Associate Editor

From left are Rotarians Brent Coreil and Brian Ardoin, District Attorney of the 3rd and Basile native JDC John Belton, and Rotary President Peter Strawitz. (Gazette photo by Nancy Duplechain)

The District Attorney for the 3rd Judicial District, which includes Lincoln and Union Parishes, and Basile native John Belton was the guest speaker at the Ville Platte Rotary’s May 11 meeting. Belton was the guest of board member Brian Ardoin who has been knowing Belton most of his life. He introduced Belton as a family man and briefly highlighted his professional career. Belton was an Assistant District Attorney in the Third JDC, which includes Lincoln and Union parishes. He was elected as District Attorney in 2014 and was re-elected in 2020 without opposition. A distinguished businessman, Belton is also the past president of the Louisiana District Attorneys’ Association and Vice President of the National District Attorney’s Association. “I could go on and on, to be honest,” said Ardoin. “He has a significant amount of accolades. I’m just happy to be able to call him my friend.”

Belton had a second introduction by way of his old friend, Brent Coreil who said of Belton, “These people will never know how much respect I have for you as a person.” Coreil said when he was District Attorney, he would meet Belton at conferences, unaware he was from Evangeline Parish. “I had so much respect for this young man who was so eloquent and knowledgable, and a really good person. Then I found out he was from Evangeline Parish, from Basile, Louisiana, and that made it the better for all of us.” Coreil told his fellow Rotarians, “I cannot express to you the confidence I have in John, and the trust I have in his ability as a district attorney. I just want you to know that he is, dearly, my friend.” He added he knew Belton’s father well, saying he was also a friend. “John’s father came to me many times, not about himself, always about someone else. That’s what John is about, not himself but for everyone.”

Belton said of his return visit to his home parish, “I’ve been overwhelmed with the hospitality over the last two days. I’m really at home. This is where home is for me.” He went on to speak of his strong Christian faith being the reason for his success, saying his most important title is being a “soldier for Christ. Because of that title, I have these other titles.” Belton continued, “I share that with young people all the time. If you put God first, everything else will come in life. It may not be easy, God knows we all have our trials and tribulations, but if we have faith and keep that faith in God, you’ll get through it, because God is always with us and He will never forsake us.”Belton spoke of the values of a small town, saying, “You can have New York. You can have New Orleans. You can have big cities, but I’ll take Basile and Ville Platte and Ruston any day of the week.” A fellow Rotarian himself, he thanked the Ville Platte Rotarians and other organizations here for opening meetings with prayer. “Those are values we should never let go.”

A grin spread across Belton’s face as he reminisced about growing up in Basile. “We had two caution lights and I’m proud of both of them,” he joked. “That’s about all we have in Basile, but we have a lot of good people.” He talked about his time as a young man, working on a farm all day for $5 a day and a meal, adding he was more excited about the delicious meal than the $5. Working on a farm taught Belton the value of hard work and a valuable lesson: “When a farmer plants a seed in the soil, he has to have faith for God to provide the rain. It taught me a valuable lesson in life, that it’s important for me to work hard, and if I work hard, God will provide.”Born with crooked legs, doctors told Belton’s parents his legs were so bad they would have to break them. His parents trusted God and said not to break them. Braces were used instead, and he became one of the fastest football players on his high school team, making All State and getting the honor of being named Most Valuable Player in the State of Louisiana in his senior year. He went on to play football at McNeese State. “Ladies and gentlemen, I’m the black Forrest Gump,” he joked. His wife even gave him a license plate that reads: “Run, Forest, Run!” as an anniversary gift.

Belton said kids would make fun of him for the braces on his legs, but his mother encouraged him, telling him he could “fly like an eagle and run and not be weary.” As for the kids who picked on him, he said one of the toughest things he had to learn in life was how to love his enemy. “I heard so many cruel things. We always heard ‘Sticks and stones will break your bones, but words will never harm you.’ That’s a lie straight from the pit of hell,” he joked. “Words hurt,” he continued, adding his mother told him to love his enemies.

When he was a young man at McNeese, a school counselor told Belton he wasn’t college material. “I tell young people, never allow a man to define who you are. Had I listened to that counselor, I would have allowed him to define me. He has no right to define me. God defines who we are, and He says we are the heads and not the tail, we are above and not beneath, and we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us. We’re His children, and we’re made in His image. That’s what I’ll hold on to until the grave.”

Belton’s mother was a history teacher and librarian at Basile High School. His father was a decorated military veteran, receiving the Bronze Star and the Purple Heart for his service, and he was a Civil Rights advocate who marched with Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Speaking about his parents, Belton said they instilled Christian principles in him. “Yes I was born black, but I’m a Christian American. I thank God everyday for being the child of Maudie and Willie Belton. I thank God everyday for being a child of Evangeline Parish and the community of Basile. I wouldn’t give that up for anything.”