Reprinted from Inside Northside, February-March 2002 by Ann Gilbert Walk up the wooden steps at H. J. Smith’s Sons Hardware store on Columbia Street in Covington and meet the fifth generation of Smiths to work in the business, founded in 1875. In his museum next to the hardware store, “Red” Smith will show you 1910 receipts for wagon wheels and farm implements delivered by schooners, which docked at the foot of Columbia Street. Former Covington City Council woman Pat Clanton calls the Columbia Street Landing the “birthplace of the city.” When the Bogue Falaya River became polluted, the path to the landing became overgrown and forgotten. Clanton worked to reclaim this part of the city’s history, and it is now the site of many public gatherings. Everywhere you turn in Covington, you bump into history. The Ox-Lots
Mayor Keith Villere notes that Covington is on the National Register of Historic Places not because of its architecture, but because of
a unique characteristic of its mid-town layout, the ox-lots. Each block in mid-town has an open center that can be reached by an alley from two streets. “These lots were more French in origin than English. The English had one
Covington: Living History huge square in the village, not open areas in the center of each block. The original use was not to stable oxen. That came later,” he says. In recent years, the city went to court to reclaim the ox-lots as city property because businesses were encroaching on them. Sunnybrook Andrew Jackson’s camp
In 1814, on his way to meet the British, Andrew Jackson passed through Wharton, as Covington was then known. His overland route took him from Mobile to Madisonville, where his troops boarded a mail packet run by William Collins, brother of the founder of Covington. It is believed that Jackson traveled Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 37
Covington what might have been an old Indian trail and is today known as Military Road. One of Jackson’s men, an engineer, kept a diary in which he described the river, which the Indians called Little Bogue Falia. The troops stopped at “the old cantonment.” The owners of Sunnybrook on Military Road believe Jackson camped on their property. Legend has it that the general hung two men from one of the historic trees on the property, six of which are members of the Live Oak Society. (The diarist wrote that Wharton was a small new town containing “a few ordinary buildings.” He suggested that only pine trees would grow here and that tar and turpentine would be good products to export, but the settlers would have to be “much more industrious.” Jackson’s engineer was correct. In the 19th century, the Covington area did indeed export tar, pitch, turpentine and charcoal, in addition to lumber, sand, bricks and lime. In the 20th century prior to World War II, St. Tammany became known as the “pink parish” with the blossoming tung oil trees on vast farms.) The Read House and General Butler
Legends about Civil War General “Spoons” Butler are tied to the Read house at the end of South America Street in Covington. Butler and his troops occupied New Orleans during the Civil War, and he supposedly used the house as his northshore headquarters. He confiscated the valuables of those who refused to pledge allegiance to the Union; hence, the nickname, “Spoons.” He was also called “Beast” Butler because he issued an order stating that any woman showing disrespect to his soldiers would be considered a woman of the streets plying her trade. A copy of the edict is displayed in the house.
trading center, linking the river to the lake and New Orleans,” says former parish archivist Todd Valois. From its early years until 1936, schooners and, later, steamers traversed the lake, stopping at Mandeville, Lewisburg, Madisonville, and then up the two rivers to Old Landing at the end of Jahncke Street and the Columbia Street Landing in downtown Covington. The boats brought supplies for the town and neighboring farms and plantations; they brought relocating families with all their belongings; and they brought excursionists, who were coming to visit for the day or the week. Cotton was brought in from north of town and Mississippi plantations. The wagons pulled by teams of oxen reportedly lined Columbia Street from the cemetery to the landing. In the 1850s, the U.S. government announced that the northshore was the second healthiest place in the country, because of so few deaths from diseases such as yellow fever and malaria. That, coupled with the discovery of minerals in the many springs, brought a flood of people seeking healing, rest and recuperation in the pine-scented air of Covington and its environs. Physicians thought the ozone air had favorable effects on diseases of the lungs and throat. The vacationers needed a place to stay, and Covington and its environs were dotted with resorts and hotels, where the cost was about $1 a day, including meals. One 1850s boarding house was the Swiss Chalet run by the Hosmer sisters on Jahncke Street, which was named after the German family that donated the shell for the road. A carriage called the ferry line ran down Jahncke to Old Landing. The Hosmer family operated a sawmill on the Bogue Falaya River. They sold 1,100 acres to the Benedictine monks in 1901. The Farmer
The River and the Lake
“Covington became the hub, the main 38 I ns ide N orthside
Carol Jahncke researched back issues of The Farmer and compiled the book, “Mr. Kentzel’s
Bicentennial Covington.” Kentzel was an early publisher of the paper that was founded in 1874 and is believed to be the oldest continuously operating business in St. Tammany Parish. Jahncke’s book tells how the editor would rally town folk behind projects he deemed important—a railroad, school, town hall, fire company and, especially, good roads and bridges. The Farmer’s publisher today is Karen Goodwyn Courtney, the great-granddaughter of Nat Goodwyn, who began setting type at the paper in 1911. Christ Episcopal Church
St. Tammany lost 1,000 men between the censuses of 1850 and 1860, leading some to believe they were Confederate soldiers. Bishop Leonidas Polk, who would become known as the “Fighting Bishop,” dedicated Christ Episcopal Church in 1847. The church is considered the oldest continuously occupied, non-residential building in the parish. The Courthouse and Tugy’s
As the city watches the fourth courthouse being constructed, few realize the structure housing the first one, built in 1818, still stands in the Claiborne Hill area, which was the parish seat. The walls are 18 inches thick. On the grounds is a cottage believed to predate the courthouse. The Courthouse Annex on Boston Street was the grand old Southern Hotel, built in 1907. Covington Special Projects Coordinator Jan Roberts hopes to see it become an inn when the new courthouse opens. Mayor Villere notes that Tugy’s, first opened in the hotel by Mr. Tugenhaft, is probably the only bar in a courthouse building in the United States! Mill Bank Farm
Katie Planche Friedrich’s grandfather left New Orleans for the northshore during the Civil War. “The family spoke Parisian French,” she says. “As a child, I can remember my parents
and aunts abruptly switching to English when I entered the room.” Her father opened the first icehouse in Covington in the early 1900s. Friedrich still lives on land on the Bogue Falaya River settled by her father, who was quite the entrepreneur, operating the water works and the electric company. He also brought a French baker to Covington. “Papa named his place Mill Bank Farm, after the sawmill on the river.” Today, Friedrich’s bed and breakfast in the circa 1830 house carries the same name. Schoen Middle School
The oldest school in St. Tammany— Schoen Middle School on Jefferson Ave., circa 1915—was recently converted to administrative offices. It has its own claims to fame. Lee Harvey Oswald attended briefly, and Governor Earl K. Long’s sanity hearing was held in the stifling school gym in 1959. Long had been committed to the state mental hospital in Mandeville. The PTA served lemonade, and some students were allowed to observe the spectacle. The Railroad, the Causeway and Intercity Rivalry
The causeway would eventually flood the northshore with newcomers, but it was the railroad, which finally punched through to Covington in 1887, that first changed the face of the city. An 1880s issue of The Farmer tells New Orleans reporters to cease calling Covington a suburb. “This is a clean, moral, healthy place...and we do not want New Orleans to make itself respectable by counting Covington as a suburb.” Just recently, the parish council heard local residents fuss about the St. Tammany Tourist Commission billboard on the interstate stating that St. Tammany was “New Orleans Northshore.” The more things change, the more they stay the same. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 39
Reprinted from Inside Northside, February-March 2002
Not one to sidestep any debate, I recently found myself engaged in what I thought would be a juicy topical session regarding the old courthouse. Boy, was I ever wrong! While attending to affairs in Covington, I happened to overhear a raging debate over
Courting St. Tammany the status of the old courthouse. Of no small font of knowledge, I chimed in with my two cents’ worth and advised that the best thing that could happen to that architectural encroachment would be the business end of a wrecking ball. “And just why would you want to see the destruction of such a lovely old structure?” my conversationalist queried. 40 I ns ide N orthside
I was taken aback, knowing my debating partner to be of unquestioned wisdom. I was then informed that the courthouse in question was the Old Courthouse. Not the old courthouse. “The Old Courthouse ... oh, you mean the one they tore down to build “the new courthouse?” “ “NO ... nothing of note was torn down for construction of the new courthouse!” “Wait ... hold on. Let’s see, we have a new courthouse under construction ... due to open in 2002. And we have an old courthouse on Boston Street, currently very occupied. So, do you mean the ‘old old’ courthouse? The one that was at the site of the new old courthouse before the new old courthouse became the old courthouse?” “Now hold on just a minute, Mr. Know-itall! If you’re trying to be cute, how ‘bout trying for the ‘old old old’ courthouse?” “Well now ... this is a topic of interest. We have a courthouse as in a ‘triple old’ courthouse?” “Yes, we do!!! And it is located where over 100,000 vehicles a day pass ... right in front, as a matter of fact! Gottcha!!” I had to confess. I was at a loss. We,
the residents of St. Tammany Parish, have a courthouse where over 100,000 cars a day pass. I know we have traffic problems, but I couldn’t begin to imagine just where this Old Courthouse was located. “Okay ... ‘fess up. How ‘bout I spring for a cup of coffee and you shed some light on this for me?” We made our way to the local coffee emporium on Boston Street and took up prominent positions where only the pontificators and kibitzing adherents dare to sit. A fascinating story began to unravel about an early settlement on the east side of the Bogue Falaya known as the Town of Claiborne. Many old timers still call the area Claiborne Hill, or the Hill or simply Claiborne. It is one of the busiest intersections in western St. Tammany, where Highways 190, 25, 21 and 36 meet. You know, right there where you try to turn to get into Covington ... where the overpass is ... yes, that’s Claiborne! (I checked with the DOTD, and actual traffic counts approach 86,000 vehicles per day.) Okay, I know I’m digressing. Let’s see ... the Town of Claiborne, the original landing
on the Bogue Falaya ... and one of the highest points of land around. The property in question, for all of you who are craning your memories—and maybe your necks—is located on the west side of the highway behind Covington Pontiac. This parcel of land was acquired by Byrne Lobdell’s parents in the 1940s. Robert Lobdell, a noted architect and architectural historian, bought the original “Covington” courthouse property and restored this lovely structure into one of the most charming homes in western St. Tammany Parish. Constructed in 1815, the site has served as the courthouse, a hotel and, for the past sixty years, the Lobdell residence. Designed originally as a simple block house of masonry and frame members, the galleries were added later. The Old Old Old Courthouse is a historical and architectural gem that should be shared with the public and preserved for future generations. So, the next time someone wants to lecture you on the old courthouse, you can say that, unless it’s the one at Claiborne, you’re not up for such a pedestrian debate. The old timers will know what you mean! Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 41
Reprinted from Inside Northside, February-March 2002 by Ann Gilbert
