By Clayton Levins
She may have retired from teaching French at Jacksonville University, but Suzanne Carrell’s legacy of enlightening people about the country’s language and culture remains to this day.
For that 60-year track record, Carrell, 90, will be paid a visit at JU Sept. 23 by the Consul General of France to receive one of the country’s highest honors, the National Order of Merit.
The award was founded in 1963 by former French President Charles de Gaulle. It is given by the French President and recognizes distinguished civil and military achievements of those awarded, according to the French Embassy.
“I am humbled that this award is of the highest rank, and that they would recognize my efforts to help teach America about the French culture and language,” Carrell said.
The St. Augustine resident’s award, which will be presented at 3 p.m. at the Kinne University Center on campus by Consul General of France Gael de Maisonneuve, will be a nice addition to her French Legion of Honor Medal, which she received in 2002 and is the country’s highest civilian honor. The French Legion can only be given to a French native, while the National Order of Merit can be given to a citizen of any country.
In a 2002 Florida Times-Union story on the legion award, late congressman Charles E. Bennett called Carrell a “priceless asset to both our country and France.”
“She portrays the French connection in an admirable way,” he said.
Sixty years ago, Carrell and two other high school professors founded what would be known to Carrell as her “baby,” the Congress of French Culture. It’s an annual statewide high school French competition that encourages students to continue the study of the subject in college.
The congress began with three teachers and four students on the JU campus, Carrell said, but has grown to encompass more than 1,400 students and been moved to Orlando.
Carrell also co-founded the Alliance Francaise of Jacksonville, devoted to spreading the French culture and language around the city.
Carrell came to Jacksonville from France after World War II with her husband, an American Army Captain. She began teaching at JU in 1954 while it was still a junior college. She started the French program at JU, and when it became a four-year university, she helped create the French major. She taught for 35 years before retiring in 1989.
“Teaching at JU was my life, it was 35 years of my life and I loved it. It was a pleasure.”
Carrell said she looks to continue attending the Congress of French Culture for as long as she can.