L’Acadien catalogued his hectic extracurricular schedule. He was junior class vice president (1937-1938); president of the Avatar Debating Club (1936-1937) and of the Avatar-Attakapas Forensic Society (1937-38); member of the Student Executive Council (1935-1937); secretary and vice president of the Newman Club, a Catholic student organization (1937-1939); president, Pi Kappa Delta National Debating Society; and president of Pi Gamma Mu National Social Science Society. He was also a member of the band.
He graduated “with high distinction” in May 1939 with a bachelor of arts degree.
Saloom wanted to be an attorney. There were three law schools in Louisiana at the time: Tulane and Loyola, both in New Orleans, and LSU in Baton Rouge. There was no train between Lafayette and Baton Rouge, so that eliminated the capital city. And Tulane had a better football team than Loyola, Saloom said, so he chose Tulane.
His journalism skills aided his legal studies, he later recalled. They enabled him to summarize case law to a few succinct statements. He graduated Tulane Law with honors in 1942. Following service in the U.S. Army Counter Intelligence Corps during World War II, Saloom returned to Lafayette in 1946 and opened his legal practice.
He became Lafayette city attorney in 1948. Lafayette voters elected him city court judge in 1952. He remained on the bench until his retirement in 1993.
Saloom served as president of the SLI Alumni Association from 1958-1959. His tenure coincided with a reduction in state funding to SLI, and he urged alumni to lobby their legislators for “a more equitable share of available funds.”
Saloom also lent his legal advice to the University and a host of committees. He served as parliamentarian for the panel that chose Dr. Ray P. Authement as the institution’s president in 1974.
Following Saloom’s death, UL Lafayette President Dr. Joseph Savoie eulogized him as “a walking encyclopedia of University and community history. He not only knew the facts of history, but the nuances behind the facts.
“He was an integral participant in the development and evolution of the University, and while his presence at University events will be missed, his legacy will be remembered and cherished.”
Top photo: Saloom is seen on his 1939 graduation day, as freshman class president in 1935, and in a portrait taken at the UL Lafayette Alumni Center in 2007. (Photo credits: Graduation photo from the June 1939 issue of the “SLI Alumni News”; freshman photo from the 1936 L’Acadien yearbook; and 2007 portrait by Doug Dugas for La Louisiane magazine)
Second photo: Saloom’s sports column appeared weekly in The Vermilion. He served on the student newspaper’s staff from 1935-1938. (Photo courtesy of University Archives and Acadiana Manuscripts Collection / Edith Garland Dupré Library)
Third photo: As Alumni Association president from 1958-1959, Saloom spearheaded the Program for Progress, which encouraged SLI alumni to lobby legislators on behalf of their alma mater. At a 1959 program meeting were, seated, from left, state Sen. Rexford McCullough, Lafayette; state Rep. Richard C. Bertrand, Lafayette; and Saloom. Standing, from left, were state Sen. Henry Larcade, Opelousas; state Sen. G.A. Ackal, New Iberia; and state Rep. Allen J. Babineaux, Lafayette. (Photo from July 1959 issue of "SLI Alumni News")
Bottom photo: Edith Garland Dupré Library was the site of celebration marking Saloom’s 99th birthday on May 15, 2017. From left are Joel Robideaux, Lafayette mayor-president; Saloom; Dr. Joseph Savoie, UL Lafayette president; and Jean Kiesel, the library’s reference archivist. (Photo courtesy of University Archives and Acadiana Manuscripts Collection / Edith Garland Dupré Library)