“Jacques Dreux was my great-great-greatgreat-uncle,” Covington Mayor Keith Villere says slowly. “He was the one who sold the land to the founder of Covington, John Wharton Collins.” The mayor divulged this bit of family genealogy when he was asked if he had some stories to share about historic Covington. It is the same throughout this town, which is
Covington’s founding families live on the parish seat of St. Tammany. All over the community, one meets people whose relatives settled here a long, long time ago. The mayor’s ancestor was given a Spanish land grant of 40 arpents x 40 arpents above the 42 I ns ide N orthside
confluence of the Tchefuncte and Bogue Falaya Rivers. He intended to found a town and name it St. James or St. Jacques. His town never developed, howeverÑperhaps because of the changing political situation prior to the area’s incorporation into the United States in 1810. John Wharton Collins, Covington’s founder, came to Louisiana in 1810 to join his brother William, who had staked out 600 acres on the northshore below the Badon Plantation on the Tchefuncte River. Sisters of the two brothers married Robert and Henry Badon. The editor of The Farmer newspaper in Covington, Butch Badon, is Henry’s great-great-great-grandson. “The boys’ mother, Catherine, got 1,600 acres through a Spanish land grant in 1785,” Butch says. Collins opened a mercantile store in New Orleans on Magazine Street, not far from the Livaudais plantation, which would become the Garden District. He married a French woman who was a ward of the Livaudais. The Livaudais were godparents to the couple’s only child, Thomas Wharton Collins. On May 16, 1813, John Collins purchased Dreux’s property for $2,300, using his wife’s dowry of $2,000. Inscribed on the map that was presented to Parish Judge James Tate was “The Division of St. John of Wharton, founded on July 4, 1813, is humbly dedicated to the late Thomas Jefferson.” Collins named the town Wharton after his grandfather. When Collins approached the legislature for a charter in 1816, it was granted. The name of
the town was changed to Covington, however, in honor of a hero of the War of 1812. A local Collins descendent, Thomas Wharton Collens, Jr., suggests some citizens couldn’t stand the thought of being named after British gentry. Thomas, who lives in a retirement community north of Madisonville, says, “Their feelings about the British were not the greatest. Remember, they had just finished fighting them in the Battle of New Orleans.” That is a more likely reason than what some writers have suggested: that the people didn’t like Collins. At the first election, he and three of his close friends were elected to the Board of Trustees, and his nephew John Gibson, for whom Gibson Street is named, became town treasurer. Collins named the divisions of his town after relatives, but tacked the word “saint” before each: St. Mary, St. Ann, St. Thomas, St. George, St. William, St. Albert and St. John, which is downtown Covington. “He made them all saints,” says Thomas, with a chuckle. He gave his streets names such as Temperance, Economy and Industry; some remain, but others have been erased from the town map. Collins was not to enjoy his town for very long. He died at age 35, when his son was six years old. Thomas thinks Collins never recovered from service in the Battle of New Orleans. “I think he probably died of pneumonia,” he says. Collins was buried on land later donated by his widow for use as a cemetery, which is across the
street from City Hall. His widow married his nephew John Gibson. They raised young Thomas Wharton Collins, who later changed the spelling of his name to Collens. (Some think he had become enamored of the French culture and wanted his name to be pronounced “Co-lon,” with the accent on the second syllable.) His local namesake says, “Collens achieved international fame for his writings on labor. He was one of the first to advocate the eight-hour day, which was revolutionary then; most people worked from dawn to dusk.” Collens’ portrait, which hung in the Louisiana Supreme Court Hall of Fame, is now in Thomas’ office. He donated all of Collens’ papers to the Historic New Orleans Collection. Glancing at the painting, Thomas says, “He was fluent in French and became the official interpreter for the state legislature. He was a poet, a playwright, a newspaper publisher, a university economics professor and a judge.” The founder of Covington must have looked down with pride on his son. Much of the research for these articles on “Covington” was done in the Louisiana reference section of the St. Tammany Parish Library. Especially useful were publications by the St. Tammany Historical Society that will delight any history buff, Ann says. She heartily recommends the book, “St. Tammany Parish L’Autre Cote du Lac” by Frederick S. Ellis. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 43
Reprinted from Inside Northside, October/November 2003 Throughout the year, festival goers flock to the northshore for its unique blend of events featuring a variety of arts and entertainment. The biggest draw in the fall is the Three Rivers Art Festival in Covington, a juried show featuring more than 150 artists from around the country. In its seven-year history, the festival has won two major awards, the
Covington Three Rivers Art Festival Louisiana Main Street Award in 1998 and Sunshine Artist Magazine’s 200 Best Fine Art Shows in 2000. On November 15 and 16, artisans will line Columbia Street in downtown Covington with white tents filled with a broad and captivating range of media, including paintings, glass, printmaking, photography, sculpture, ironwork, pottery, jewelry, textiles and furniture. All items are original and handcrafted by the artists, who will be on site to exhibit and sell their work. Free to the public, the festival offers many attractions, including the Arts Alive! Stage where visitors can watch art in the making. Haik Park in the 300 block of North Columbia will be the scene of the Main Stage 44 I ns ide N orthside
for musical entertainment by local performers. The Children’s Discovery Area near City Hall will host a continuous program of exciting educational activities for kids of all ages. A Covington tradition established in 1997, the Three Rivers Art Festival has blossomed into an important arts event for the northshore. Says Joanne Gallinghouse, president of the festival’s board of directors, “As Covington evolved through the 1950s, ‘60s and ‘70s, art became part of its identity. That’s why we’re so glad to be able to hold an event like this to celebrate something that is such a quintessential part of the town’s character.” The Three Rivers Art Festival has proven to be good not just for Covington, but for the entire northshore. Last year’s event brought nearly 30,000 visitors to the area. According to Gallinghouse, the arts generate more than $18 million annually in parish-wide economic activity. The festival also offers an excellent opportunity for visitors to shop Covington’s well-known art galleries, antique shops and specialty stores and dine at some of the northshore’s finest restaurants. For additional information about the festival, visit ThreeRiversArtFestival.com or call Maria Burkhardt, event coordinator, at 727-2699.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, February/March 2003 by Martha Pool Founded one hundred years ago by a small, dedicated group of Benedictine sisters, St. Scholastica Academy in Covington is celebrating a century of excellence in education. The Catholic college-preparatory school opened in 1903 with an enrollment of 60 day students and 17 boarders. The original fourstory wooden structure, constructed at a cost of $18,000, housed the convent and school; its cherished bell tower was Covingtonâ€™s highest landmark. In the early 1900s, the academy offered three levels of academics, with required subjects such as rhetoric, physics, literature, botany, etiquette and logic. Additional course offerings included French, German, piano, violin, guitar, mandolin, zither and voice. For
St. Scholastica Academy A Century of Sisterhood career-minded students, an extra course was available that included shorthand, typing, business arithmetic and social correspondence. Board, tuition, bedding and washing cost a total of $100 per five-month session, with terms for day pupils ranging from $1.50 to $7.00 per month. In those days, the sisters dressed in traditional black robes, high-button shoes, wimples and black veils. Strict adherence to rules was expected, with perfect silence required when walking in the halls and a full uniform mandated every day except Saturday. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 45
Covington Boys were accepted in the grammar grades of the day school until 1910, when the primary students were transferred to nearby St. Peter’s Parochial School. With the steady growth and development of St. Tammany Parish in the 40s and 50s, expansion was necessary. In 1955, two brick residence halls were added. Life in the area changed dramatically with the building of the causeway across Lake Pontchartrain in the late 50s. In 1965, the Archdiocese of New Orleans purchased the property and began construction of a new facility to replace the stately, 64-yearold cypress building. Subsequently, the Sisters of St. Benedict moved the motherhouse offsite, leaving the entire property designated for academy use. In 1967, Archbishop Philip Hannan, S.T.L. dedicated the new school as an archdiocesan high school for young women in grades 8-12. When the boarding section was closed at the end of the 1974 school year, St. Scholastica became solely a day school. In 1978, the Benedictine sisters withdrew from the administration of the school, and the first lay administrator was appointed to carry out the traditions and mission of the Benedictine founders. In 1997-98, the academy received the Excellence in Education Award, the nation’s highest honor presented to schools. The academy was one of only 166 schools honored that year. It is the only all-girls, award-winning, Catholic college-preparatory high school in St. Tammany, Washington and Tangipahoa
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Parishes. As St. Scholastica has continued to grow, further renovations, as well as new construction, have been accomplished throughout the years. In January 2002, a Master Site Plan was unveiled for the threeacre complex with a cost of $5.86 million. This multi-phase project will help insure that the school’s educational legacy will continue far into the future. With a current limited enrollment of 656, a maximum of 150 young women are accepted annually from the approximately 200 who apply. For the last decade, the school’s relatively small graduating classes of 100 have received more than $1 million in scholarships. Students have been accepted to more than 50 universities throughout the nation. More than 3,360 alumnae serve as a legacy to the academy’s challenging instructional programs and innovative teaching. Though much has changed over the decades, much remains the same. The rich heritage established more than a century ago is evident today as St. Scholastica remains committed to providing a Christian environment which promotes care, concern and confidence in the minds and hearts of its students. Grounded in the Benedictine tradition of prayer, work, study and community, the academy continues to inspire young women in fostering the development of leadership, self-confidence, motivation, service to others and academic achievement.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, August/September 2004 Contributors: Stacey Rase, Kim Vanderbrook and Kelly Rasmus Legend has it that A.R. Blossman Sr. sold more refrigerators in St. Tammany Parish than there were outlets in the parish to run them. When he couldn’t purchase one of the new refrigerators in Louisiana, he went to Chicago to buy one. He returned with a train car full, and proceeded to place them in homes across the parish. It’s that kind of entrepreneurial spirit and determination that has led generations of the Blossman family to become leaders in business, banking and politics in St. Tammany Parish. Born in St. Tammany 100 years ago, A.R. Blossman Sr. was an optimist, a visionary and a hard-working, plain-spoken man. His father, Richard Sampson Blossman, had moved to Covington from New Orleans before the turn of the century. Richard was a bookkeeper for the Great Southern Lumber Company and was sent to the northshore to audit the company sawmill. Family lore says that it was during a visit to Covington that he noticed the rusty gates of the cemetery in town. Contrasting that with the yellow fever epidemic in the city at that time, he noted that, “No one’s died here in a long time.” He moved his wife and parents to the healthy environs of the northshore.
