Dr. David Fisher, World War II Army veteran and lifelong educator, joined Jan Swift of Discover Lafayette, to discuss his storied life and the many adventures he has enjoyed in his 94 years.
We salute this hero among us who on October 2, 1945, was awarded the Distinguished Flying Cross for his extraordinary service in the Pacific Theatre. Well-known for his lifelong dedication to education, he and his family are the proprietors of Fisher Early Childhood Education Centers in Lafayette
While his birthplace, the community of Evangeline, is no longer on the map, he recalled a happy childhood in the town that was the first site of the drilling of an oil well in Louisiana. For the story of that first oil discovery and commercial well drilled in Louisiana in 1901, visit http://www.energyglobalnews.com/jennings-oilfield-the-birthplace-of-louisianas-oil-industry-in-1901/.)
Born in 1925, his grandfather and father worked for Gulf Oil, and the town was full of shallow oil wells. Dr. Fisher remembers learning how to swim with the other kids in the salt dome tanks filled with the water diverted from the wells as drilling occurred. It was a time for simple pleasures. But his life would change at the age of 10 when his mother died from double pneumonia. The family moved to the “big town of Jennings” nearby soon thereafter and he lived with his grandparents.
After graduating from Jennings High School in 1943, Dr. Fisher joined the Army when he turned 18 and he trained to be a radio operator. He was placed on a B-29 crew and stationed in Guam, flying 22 missions over Japan.
It is not common knowledge that WWII didn’t end with the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki. When Japanese Emperor Hirohito refused to unconditionally surrender to the Allied Forces, the Last Combat Mission was flown on the evening of August 14, 1945. Dr. Fisher’s crew was on one of the B-29’s that strategically targeted the bombing of transportation centers and factories in Japan in this last effort to end the war. When their plane ran short on fuel on the return to Guam, they were forced to land in Iwo Jima, and that is where Dr. Fisher and crew learned on August 15, 1945, that the Japanese had finally surrendered.
Happy to see the war successfully completed, Dr. Fisher was honorably discharged on November 22, 1945. He returned to Louisiana and enrolled at SLI (Southwestern Louisiana Institute) at the age of 20 in the Spring of 1946, and happily recalls how he met his future wife, Shirley, when “she was in her last semester and he was in his first.”
Although he had never seen a college football game before he attended SLI, Dr. Fisher had a “successful athletic career” as he put it, and served as Captain of the football team. He was the youngest person on the team, as most of the players had served longer than him during WWII and were in their middle 20’s and older. He also excelled in track, served as Co-Captain of the team, and tried out for the Olympics. As one of the youngest players, he recalls he was also one of the youngest in his air crew while serving during the war.
Fisher’s athletic prowess was noticed by the pros, and he was drafted by the Chicago Bears and Baltimore Colts but declined, as he was more interested in returning home to Jennings where he had accepted a job as Assistant Coach at Jennings High. Dr. Fisher noted that at that time, professional football players weren’t as highly compensated as they are now and he has never looked back on that chapter of his life. He was ready to marry Shirley Rhodes and begin their life together.
Shirley and David Fisher enjoyed a happy life during the 1950s and beyond, living first in Jennings and then moving to Lafayette in 1959 where they bought property in South Lafayette from legendary post-war builder, D. S. “Shine” Young. Fisher continued his education, earning both a Masters and Doctorate in Physical Education from LSU. His doctoral dissertation focused on the importance of physical activity in young students and the affect it has on their ability to learn and grasp concepts.
Shirley was certified as a kindergarten teacher in college and had also taught 2nd grade while teaching during their time in Jennings. In 1961, she opened up one of Lafayette’s first kindergarten programs which she operated in their home, and the school quickly grew to over 140 children by 1970. When kindergarten began to be offered in the public school system, she added programming for 2, 3 and 4 year olds. The Fishers always understood the impact that early childhood education had on a student’s future success in learning. To accommodate the growing number of children, they added on to their home’s footprint which was situated on two large lots.
In 1970, the Fishers moved their pre-school program out of their home to its present location on Ridge Road in Lafayette, which was the original Holy Cross Church. In 1973, they purchased property on E. Farrel Road for a second location of the Fisher Early Childhood Development Center. Dr. Fisher joined Shirley full time in the business in 1980. Fisher’s South Lafayette location on E. Farrel Road opened in 1998. Dr. Fisher lovingly recalls that “I cut the grass on that lot for 25 years!” Today, Dr. Fisher’s son, Lindsey Fisher, serves as Director of the school.
David and Shirley Fisher had seven children. During their earlier days, the Fishers traveled the country on vacations with all seven children nestled in the back of their station wagon with all the luggage piled on top. In fact, at times there were 17 pieces of luggage secured on top of the station wagon. When asked to explain the secret of staying married for 64 years, Dr. Fisher noted that “I believe Shirley and I were put on this earth to have a family. I believe that is our contribution to the world. I’m proud of all of them.” While there may have been a few words exchanged as Shirley insisted that all 17 bags be taken down from their car and stowed overnight each time they stayed in a motel while on the road, David Fisher looks back with love on the times shared together.
Jan Swift of Discover Lafayette met Dr. David Fisher through his daughter, Susan, as well as prior guest of Discover Lafayette, Olivia Savoie of Raconteur Story Writing Services, who assisted him in writing and gathering photos for his memoir. While Dr. Fisher had recorded his thoughts and memories throughout the years, Olivia’s editing and publishing skills helped him organize his story and made the finished result “4000 times better.” Shirley Fisher had been a prolific photographer throughout their life together and his children helped find photos that portrayed their lives and times. The resulting book was a beautiful memoir that also lays out the history of post-WWII and the early days of Lafayette’s growth.
Dr. Fisher was honored many times throughout his life, including by University of Louisiana at Lafayette in 2012. He has served his country with distinction, worked at UL-Lafayette and in his community to further educational efforts of our young people, and has raised a family of which he is proud. We give many thanks to David Fisher for taking the time to visit with Discover Lafayette and share his voice and love of country.