Each November, the College reserves a small place on its hectic schedule to remember the man who made it all possible. Isaac Delgado was born on November 23, 1839 in Kingston, Jamaica. His grandfather, whose name he shared, was one of the “great merchant princes” on Kingston’s famed Port Royal Street. His family was prominent in the Jewish community, where his father worked as president of the local synagogue. Isaac emigrated to New Orleans at age fourteen to help ease the financial strain on his parents, who by this point had eleven other children to care for.
In New Orleans, Isaac moved in with his uncle, Samuel, who worked as a banker. Isaac’s first job was as a clerk in a local steamboat agency. Samuel later established Delgado and Company, which went on to become a successful sugar and molasses trading firm in the then-bustling Sugar Row alongside the wharfs of the Mississippi River. Following his uncle’s death in 1905, Isaac inherited the business, which he continued to expand, slowly becoming a self-made millionaire and a prominent figure in Crescent City society.
Isaac slowly began to share his wealth among his favorite causes and charities he felt could benefit. Some of his larger donations funded the Delgado Memorial at Charity Hospital in honor of his uncle, and the Isaac Delgado Museum of Art in City Park (now the New Orleans Museum of Art). His most lasting legacy was an idea born shortly before his death, when his friend and confidant, Elenora Moss, suggested possibly establishing a trade school to educate boys. His reply: “I’d love to give a boy a trade.”
Upon Isaac Delgado’s death in 1912, a codicil to his last will and testament bequeathed a portion of his estate to the City of New Orleans for the establishment of a central trades school. After years of planning, Delgado opened its doors in September 1921 and was formally dedicated on November 23, 1921 – a date remembered by generations since as Founder’s Day.
Students place wreath at tomb of Isaac Delgado
Though much has changed over the decades, Delgado is stronger than ever. Ninety-two years later, Delgado Community College has the second-largest enrollment among all the institutions of higher education in the state of Louisiana, serving over 19,000 students each semester on multiple campuses. The College is embarking on an ambitious plan for improvement and expansion of the physical plant, which will increase the capacity to serve the regional community. The school’s population represents men and women from diverse backgrounds who attend Delgado for academic pre-baccalaureate education, professional and advanced technology career education, and occupational training.
Isaac Delgado Hall, the school’s original building, stands as a landmark on City Park Avenue, still bustling with students, faculty, and staff ninety-two years after its dedication. Adjacent to the building, pilings have been driven for Delgado’s new Learning Resource Center Annex. The new building will mirror Isaac Delgado Hall’s signature architecture, and it will provide state-of-the-art resources to serve Delgado’s students — a full-circle movement that echoes Delgado Hall’s genesis over nine decades ago.
In a survey conducted during the school’s early planning stages, the closing statement sums up the mission that Delgado Community College continues to carry on today: “It will forever be a living tribute to the life of Isaac Delgado that the people will remember him as the first giver to them, in the largest city of the South, of a considerable sum for the establishment of a school for boys. It is evident that he perceived the great needs of thousands.”