Never wealthy, Richard also worked as assessor for St. Tammany Parish for 16 terms. Alfred Rhody Blossman Sr. was the oldest of his seven children. Known as Fred, A.R. Sr. left school after the 5th grade to go
A Vision for the Northshore A.R. Blossman, Sr. to work as a paper boy, meeting the arriving trains from New Orleans twice a day. At the station on 23rd Street, where Hebert Cleaners stands today, Fred picked up newspapers and distributed them around town. He also had an ice delivery route that took him through town and into the outlying areas. During the ’30s, Fred worked at the hardware store owned by his uncle, Archie Smith, earning $15 a week. It was his old ice route that led Fred to Frigidaire. Customers on his route became prospects for the new-fangled refrigerators and Fred began honing his lifelong passion for selling. He quit the job at the hardware store, and opened a Frigidaire dealership. He would ask customers if they minded “storing” a refrigerator for him, since he didn’t have a warehouse. Once they’d seen the future, there Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 47
was no turning back, and Fred was named National Frigidaire Salesman of the Year. The appliance trade was booming in town, where electricity was available. When he heard talk of a new power source for homes not on electricity, however, it was customers in the outlying areas who inspired Fred’s next opportunity. He expanded his appliance line to include gas ranges. Liquid gas was a by-product of the emerging oil business in Texas. In those early days, the fuel was practically free, but you had to have a way to capture and transport it. Fred convinced his sister-in-law, Lilly Case of Madisonville, to lend him the $5,000 to get his new business started. He bought a truck with a double-walled tank, and the Blossman Hydrotane Gas Company was born. Eventually, his brothers David, Woodrow and Sam were working with him, and the company quickly grew into one of the largest propane suppliers in the Southeast. With the help of Covington native George Brown, the company developed new valves and regulators that expanded uses for propane and butane fuels. Blossman Hydrotane was registered on the American Stock Exchange, with stockholders in almost every state in the union. Associated companies that grew out of the Blossman Hydrotane success include Blossman Gas on the Gulf Coast, operated today by Woodrow’s family, and Shell station distributorships, run by members of Sam’s family. In later years, Fred was known to sweep his hands wide to say, “There’s nothing out there but opportunity!” His view of the expanding horizon kept that true for him in his lifetime. Fred Blossman married Mabel Perrin; they had four children. A.R. Blossman Jr., also known as Fred, was the eldest. He and his brothers Dick and Jack were raised with the same sense of early independence that had set their father off on his 48 I ns ide N orthside
own at a young age. As the only daughter in the family, Sue enjoyed a special place in her daddy’s heart throughout his life. Fred Jr. learned to fly at 14, eventually becoming an Air Force pilot. He came home in 1958 to work with his father. Jack was in law school, and Dick was running gas company operations in Alexandria. Fred Jr. was to shepherd the finance company set up to facilitate appliance sales and work with his father in the main office of Blossman Hydrotane. Used to working independently, the senior Blossman cleared the way, literally, for the young Fred to get started. Pushing the papers from his desk into the garbage can, he assured his son that, “If it is important, we’ll hear from them again!” His was a no-nonsense approach to success. Fred Jr. served as president and CEO of Blossman Hydrotane during its last five years before it was sold to a national company in 1967. That year, the company had brought 125 million gallons of propane fuel to the market—and countless thousands of appliances into area homes. Many people over the years have said to his sons, “I bought the very first gas stove your Daddy ever sold!” He had a gift of salesmanship that made his customers feel special. After the sale of the gas company, A.R. Sr. focused the family’s business attention on banking. When his financing options for the growing gas company outpaced his local borrowing capacity, he began buying stock in two area banks, preferring to keep his financial interests in the area. Eventually, he acquired a controlling interest in two local financial institutions. The combination of Commercial Bank and Trust and First National Bank eventually became the First National Bank, remembered fondly by many northshore residents. First National was a growing success until its sale to a group of New Orleans investors in 1984. The bank had accumulated more than 50 percent of
the total deposits in the parish, and was the largest bank in the parish. Parish National Bank, which is the largest northshore-owned financial institution, was started in Washington Parish by Fred Jr. in 1968. The St. Tammany operations of Parish National were established in 1986, and the combination of the two entities eventually became what we know of today as Parish National Bank. Parish has a network of 14 branches that offer a full line of financial services including mortgages, investments and trust services. The network extends across St. Tammany, Tangipahoa, Washington, Jefferson and Orleans parishes and northern Florida and has grown to over $500 million in assets. Fred Sr. bought enough stock to take control of Tangipahoa’s Central Progressive Bank. One of the family’s most well-known forays into real estate was the development of Covington Country Club Estates. After purchasing the property then bounded by North and South Streets to Country Club Drive and from Hwy 190 to the river, A.R. Sr. donated 85 acres of land for a clubhouse and the first nine holes of golf to the fledgling organization of area businessmen. As their first president, he put the resources of his other companies to work getting it off the ground. Dick recalls, “When the club opened it was the center of our social world. My father loved to see the women dressed up— complete with a hat and knockout clothes. And he loved to dance!” He would have had a great time at the recent gala celebrating the 50th anniversary of the club. Dick purchased the club last year and is refurbishing it into a jewel on the river for future generations. Family traditions
A.R. Sr. loved having family and friends around. It suited his joie de vivre. He got
together with his brother Sam to charter a bus for all of the LSU Tiger home games. The bus would fill up with kith and kin and take off to Baton Rouge, instilling a purple and gold passion that endures today. Another tradition was the meeting he had with his children in Mabel’s kitchen every Monday. She would threaten to quit cooking for them when their discussions of family business turned into spirited debate. A.R. Sr. had strong opinions about the way things ought to be. Some of those extended to the people who worked for him over the years. According to Jack, “He would never hire anyone who smoked a pipe, because it meant they were lazy, and he wouldn’t hire anyone who road a motorcycle, because it meant they were crazy. And he’d never hire a man with a beard.” Jack was able to convince him to rethink the last mandate by growing a beard during a winter trip to Montana. His father looked across Mabel’s kitchen table and decided that the beard hadn’t changed the man after all. Throughout his life, A.R. Sr. kept everyone laughing. He loved playing tricks on his grandchildren and joking with his friends. When his health was failing, he asked his daughter-in-law, Lynn, to send for the priest. Father XXX was away and he received a visit from a young priest. “Don’t bring me a rookie!” he said. “This is important stuff!” When A.R. Blossman Sr. died in 1990, one of the most valuable legacies he left to the northshore is his family. His children and most of his grandchildren and greatgrandchildren still call this area home. Their involvement in business, banking and politics has an impact on us all. His footsteps left for them a path filled with optimism, vision and dreams for the future of St. Tammany. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 49
Reprinted from Inside Northside, March-April 2005 No discussion of longtime northshore families would be complete without consideration of the Poole family. The Pooles have played a vital role in St. Tammany Parish for more than 125 years. Best known today as the people behind
Building a Legacy: The Poole Family Poole Lumber Company, which is celebrating its 60th Anniversary this year, the family is an integral part of the northshore community and the construction business. Claudius Poole: The early years
Claudius and Sally Poole settled into the busy resort and port area that was Covington and its environs in the late 1870s, and Claudius quickly became filled with the entrepreneurial spirit. He and a partner established a business that would become Poole Brothers Livery and Stable in 1894. Sally enthusiastically settled into the role of wife and mother, giving birth to and raising eight children. One of their sons, Wallace Maury Poole, would become the father of Poole Lumber 50 I ns ide N orthside
Company’s founder, Weldon Wallace Poole. Born in 1881, Wallace Maury Poole became involved in the family business, and married Alice Galmiche Hosmer on May 21, 1907. He eventually became sole owner of the business, buying out his brothers and re-naming it Wallace Poole Livery and Sale Stable in 1909. Wallace took interest in the civic as well as business activities of Covington. He served as a town alderman and was elected mayor of Covington, manning the town’s top post from 1925 to 1929. He was also foreman of the town fire department, known then as Jefferson Fire Company No. 1. He and Alice had four children: Poole Lumber Company founder Weldon Wallace, his brother Vernon and his sisters, twins Lois and Iris. Weldon Wallace Poole: The birth of Poole Lumber Company
Weldon Wallace Poole grew up in Covington, graduated from St. Paul’s School in 1928 and attended LSU, where he was an ROTC member. He married Theodora Milliot in 1933; they had two sons, Weldon Wallace Jr. and John. Later, Weldon served as a naval lieutenant in the
North Atlantic during World War II. When Weldon married Theodora, two dynamic northshore families came together Theodora Milliot was the granddaughter of Theodore Dendinger, a Florida Parish entrepreneur who owned one of the busiest building supply outlets in New Orleans, Madison Lumber Company on South Claiborne Avenue. While the Poole’s livery and stable business was playing an important part in Covington’s transportation industry at the turn of the century, the Dendinger family was busy harvesting and processing timber for the burgeoning New Orleans market. To feed the New Orleans market’s demand for lumber for both home building and industrial use, Dendinger harvested timber throughout the Florida Parishes, practicing an early form of conservation by not clear-cutting the land. His policy was to cut only fully grown trees, leaving younger trees to reforest the harvested areas. Dendinger, Inc. owned and operated sawmills in the port of Madisonville on the Tchefuncte and in Springfield, which was an important rail hub and port in Tangipahoa Parish before the turn of the century. Dendinger’s mills dressed the logs: They were cleaned, sawed, planed and dried into finished lumber before being loaded onto schooners for the trip across the lake to New Orleans and Madison Lumber Company, which served New Orleans from the late 1880s until 1953. Inspired by the Dendinger family tradition, when Weldon Poole returned to Covington in 1945, he founded Poole Lumber Company, a remanufacturing sawmill. The original site of Poole’s office and warehouse was an old blacksmith shop and buggy paint shop on Rutland Street. Recognizing the post-war demand for new construction, Weldon shifted Poole Lumber’s direction towards becoming a
