by Leah Jackson

Members of the Ackel family gathered to announce the Latief and Melba Ackel Scholarship, which also honors Philip and Pauline Ackel. The scholarship is endowed at the $10,000 level and will be awarded to a student majoring in business. From left are Abe Ackel, Ashli Ackel Plemmons, Martha Ackel Murphy, Rebecca Ackel Lavespere, and John Ackel.

A fully endowed scholarship has been established to honor the memory of members of a prominent Natchitoches family who were alumni and long-time supporters of Northwestern State University.  Members of the Ackel family gathered to make the presentation that will ensure the legacy of Latief and Melba Ackel, as well as Philip and Pauline Ackel, through the support of student scholarships.

“We’re very excited about this opportunity to make a donation in memory of Pauline and Philip, and of course Latief and Melba. We have lots of good memories of Northwestern and lots more to come,” John Ackel said.

Latief Ackel and his wife Melba were married 52 years and are the parents of John and Philip Ackel, Rebecca Ackel Lavespere and Martha Ackel Murphy. 

“This scholarship will help an NSU freshman majoring in business,” Lavespere said. Geographic preference will be given to students from Louisiana.  Recipients must have a 3.0 GPA or better.

Latief Ackel was a lifelong resident of Natchitoches.  He was a World War II veteran who served in the 802nd Tank Destroyer Battalion.  He served on the Natchitoches Parish Police Jury for 24 years and as jury president for several terms. He was also a member of the American Legion, V.F.W., Rotary Club, Elks Club, Natchitoches Area Action Association, charter member of the Agitators Club, Coordinating Development Council of Northwest Louisiana and Immaculate Conception Catholic Church.  Latief had served on the board of directors for First Federal Savings and Loan, was the retired owner of Ackel Brothers Shopping Center and was a local businessman for over 50 years. He passed away October 5, 1999.

Melba Masson Ackel was born in Cloutierville and graduated valedictorian of her class at Cloutierville High School in 1944. She then attended Women’s Business School in Shreveport. Her first job was with Avoyelles’s Wholesale in Alexandria as a bookkeeper for WWII Ration Stamps.  She continued working for Avoyelles in Natchitoches.  After moving to Natchitoches, she met and married John Latief Ackel in May 1947.  Melba worked at Peoples Bank and Trust Company in Natchitoches as head bookkeeper until the birth of their first child.  In later years, she worked alongside Latief in the family business, Ackel Brothers Store.

Melba Ackel was a devout Catholic and a faithful parishioner of Immaculate Conception Catholic Church where she served as a eucharistic minister.  She was also a member of Catholic Daughter Court Regina Pacis #1372, where she was named Catholic Daughter of the Year in 1988 and again in 2007. She was a Pink Lady at the Natchitoches Parish Hospital and Courtyard of Natchitoches until the age of 89 and a member of the Thursday afternoon Rosary group, which she loved to host in her home.  She passed away Feb. 18, 2020. 

Philip and Pauline Soileau Ackel met at Northwestern State and were married for 34 years. They spent many years supporting and serving St. Mary’s School, were active in the Mystic Krewe de St. Denis, and served the Mystick Krewe of Louisianians in Washington, D.C., for many years. They were parents to Abe Ackel and Ashli Ackel Plemmons, who were present for the scholarship presentation.

Philip Ackel was born on July 11, 1961, the fourth of the Ackel children. He graduated from St. Mary’s High School in 1979 and from Northwestern State in 1983 with a degree in business. He was a member of Kappa Alpha Fraternity and the Natchitoches Jaycees.  He was instrumental in continuing the legacy begun by his father and uncle as a member of the local men’s group, The Agitators.  Philip joined his mother and father in the family business, Ackel Brothers Store, until 1994.  At the time of his death, he had been employed by the Louisiana Department of Agriculture for over 25 years.  He was an avid outdoorsman who enjoyed hunting and fishing, which he and his brother learned at an early age from their father. 

Pauline Soileau Ackel was born on August 6, 1960, in Opelousas.  Pauline attended Amy Bradford Ware and later Northwestern State, earning a Bachelor of Science in Nursing.  While at Northwestern, she was a member of Tri Sigma Sorority and was selected as a member of the NSU Homecoming Court.  She later attended Texas Wesleyan in Fort Worth, Texas, earning a master’s degree in health science and a certificate of nurse anesthesia.  Pauline served as a registered nurse for the Louisiana School for Math, Science and the Arts and for over 20 years she served as a Certified Registered Nurse Anesthetist at Rapides Regional Medical Center. She was a sustaining member of the Natchitoches Service League. 

Philip and Pauline Ackel passed away Sept. 20, 2020.

“This scholarship is especially meaningful to me as the relationship between the Maggio and the Ackel families dates back well over a century,” said NSU President Dr. Chris Maggio. “Natchitoches was formed in large part at the Ackel store.  Many students shopped there, and I just know how happy Mr. and Mrs. Ackel and Phillip and Pauline would be right now, knowing that this scholarship has been established to assist students in earning a degree from NSU.  I would like to thank the Ackel family for establishing this endowed scholarship as it will help students and NSU for generations to come.”

“It’s special to do this for Melba and Latief, and also for Pauline and Philip,” said Drake Owens, executive director of the NSU Foundation. “We will be the best stewards for these funds and ensure that they are put to the best use to help a future Northwestern student find success.”

The Latief and Melba Ackel Scholarship is endowed at the $10,000 level.

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