supplier of finished lumber, which, like many other building materials, was in scarce supply following the war. After the business was re-directed to this market, the company was well on its way to fulfilling Weldon’s vision of having it be the northshore equivalent of Dendinger’s Madison Lumber. By 1948, Poole Lumber was focused on finished building materials. In 1953, Weldon constructed a Redi-Mix concrete plant near the Covington fairground. Bob Sander, a retired Poole employee who started with the company in 1949, recalls the hectic, yet somehow simpler, post-war years. “In 1949, the business end of Poole Lumber Company was run from an army surplus desk and accounts receivable were kept in a cigar box,” Sander says. “Orders were placed on a ‘war priority’ basis. The supply train would come through about once a month, and those folks at the top of the list would get their concrete or other scarce building materials—the rest of the folks would have to wait ’til the next train. This shortage inspired Mr. Poole to open up the Redi-Mix plant in ’53, so everyone could have concrete when they needed it.” The expanded combination of building material products allowed the company to be ready for the northshore’s population boom. With the Lake Pontchartrain Causeway’s construction in 1955, the northshore was opened to New Orleans area residents seeking a quieter place to live. The establishment of the Michoud rocket plant and the Stennis testing facility created thousands of new jobs; Interstates 12 and 10 tied these facilities to the Covington/Mandeville area, attracting even more commuters. As the firm kept up with the expanding real estate market, Weldon and his employees continued to implement the latest in building design and construction techniques. The company always carried the latest and most innovative products available for builders to Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 51
utilize in their work. W. Wallace Jr. and John Poole
purchasing materials together at better prices and passing these savings on to their customers.
A period of growth
Weldon and Theodora’s sons, W. Wallace Jr. and John, worked after school at Poole Lumber during their high school years at St. Paul’s. In the late 1950s, after graduating from Southeastern Louisiana University, they joined the firm. By 1975, when the company left its original Rutland Street location after 28 years and moved to its present location at Columbia Street and Highway 25, they had been involved in the business for almost 20 years. Their skill and leadership helped keep Poole Lumber at the top of the industry during the northshore’s greatest period of growth, which started in the late 1970s and continues to this day. Wallace and John were instrumental in shaping Poole Lumber into what it is today. Wallace designed the new lumber yard, including features such as drive-through access for loading materials, which made it one of the premier facilities in the South. John had the vision to turn a warehouse with no electricity into a 25,000-square-foot showroom, and further advanced the business by integrating computer systems into the operation. Together, the brothers created a one-stop shop for homebuilders in the area. For years, Poole’s was the only place on the northshore where customers could find kitchen cabinets, doors, windows, flooring, plumbing fixtures and hardware under one roof. The two brothers received strong support from loyal employees such as Cathy Oalman, who has managed the office for more than 30 years, and general manager Mike Manguno, who joined the company in 1977. Through Mike, Wallace Poole forged a strong working relationship with Frank Fazzio, owner of Lumber Products on the southshore. The two companies have worked cooperatively, 52 I ns ide N orthside
Weldon W. Poole, III Into the 21st Century
After graduating from St. Paul’s and the University of Alabama, Weldon W. Poole III, known as Wally, joined the ranks of Poole Lumber Company in 1996. True to the family heritage of bringing innovative home products to this area, Wally established Custom Audio & Video by Poole. As advances in electronics and changing tastes have created a demand for integrated home entertainment systems, the company has maintained its position at the leading edge of construction technology. Wally says, “Leading edge technologies such as flat-panel plasma and LCD monitors, HDTV and theatre quality surround sound systems are becoming more affordable for the average homebuilder.” Complementing its business activities, the Poole family continues its long tradition of civic responsibility. The people of St. Tammany have benefited significantly from the Pooles’ community involvement, which includes the 1995 donation of land on Columbia Street to the Habitat for Humanity and the family’s support for the River Forest Wetlands and Wood Duck Habitat Program on the Tchefuncte River in Covington. Three of Covington’s fire stations stand on land donated by the Pooles, and the family also supports The Fairhaven Children’s Home. For four generations, the Poole family has built a legacy of major contributions to all areas of life on the northshore—business, civic responsibility, and philanthropic concerns. And fifth-generation Thomas Gorringe, a freshman at St. Paul’s who works for the business on his school breaks, continues in the footsteps of all who came before him.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, July-August 2006 by Judi Russell When you first walk onto the grounds of St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary College in Covington, the mature trees, the 100-year-old monastery and the peaceful atmosphere can fool you into believing that time is standing still at this sacred spot. But the truth is much different; the abbey is a lively place where tomorrow is just as important as yesterday. St. Joseph Abbey is home to many ministries, including the college, Pennies for Bread, KC Camp Abbey, the Abbey Youth Festival and a Christian Life Center. Like so many other places in our region, the abbey was battered by Hurricane Katrina, which caused roof damage to several buildings and felled many trees. Today, as the abbey repairs its destruction, its members continue to work on projects that make the religious complex a significant contributor to the northshore community. Benet Hall
Chief among those projects is a fourphase renovation of Benet Hall Auditorium,
a theater built in 1960 with all the hallmarks of architecture of that eraâ€”concrete, glass, steel and sleek modern lines. The goal of the $2.5 million project is to turn the auditorium into a cultural arts center, the Benet Hall Center for Cultural Arts. As envisioned,
St. Joseph Abbey: From the past to the present ... and into the future. artists will be chosen to be in residence while they work at their art, and Benet Hall will provide a venue for those artistic creations to be displayed. The building will also host master classes, says Kit Friedrichs-Baumann, a grant writer and executive assistant to the collegeâ€™s president-rector. She and Brother Simon Stubbs, a Benedictine monk who is director of communications at the abbey, are spearheading the renovation of the 600-seat theater. Once completed, the hope is that community corporate sponsors will cover the Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 53
cost of bringing in national acts to the facility. In the meantime, rental by outside groups for their productions will help with the cost of the renovations. The first phase of the project is underway, and already improvements are visible. The dated tile floors were stripped off, leaving concrete just waiting to be stained, and new greenery was planted in the indoor planters. The lobby has been painted in soft, attractive colors; it will become a coffee shop that Friedrichs-Baumann and Stubbs hope will draw more people to the building. A new air-conditioning system is also part of the upgrade. Phase II will include updating the theater’s sound, lights and technology; during Phase III the auditorium itself will be renovated, and the chairs will be refinished. Finally, Phase IV will consist of refinishing the stage floors and painting the dressing rooms. The 1960s flavor of the theater will be retained, says Brother Simon, as that period of design is “very current and hot right now. We want to preserve and promote that whole aesthetic.” The cost of the renovation will be borne by grants and fundraising. At present, the abbey is seeking a $25,000 planning grant from the Louisiana Division of the Arts. St. Joseph Abbey is a self-supporting entity that does not receive funding from either the Archdiocese of New Orleans or the Benedictine order. “We are not wealthy,” Brother Simon says. Although the abbey does own some 1,200 acres, selling the land to raise money is out of the question. “The land is sacred to us,” he stresses. The land gives the monks ample space to pray and 54 I ns ide N orthside
contemplate in private, which is part of their religious practice. (The abbey has some 1,200 acres, many of which are heavily wooded with pine and hardwood trees. Before the hurricane, forestry was a main source of income. Hurricane Katrina caused great destruction—about 65 percent of the pine forest revenue was lost to wind—but forestry will continue to be an income stream.) Activities Abound
In addition to the Benet Hall renovation, there is a second major happening at St. Joseph Abbey: the temporary relocation of Archbishop Hannan High School to the abbey’s grounds. (See sidebar.) Friedrichs-Baumann says the move to house Hannan High temporarily is in keeping with the Benedictine mission of offering hospitality to those in need. After Hurricane Katrina, the abbey gave shelter to more than 150 people. It also provided a home to displaced residents of Notre Dame Seminary as the seminary’s Carrollton Avenue site in New Orleans was repaired. The abbey is well known for its Pennies for Bread program. About 2,000 loaves of bread are baked on site weekly and distributed to charitable organizations. The monks bake, cut, bag and deliver the bread. This enables such places as the Brantley Baptist Center, Ozanam Inn and The Salvation Army to use their “bread” money for other needs. The Pennies for Bread program is financed entirely through pledges. Mass in the abbey’s church, which was built in 1929, also draws many people to St.
Joseph’s. Daily mass takes place at 11:15 a.m.; a sung Mass is offered at 11 a.m. on Sunday. “The church is packed,” says FriedrichsBaumann, who grew up nearby and returned to work at the abbey after a stint as an actor in New York. One of the most-loved activities is simply touring the abbey grounds and buildings. Self-guided tours are permitted for groups of 10 or less; larger groups are asked to make reservations. One of the highlights of a tour is the artwork of Dom Gregory de Wit, a Belgian monk who painted beautiful murals on the monastery refectory’s ceiling, in the church and in the dining hall in the years between 1945 and 1955. Most talked about is the spectacular mural in the dining hall of the Last Supper—a must-see on the tour. Unfortunately, the breathtaking murals received some damage from Hurricane Katrina. They are scheduled for repair, however, and tours do still include a viewing of the artwork. A stop at the Abbey Gift Shop offers visitors a wide selection of artwork, books and devotional items. Becoming more popular every year are the programs at the abbey that are geared toward the northshore’s younger crowd. The site is host to a fantastic youth festival that draws between 3,000 and 4,000 young people from throughout the Gulf Coast each year. And many local parents can attest to the popularity of KC Camp Abbey, a summer camp hosted on the abbey grounds by the Knights of Columbus, which fills its camper roster quickly each spring. The retreats at the abbey for men
and women, which are coordinated by the Christian Life Center, are popular, notes Friedrichs-Baumann. Retreatants do more than “get away”—they plug into the abbey’s prayerfulness. In a 2003 interview with IN, Father Matthew Clark, the abbey’s current director of development, said, “The Benedictine rule is all about recognizing the sacred in the daily-ness of life, and the intertwining of the sacred and practical really speaks to people today. It’s interesting how a 1,500-year-old rule can still be applicable to us.” Perhaps the abbey’s most enduring drawing card will continue to be something intangible: the tranquility you feel when you walk in the space that has been occupied for more than 100 years by people dedicated to the dual purpose of prayer and work. “When you cross over that bridge,” Brother Simon says, referring to the structure that ushers you to St. Joseph Abbey, “you enter another world.” St. Joseph’s Roots
In 1889, a small group of Benedictine monks left St. Meinrad Abbey in Indiana and came to Louisiana to establish a seminary. The monks settled on a 2,020-acre tract of land near Ponchatoula. In 1891, the first students were enrolled in the St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary. Archbishop Francis Janssens, who oversaw the Catholic population in Louisiana at the time, was a patron of the seminary and visited it often. After his death, however, the new archbishop withdrew the seminarians from the school. Despite this setback, the monks continued to train students for the monastery Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 55
Reprinted from Inside Northside, 2008 by Stephen Faure Sustainability. It’s a buzzword that’s become more common in recent years as society becomes more “green”—more aware of environmental concerns—and more sensitive to economics. It’s a concept where an enterprise is as self-supporting as possible, using a minimum of outside resources.
Ora et Labora: Pray and Work; the Monks of St. Joseph’s Abbey Monasteries, and the monks who inhabit them, are thousands of years ahead of this trend. We might not have the world we live in today if it were not for industrious monks. During the Dark Ages, monasteries were havens of civilized culture. Through the years, monks copied the Bible and other religious and 56 I ns ide N orthside
philosophical works by hand, over and over, thus preserving the written word. Monks provided education for children in the local communities, farmed, brewed ale and provided shelter for travelers. These traditional monastic industries evolved as a means for monasteries to sustain themselves. Our own St. Joseph Abbey follows in their footsteps. The abbey’s monks bake bread for charities, craft woodworks for sale, offer a gift shop featuring religious and secular books and decorative items, operate a cemetery and provide facilities for group retreats and other community events. Abbot Justin, who leads the monks at the abbey, explains that although they engage in a variety of works, or apostolates, the abbey’s main mission has always been the education of young men who are heeding the call of the priesthood. He says, “[St. Joseph Seminary
College] is the primary mission and ministry of the monastery.” All of the monastery’s other activities are designed to support the seminary. A common misconception is that the abbey and seminary are funded by the Vatican. The truth is, like the monasteries of old, they have always been self-supporting. The monastery has been around since 1889, and it was very well known for its dairy. While dairy products were produced primarily for the monks and the seminary, they were also sold. The dairy operation closed in the 1960s. Abbot Justin notes, “We’re not in the farming business anymore.” Industriousness in support of the seminary and in aid to the community fulfills a basic tenet of the Order of St. Benedict, to which the monks at the abbey belong. A Benedictine motto, “Ora et labora” (pray and work), encourages the monks to praise God by performing even the simplest of tasks. Pennies for Bread
Continuing a monastic tradition stretching back to the Dark Ages, St. Joseph Abbey monks bake bread for themselves and the community. In a perfect embodiment of ora et labora, the monks gather in an old milking parlor, a remnant of the abbey’s days as a dairy that has been converted into a modern bakery. There they bake 2,000 loaves of bread each week to distribute to about 30 charitable organizations from New Orleans to the northshore. Receiving the bread free of charge allows the organizations to supplement their meals programs and use the money they would have spent on bread for other purposes. Pennies for Bread is financed by donations from almost 60 corporate sponsors and many generous individuals. Donations that exceed the cost of baking and distributing the bread go towards helping the abbey and seminary. “We see it as a ministry and as a way of bringing income to the abbey,” Abbot Justin
says. “The bread is distributed widely, and the people who benefit from it are from all faiths.” The Cemetery
“As much as the northshore has expanded, the abbey still provides a place to be at peace, even after death,” says Father Charles Benoit, referring to the abbey’s cemetery. Father Charles, who helps Abbot Justin administer the abbey, says the cemetery was established on the grounds for the burial of monks and priests. Later, plots were sold to alumni and friends of the abbey who felt a special connection to the abbey. The cemetery is the final resting place of many northshore residents, including author and teacher Walker Percy. Space is available, and the cemetery is open to people of all faiths. While the cemetery provides income to support the seminary’s operations, “It also provides a beautiful setting and peace for people to know their loved ones are here,” adds the abbot. The grounds are indeed lovely. Its well-kept lawns are interspersed with mossdraped live oaks, camellias, myrtles and other decorative plantings and sculptures. Anchoring the scene is a magnificent live oak tree, the Abbot Paul Schaeuble Oak; its 20-foot girth makes it one of the largest oaks in the state. St. Joseph Woodworks
It may seem odd, but it really makes sense for St. Joseph’s to craft and offer wooden caskets. St. Joseph was a woodworker by trade and, relates Abbot Justin, “He is the patron saint of a happy death.” Catholic tradition holds he died in the arms of Jesus and Mary. “St. Joseph Woodworks,” Father Charles explains, “grew out of the peace and solitude of the cemetery—to share our view that at a funeral, it is not the beauty of the coffin that’s important, but the life of the person being buried.” The monastery has made caskets to Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 57
bury monks for years, but when Bishop Ott of Baton Rouge was suffering from cancer in 1992, he requested he be interred in an abbey casket. After the bishop’s funeral, the abbey began getting requests for the elegantly simple caskets. The 1997 funeral of Bishop Boudreaux of the Houma-Thibodaux Diocese provided further public exposure to the abbey caskets. Deacon Mark Coudrain, with the help of a volunteer, designs and builds the caskets, which are made of Louisiana cypress. The abbey offers two models: a plain monastery casket and a traditional model. “The monastery casket is a very simple, plain box. Knowing not everyone would like that, we made a traditional style, with a higher angled top and wooden handles.” Coudrain says making caskets is not just about raising revenue—it’s to share the theology of death. “I believe in what the monastery is doing. People are thinking about this,” he says. “Couples come out to choose a casket. People come to pick out caskets for relatives who are in hospice care. Some have called us before they called the coroner or the funeral home. We even have [parents] who bring their children to teach them about death and dying.” St. Joseph Woodworks is considering expanding its product line to include a priedieu, a piece of furniture designed for home worship that provides a prayer kneeler and an area for storing one’s prayer books. The Gift Shop
The abbey’s gift shop carries a variety of unique Christian and secular items. Religious and self-help resource books, well-crafted jewelry, artwork and decorative items for indoors and outdoors grace the store. Products made by other monasteries, such as a line of Trappist jellies and preserves, are also available. Yvette O’Rourke has taken care of the shop for about 17 years, during which time she’s seen it grow in size and popularity. 58 I ns ide N orthside
Customers include locals, visitors to the abbey and seminary, people who attend Mass at the church on Sundays and retreatants. Priests from other parishes come to buy decorations and other items for their churches. Abbot Justin observes, “There is artistic value in religious goods.” A great example is found in the traditional Byzantine- and Russian-style icons the shop carries. Handmade with natural materials and decorative gold leaf, most of them come from Greece or Russia, where the icons are “written,” as crafting these spiritually beautiful items is known. They depict various religious scenes—Christ in prayer, Mary and the baby Jesus, angels and others. O’Rourke says that sometimes icons written by local artisans are available at the shop. The shop is well known for its Christmasoriented merchandise. Crèches, which are popular items, are displayed all year, and unique hand-made ornaments are available to add holiday cheer and round out one’s Christmas decoration collection. Benet Hall
The dramatic and musical arts have a home at St. Joseph’s in Benet Hall, a 612-seat auditorium located on the abbey grounds. It was built as a venue for the seminarians’ productions. (St. Joseph Seminary College is one of the largest freestanding seminary colleges in the country. An accredited institution, it offers five academic programs, including a bachelor’s degree in liberal arts. The well-rounded curriculum includes studies in the dramatic arts.) The monks of St. Joseph’s share this facility with the northshore community by making it available for rental for recitals, concerts, plays and talent shows. Ballet Apetrei, Conservatory of Ballet Aviv, Mary Dee’s Dance studio and three other local studios all hold
recitals at the hall, which is managed by Kit Friedrichs-Baumann. “It’s a fine auditorium. When we had community concerts, the musicians were quite pleased with it,” says Abbot Justin. But it’s over 40 years old now, and in need of some work. A restoration program is under way, and the heating and air conditioning system has already been upgraded. The abbey is trying to raise $400,000 to further restore and improve the facility’s lighting, stage and theatrical rigging system, and the main electrical system. Christian Life Center
Thousands of people each year discover the scenic and peaceful setting of St. Joseph Abbey. The Christian Life Center, located on the grounds near the church, hosts retreats and workshops year-round. The modern facility provides accommodations for up 40 people with private bedrooms and baths. “The retreat center fits very well into the Rule of St. Benedict,” says Abbot Justin. “Hospitality is of great value.”
The Christian Life Center is a hospitable place, indeed. The center contains the guest rooms, a chapel, a library and a dining room. Plus, all of the retreatants’ meals are prepared in the center’s own kitchen. The center is open to people of all faiths, and holds regularly scheduled weekend retreats, called Retreat League retreats, 26 times a year. The three-day Retreat League retreats are conducted for men, women or couples. The center hosts weekly retreats for priests and is available for groups on free weekdays and weekends. These Hosted Programs, as they are called, let other organizations use the facility and enjoy abbey grounds for religious, educational and charitable purposes. Educational workshops, especially arts and crafts programs such as icon-writing workshops, are a popular use of Hosted Programs. The 1,200 acres of woods, ponds and streams provide the perfect scenery for artists seeking inspiration in beauty, which, as Abbot Justin observes, is, “The presence of God in all things.”
Reprinted from Inside Northside, April/May 2003 by Elizabeth Brady It was with a sense of great anticipation that I crossed the narrow bridge onto the property of Covington’s own 100-year-old Benedictine monastery, St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary. As a busy modern mom, I have gobbled up contemplative literature in the past year, and I am not alone. In the post-September 11 world, there has been a renewed interest in the contemplative lifestyle - especially the Rule of Saint Benedict, which says that you can experience contemplative spirituality in everyday life. Marcia Ford notes in Publisher’s Weekly that books on the contemplative
lifestyle, particularly all things Benedictine, have shown renewed vigor in the marketplace. In the New York Times bestseller “The Cloister Walk,” Kathleen Norris writes extensively
St. Joseph Abbey and Seminary: A Feast for the Soul for 100 Years about her spiritual renewal as a Benedictine oblate. (Oblates are individuals who associate themselves with a Benedictine monastery in order to enrich Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 59
times,” he explained. “The ritual, security, and predictability of the cloistered life are cherished after fighting a war or experiencing severe suffering.” They have especially noted renewal in the young adult age group. At the time of this writing, approximately 1,000 were expected on March 22 for the third annual Abbey Youth Festival, which attracts kids by the busload from all around the Gulf Coast region with contemporary music and speakers. A Dynamic Community Serving the Region
their Christian way of life.) My favorite book of hers, however, is a little gem titled “The Quotidian Mysteries: Laundry, Liturgy and Women’s Work.” In it she writes that “each day brings with it not only the necessity of eating, but the renewal of our love of and in God,” as we are reminded in the Lord’s Prayer. “We have definitely seen a renewed appreciation for the Benedictine rule even here at the seminary,” agrees the affable Father Matthew Clark, the seminary’s vice-rector. “The Benedictine rule is all about recognizing the sacred in the daily-ness of life, and the intertwining of the sacred and practical really speaks to people today. It’s interesting how a 1,500-year-old rule can still be applicable to us.” I admitted to Father Matthew that I had a romantic image of the cloistered life. He smiled and said that being a monk was “very earthy,” which didn’t really dampen my romantic notions. “Monasteries see an increase in novices after wars and during uncertain 60 I ns ide N orthside
In 1889, a small group of monks from Saint Meinrad Archabbey in Indiana established Saint Joseph Priory and Preparatory College at a site near presentday Ponchatoula. They moved to the present location in St. Tammany Parish in 1902, and the priory was elevated to the status of abbey in 1903. Today, the abbey has 54 monks, as well as an oblate, or associates, program, and has grown into a dynamic community serving five missions, including the abbey. Saint Joseph Seminary College [r1]is an accredited four-year college for men interested in the priesthood; it serves dioceses across the south. The monks staff the college, and also serve in area parishes. Interested lay people are encouraged to take courses, and the college offers a certificate program. The Abbey Christian Life Center accommodates 41 people, offering modest, but comfortable, private rooms and baths. The abbey hosts silent Retreat League Weekends approximately 26 times a year. The remaining weekends are available to organizations and groups who wish to use the facilities for religious, educational or charitable purposes. In 1960, together with the Louisiana Chapter of the Knights of Columbus, the abbey
introduced Camp Abbey for kids. With ten cabins, a cafeteria, chapel, pavilion, swimming pool, basketball court, pond and a large playing field, Camp Abbey hosts four one-week
Benedictine from Belgian as “theologian artist.” Adrienne says that, with the resurgence of interest in liturgical arts, the murals are garnering a lot of attention from the art world.
sessions each for boys and girls during June and July. One of the high-profile ministries of the abbey is the Pennies for Bread and the Abbey program. The abbey bakery has supplied bread for the monks, seminarians, and guests since the 1890s. In 1990, the monks decided to bake bread for the poor and, at the same time, provide themselves with a source of income. The original milking parlor was renovated as the bakery. Through corporate and individual sponsors - donating anywhere from half a cent to 10 cents a loaf - the monks bake about 1,850 loaves per week for delivery to twenty-five organizations and institutions. This service provides free bread for about 1 million meals annually.
Worth a trip on their own, they have an iconic feel to them, and yet are fresh and modern. The refectory has a mural of the Last Supper. I am not Catholic, but I have become ever more appreciative of the liturgical calendar and traditions that escort us through not only the seasons of the year, but also of the Christian faith. The Carnival season takes on more meaning when we recognize that the first King Cake was cut on January 6 not because Mayor Ray Nagin was available, but because it was Epiphany, or the Twelfth Day of Christmas. And after the last bead was thrown on Mardi Gras, the church began the cleansing season of Lent on Ash Wednesday. We may not always recognize the sacred in the daily-ness of life, or stay in tune with the liturgical seasons and the intertwining of the sacred and practical. The monks at St. Joseph do, however, and they continue, as they have for more than a century, in “ora et labora” prayer and work - on our behalf.
Worth a Visit?
I thoroughly enjoyed my visit. I stopped in first at the Gift Shop, which is well marked, and has a good selection of contemplative literature, as well as religious artwork, music and children’s books. After meeting with Adrienne Laborde, the director of development and communications, and Father Matthew, I slipped into the church for the 11:15 a.m. Mass, which is always open to the public. The monks were up front, but I was happy to see many people from the community, including a mom in the back row with her two small children, who were munching on Cheerios. The abbey’s church, and the monastic dining hall, are decorated with murals painted by Dom Gregory de Wit (1892-1978). From 1945 to 1955, the abbey hosted this fellow
Interested in contemplative literature? Here are some great reads:
The Cloister Walk (Riverhead Books) and The Quotidian Mysteries (Paulist Press), by Kathleen Norris The Seven Storey Mountain, by Thomas Merton (Harcourt Brace) Saint Benedict on the Freeway: A Rule of Life for the 21st Century, by Corinne Ware (Abingdon Press) The Abbey Up the Hill: A Year in the Life of a Monastic Day-Tripper, by Carol Bonomo (Morehouse) Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 61
and offered commercial courses to secular students. The name of the school became St. Joseph College. This was a difficult time for the brothers; poor agricultural conditions and an outbreak of malaria made survival perilous. A move was called for, and, in 1901, the monks purchased 1,200 acres of land in Covington from Mr. Charles Hosmer for $5,000. The property included orchards, a pecan grove and acres of virgin pine, as well as some temporary buildings. In 1903, Pope Leo XIII granted independence from the Benedictine Order to St. Joseph Priory, and Prior Paul Schaeuble was appointed its first abbot. A school opened at this new location in 1912, and the institution was now called St. Joseph College and Preparatory Seminary. By the end of 1907, the school had 135 students. But disaster struck in the early hours of November 30, 1907, when a fire broke out. Within one hour, the monastery and seminary burned to ashes. Fortunately, the monks decided to rebuild, even though their financial situation was precarious. The Fabacher family guaranteed a loan of up to $50,000, and other philanthropists, including Andrew Carnegie, made important donations. Archbishop Blenk of New Orleans decided to use St. Joseph as a seminary again. While permanent buildings were erected, the monks opened a temporary seminary in an abandoned orphanage on Maple Street in New Orleans. In 1909, the new school building in Covington opened to 60 students. The training of secular students was phased out, and the school became a seminary only. In addition to education, the monks took part in 62 I ns ide N orthside
much missionary work in St. Tammany and Washington parishesâ€”founding parishes, building churches and schools and caring for the spiritual needs of the people. In 1931, a church was erected at the abbey, and in 1952, a gymnasium was built. In 1960, the present seminary building was completed; up until this time, classes were held in the monastery building. A more significant change occurred between 1964 and 1967, when the seminary converted from a minor seminary, which included high school and two years of college, to a major seminary, which consists of four years of college education. Since that time, St. Joseph has remained a four-year college. In the 1980s, the decision was made to admit outside students, who can take classes but not earn a degree. In the early 1990s, an agreement was signed with Our Lady of Holy Cross College in Algiers and Loyola University in New Orleans, through which the courses earned at St. Joseph are transferable for those seeking a four-year degree. Other additions came through the years, including the Christian Life Center in 1965, the addition of Camp Abbey, and the beginning of Pennies for Bread and the abbey outreach. In the years to come, the abbey is sure to evolve to suit the needs of the time, says Father Matthew Clark, director of development. But one thing will remain constant, he says: The abbey, and its inhabitants, will remain dedicated to the Benedictine goals of prayer and work, just like the first monks were when they ventured to Louisiana more than 100 years ago.
Bicentennial Reprinted from Inside Northside, March-April 2006 by Jane Walls
Just off Lee Road in Covington is a little gem, the Playmakers Theater. For 50 years, Playmakers has delighted northshore audiences with its performances. Organized in 1955, it is the 13th-longest continuously performing amateur theater in the United States. Playmakers’ story is the story of many people wearing many different hats: actor, builder, director, lighting technician, writer, stagehand, painter, musician, dancer, singer, fundraiser, donors—and more. Long-time Playmakers director, board member and local historian Frank Levy adds that the story is also about the building where they ply their craft. Originally, the Playmakers Theater was called “the Barn” because it was precisely that—a dairy barn. Written on the walls of the barn in pencil were the weights and names
of calves that were born there. In 1959, C. Alvin Bertel Jr. generously gave the barn and additional acres of land to Playmakers for use as a theater. A revolving stage was built, the
Working Hard at Playmaking Playmakers Theater Celebrates 50 Years theater was named “The Barn” and, for years, playmaking in the former farm building was alive and well. In 1976, the original barn burned to the ground. Enter stage left: the Barn’s neighbors at St. Joseph Abbey. Through the kindness of the monks, the theater company staged shows there for the next two years. In 1978, as a Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 63
result of fundraising lead by Nikki Barranger and Arthur Middleton, a new $120,000 facility was built on the original site. The new structure, known as Playmakers Theater, is almost an exact replica of the original Barn, with significant improvements. Hurricane Katrina wreaked havoc to the building in August. The roof was seriously damaged by fallen trees and required replacement, windows were broken, floors were ruined and dirt covered the theater. After $140,000 in repairs, Playmakers was back in action, ready to begin its 50th season after only a one-month delay. The Golden Anniversary show
In January, to mark its anniversary, the theater group presented “The Barn, A Tribute to 50 Years at Playmakers,” with Levy directing. The show was comprised of two acts portraying 21 short vignettes from past Playmakers productions dating back to 1956. Some of the scenes relate to anecdotal moments that were not from past productions, but are significant in the chronicles of the theater. Some of the past shows represented are: “Stalag 17,” “No Time for Sergeants,” “Lion in Winter,” “Follies,” “Christmas On the Bayou,” “Harvey,” “The Front Page/Girl Friday,” “Streetcar Named Desire,” “Sunshine Boys,” “Sound of Music,” “Greater Tuna,” “Beauty and the Beast,” “Spoon River Anthology,” and “Pirates of Penzance.” Levy calls the production an “orphan,” meaning it had no home for months, as the cast rehearsed at a multitude of places in the wake of Katrina. Props could not be built on location, and it was not until one week before opening that rehearsal could finally take place at the theater itself. The format of the show called for a cast of many more than a normal production, so not having a home for rehearsal was all the more challenging. 64 I ns ide N orthside
The People of Playmakers
Several of the original actors who portrayed award-winning parts were back for this presentation, making the show even more noteworthy. Director Levy says that it was a delight and privilege to talk with all the former cast members from years ago as they shared how grand it was to have performed the scenes they did the first time around—and how extra special it was to perform them again in this show. Ray Perrer, 84 years young and senior member of the cast, says he “felt good about doing ‘The Barn’ and enjoyed reminiscing with the other cast members.” He has been a part of Playmakers since 1980, directing 13 plays and acting in about 17 performances. Born into a Vaudevillian family and a professional dancer from a young age, Ray left that career in 1950 for the insurance business. But he fondly professes that “theatre was always [my] first love.” At Playmakers he was repeatedly persuaded to entwine his dancing into whatever performance he was a part of. He smiles as he recalls how it was sometimes a challenge trying to fit the two-stepping into a particular part, but he “always managed to do it.” On the opposite end of the experience spectrum—and not to be forgotten—were the twenty-five children who were cast throughout the show. Playmakers’ history is rich in children’s theater, so it was fitting that youngsters would be a part of the tribute. Jill Lane, two-time Playmaker Alvin Award winner for best actress and best supporting actress, has been part of Playmakers since 1994. She says, “Even though I have a day job like most everyone associated with Playmakers, my first love is acting and the theater.” Jill fondly recalls her parts in “Alone Together” and in Neil Simon’s “Rumors,” both directed by Judy Krosgard and presented by Playmakers in
1994 and 2001. A noteworthy moment in the anniversary show was the heartfelt expression of love for Playmakers at the beginning of the show by Elizabeth Malone. She is one of the original 19 members who signed the Articles of Incorporation of Playmakers in 1955. When asked about his greatest moment in Playmakers, Frank Levy says that there was a time when he “believed he would be an actor, and perhaps a notable one, but now he takes more pride in his role as a director.” In that capacity, he “is able to be a conduit for the actors he directs, the one who is a spark for the dramatic process, perhaps a key that unlocks a door for a performer and allows the star to shine.” He takes “great pride in helping them with their growth as actors and relishes the thought that he contributed positively to their success in the roles they play.” Board member since 1999 and participating actor Ken Richard comments
proudly about Playmakers’ devotion to “living up to its charter statement by bringing theatre and culture to the northshore for so many years.” He says he “expects that is just what direction Playmakers will take for the next fifty years.” All those who are a part of the Playmakers organization are committed to that goal, and they welcome anyone, experienced or not, to join them in that effort as part of the front or back stage crew. Many dedicated people over the last fifty years decided that the art of theater was worth all their hard work. No fire, hurricane or lack of place to rehearse could daunt their devotion to the art of theater: There has never been an interruption of Playmakers Theater during its 50-year history. It is this commitment of all involved that speaks to the success of the organization, and the firm belief that the show must go on. It can; it does; and one can safely assume that it will for many years to come.
Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 65
Reprinted from Inside Northside, January-February 2009 by Stacey Paretti Rase
It was the first cold snap of early fall, and the 700-plus students of St. Paul’s School in Covington were congregated in the gymnasium for the school’s biweekly principal’s assembly. A folksy song played over the loudspeaker, echoing throughout the room. Banners of sports championships proudly hung from the
St. Paul’s School “A Great Place to Grow Up” ceiling over a sea of young men clad in colors of blue and gold. When the music ended, St. Paul’s principal, Brother Raymond Bulliard, called the assembly to order and acknowledged the change in weather that had happened overnight. “It reminds us that you can’t stop time. It’s always marching on,” he commented. 66 I ns ide N orthside
“But you do have a choice as to how you use that time.” In the center of the gathering was a line of young men who would spend the next eight months of their time at St. Paul’s serving the school; they would that morning be sworn in as the newest officers of the Student Council. But before their oath would be taken, Brother Ray would remind them of their primary duty to follow in the footsteps of the school’s founders: the Christian Brothers, whose religious order was started over three centuries ago by Saint John Baptist de La Salle. Their vows would speak of service to the community, a dedication to high moral standards and a strong commitment to strive for academic excellence. It was a message that the students had heard many times before and would hear many times again. It is a principle
that St. Paul’s graduates will tell you they take with them throughout their lives beyond the Catholic school’s campus. The history of St. Paul’s School is that deeply rooted. Its history is also well documented, thanks in great part to Brother Ephrem Hebert, FSC, a former principal. He compiled The St. Paul Story, a book that focuses on the history of the school from 1918, when the seemingly unknown Christian Brothers took over the school from the Benedictines, to 1968, the school’s Golden Jubilee year as a Lasallian school. St. Paul’s history will also forever live on in the hearts of those who attended school there; the alumni are always willing to share a memory or relay a story from their days spent on the Covington campus. The Dixon Days
The date commonly recognized as the definitive, and thus celebrated, beginning of St. Paul’s is July 1911, when the Benedictines of Saint Joseph Abbey purchased Dixon Academy in Covington and renamed it Saint Paul’s College. Previously, the school’s halls had been occupied for years by the students of Dixon Academy. Dixon was founded in 1900 by W.A. Dixon of New Orleans to prepare students for future study at Tulane University. (He was the son of Dr. Von Blarcom Dixon, the first and only president of H. Sophie Newcomb College for Women.) Dixon recruited in the St. Tammany Farmer newspaper, stating tuition of $5-$15 per term, depending on the student’s grade level. That first year, 99 pupils attended classes in the institution’s only building, Dixon Hall. A few years later, the school would erect a gymnasium—an octagonal-shaped brick building that still stands today and is used as St. Paul’s theatre—and an adjoining indoor swimming pool that was fed by fresh artesian water. Dixon Academy enjoyed many good
years, but its numbers dwindled, and it was forced to close in March 1909. Professor Dixon began looking for a buyer for his nine parcels of land and its improvements. St. Paul’s is Born
The Dominicans, who hoped to use the location as their missionary novitiate, were the first to show interest in the property. This was prevented by Archbishop Blenk, however, as he was convinced by the Benedictines of Covington’s St. Joseph Preparatory Seminary that it would be unwise to have two religious orders operating in such close proximity. Instead, in July 1911, the Benedictines purchased Dixon Academy and renamed it “St. Paul’s College” in honor of the patron of the abbot of the St. Joseph monastery. St. Paul’s College’s first school year began in September 1911, with nearly 80 boarders and 30 day students. Later that term, a new dormitory was constructed—a three-story structure that attracted even more young men to the campus. The student population swelled as St. Paul’s became known throughout South Louisiana for its excellence in academics. The Benedictines offered five different courses of study during the days of the original college: Preparatory, Commercial, Stenographic, Academic and Classical. Each of these courses would last three years. Classes were very small, sometimes only two or three students, and much was expected of the young men. Recently, Covington resident Cindy Hood discovered her grandfather’s diary, which chronicled his days as a student during those early years. On the cover of the red 6-inch-by8-inch notebook is written, “Property of Tom W. Kent, St. Paul’s College, Covington, La, Snap-shots.” The worn yellowing pages within offer a unique look at the school during Kent’s time there from 1915 to 1917. Under a photo of the main school building is written, “The Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 67
place for study and study only.” Beneath a picture of the original gymnasium, Kent wrote, “Where many happy hours are spent.” He gave nicknames to the sports teams of St. Paul’s: the track team was known as “The Fast Bunch” and the baseball team was termed “The boys that put it over the fence.” Headshots of his dapperlooking classmates are glued to the pages in the back of the book, identified by nicknames such as Buck, Tall Boy, Dimples, Fattie and Buzzard. Cindy feels fortunate to have found the diary in her mother’s attic, as she didn’t know much about her grandfather’s college days. She was eager to share the book so that those in the northshore community could get a sense of life back then. Some things have not changed much. A campus photo displays tall pines outlining the same field the students use today for sports practice. Other aspects have changed immensely, as evidenced by photos of chino-and-necktie-clad tennis club members holding wooden rackets and snapshots of the school’s antiquated typewriting room and laboratory. An aerial station is pictured, which Kent says was “where the boys received their messages from abroad.” This was, presumably, the school’s ham radio station that Brother Ephrem notes in his book. With the call letters 5EQ, the station, housed in the attic of the main school building, was used in a course in wireless telegraphy and to send and receive messages during World War I. The Christian Brothers—all things to all men
The school year commencing in 1918 would be the last under the direction of the Benedictines, as it was decided that all of the order’s efforts should be concentrated on the building up of the diocesan seminary at St. Joseph Abbey. The school was sold to the Christian Brothers, a Catholic religious order then unknown in the region. Karen Hebert, St. Paul’s public relations director and chair 68 I ns ide N orthside
of the English department, recounts the brothers’ circuitous path to Covington. “The brothers left France in the early 1900s in a voluntary religious exile. They went to Mexico and started a school there, but were eventually pushed out when the government said they couldn’t have a religious school,” she explains. After relocating in upstate New York, they received word in 1918 from St. Joseph’s abbot about the opportunity to purchase St. Paul’s. “It was perfect for them. The school was already built, although they had to do major work on the structures once they got here.” It is written that hardly anyone in the community expected the school to survive after it was purchased by the Christian Brothers. But those original 19 men were a determined bunch. When they found the school facilities in poor condition upon their arrival, they worked up to twelve hours a day putting their own sweat into its repair. Money was meager, at best, and even food was in short supply. But they made do with what the Benedictines had left in the school pantry, or they traveled into town by way of Louisiana Avenue (later named Jahncke Avenue) to find food on Columbia and Boston streets. When they opened their doors in the fall of 1918 and found that most all of the students had chosen not to return, they traveled throughout the state, door to door, to meet with families to recruit students and promote their mission. In his book, Brother Ephrem describes the founders as “carpenters, painters, plumbers, electricians, bricklayers, as well as janitors and yardmen.” They truly became, in the words of Paul, “all things to all men.” The Campus
The St. Paul community has long taken cues from the early founders in maintaining a fine campus. Beautification of the school grounds has always been a priority, as has
caring for the school buildings to preserve their long history. The classroom buildings used today are the result of a major expansion program undertaken by director Brother August Faure and completed under the direction of Brother Cassian Lange in the late 1940s and early 1950s. Dixon Hall was renovated and used as the school’s dormitory. Other dorms would later be added: Benilde Hall in 1960 and La Salle Hall in 1963. The school discontinued its boarder program in the early 1990s, and old dorm rooms are now used as classrooms. Almost every other structure used today was constructed during the term of director Brother Francis Beck in the early 1960s. He developed a long-term plan for the school and oversaw the building of the brothers’ residence hall, the school chapel, an Olympic-size swimming pool, dining room and kitchen facilities, the administration building and the football stadium that the Wolf Pack calls home. Landmarks such as the gymnasiums— old and new— bring back fond memories for alumni. “There were always bats in the old gym, and they would fly around during basketball practice,” laughs 1952 graduate Don Boudreaux. “And I can remember when Brother Alex, our senior prefect, built the new gym. I never got to play in there as a student, as it opened after I left, but as a boarder I helped to build it. Everyone pitched in. And much of the material was donated. Brother Alex built that big gym for only $40,000.” As mentioned, the school’s first swimming pool was indoors and fed by an artesian well. After the well’s water source was cut off, the boys went without a pool and would instead swim in the Bogue Falaya. But a drowning incident in May 1945 precipitated the building of a new pool, which was constructed next to the dormitory. This pool would be replaced in 1963 by the pool used today.
The school’s entry arch is another structure that has seen changes. The first arch was dedicated to the college by the classes of 1929 and 1930, which raised the money to pay for the project. That archway remained until 1962, when increased traffic in and out of the campus necessitated a widening of the road. The arch was demolished, to be rebuilt years later. Emphasis on Education
Just as it worked diligently to maintain an excellent campus, the administration spent considerable effort building up St. Paul’s reputation in academics. The Christian Brothers never had patience with mediocrity from either the students or the faculty. Ernest Prieto, of Mandeville, a graduate in 1953, started at St. Paul’s in sixth grade and recalls how seriously the brothers considered grades. “Back in those days, we would get report cards every six weeks. All the students would meet in the gym, grammar students sitting on one side of the room and upper grades on the other. The brothers would read off names and grades, starting with the lowest grades first,” Prieto recounts. “If you failed, you had to line up on the left. If you passed, you lined up on the right. It was very embarrassing!” Boarding students who passed all of their subjects were put on a bus and sent home to spend time with their families. Those who failed were forced to remain on campus until the next grading period. This practice did not last long—many students failed their courses on purpose when it became known that those kept behind were spending their time off hiking, swimming in the Bogue Falaya River and eating more than their fair share of rations in the cafeteria. Adequate food was quite a problem at the school during war years.” Prieto adds, “Those guys who had to ‘go to the left’ every term weren’t dumb. In fact, I think a few of them ended up being the first millionaires in our class!” Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 69
The brothers’ emphasis on good grades never did leave Prieto. Over the years, he has kept in touch with many of his past teachers, including Brother Luke and Brother Regis. Prieto visited them in Santa Fe, N.M., and took that opportunity to settle an old score in the grade books. “I brought one of my old report cards to them. It had the letter grade ‘F’ listed in chemistry, but the number grade was written in as a 72. That should have been a ‘D,’” he insists. “I asked them to change my grade, and they did!” Ask most any graduate to describe his teachers at St. Paul’s and he will usually start with a funny story. Derek Barfield, a 1993 grad, is one such example. “Brother Bill Parsons was the most brilliant individual—with the most advanced vocabulary—I’d ever heard,” he tells. “We would pick one word out of the dictionary every morning and try to stump him with the definition. Not only would he get it right every time, he would even give the etymology and correct spelling of that word. We could never get him!” The Wolf Pack
Graduates’ memories of participating in St. Paul’s athletics are often just as vivid. The school’s tradition of excellence in athletics can be traced back to the time of the Benedictines, who considered sports necessary and part of their overall education. One of the college’s original three founders, Father Adelbert Svrcek, is given credit for establishing the school as an athletic powerhouse. It was during his tenure as athletic coach that the school’s first quartermile cinder track was built, at a time when there were fewer than a dozen tracks in the entire state. The track brought visitors from near and far and is said to have put Covington on the map in the athletic community. St. Paul’s was known as a formidable competitor in both track and basketball for 70 I ns ide N orthside
many years. The school joined the Riverside League in 1939 and just one year later captured the title at the annual track meet at City Park Stadium in New Orleans—a coup, considering there were only six men on the team. Prieto and Boudreaux were both members of the 1952 basketball team that won third place in the state tournament. “And we only had 28 seniors in our graduating class. Can you believe that?” remarks Boudreaux. They were both named to the first team of the All State Team that year and were later inducted into the school’s Athletic Hall of Fame. The football program has also long been a big part of the St. Paul’s experience. The Wolves first played Covington High School in 1935. They won that game, 19 to 7, and a rivalry was born. Today, the school enjoys competition in over a dozen different sports, spanning a variety of interests from wrestling and bowling to hockey and power lifting. Keeping the memories alive
It is undoubtedly the spirit of the 19 Christian Brothers founders that continues to drive St. Paul’s today. The brothers are honored at Founders’ Circle on campus, and an annual award is given to the teacher of the year in the name of Brother Charles, one of the longestliving founders. Many of the school’s lasting traditions give tribute as well, such as the annual March through the Arch, a ceremonial walk that each senior class takes beneath the arch that leads onto the school grounds. “It’s a ceremony that ties them all together,” says Hebert. “It connects them to every Christian Brother who has gone before them.” The founders’ memories live on more specifically in the hearts of the school’s graduates. Recognizing alumni has long been an important practice at St. Paul’s—the first Alumni Association was formally inaugurated on May 15, 1921, with 22 members present
at its first gathering. The organization, which numbers over 5,400 strong today, is led by Jimmy Dykes, a 1961 graduate. “My job is to keep them all connected. They are the lifeline of this school to our community,” he says. His job is aided by the alums’ passion for their alma mater. When the school congregated for the principal’s assembly on that chilly morning in November, it was just following a busy weekend filled with homecoming activities. Thousands of alumni had descended on the school’s campus for the football game. Brother Ray relayed to the students his experiences visiting with those alumni just days before. “I can’t tell you how many of those guys came up to me to say how much they missed St. Paul’s. They told me they wished they were back here as students. It meant so much to me to hear that this place is home to so many. Homecoming may be over for now, but that sense of family never ends.” St. Paul’s alumni share their memories
“Day scholars usually brought a sack lunch to school, but sometimes we’d walk down to the corner store on Jahncke Avenue to buy a treat for lunch. We’d order red pop, cheesies, maybe a Hubig Pie. The owner was Mr. Charlie Jaufroid, and he would read Shakespeare to us during our lunch break.” - Ernest Prieto, Class of 1953. “When I played football, it was nothing like it is today. For starters, up until 1960 the uniforms didn’t even match. There were different colors of dark and light blue and the helmets were varying colors of gold. There were only two coaches for all the sports on campus. The field was nothing but dust and very little grass. After you ran a play, you’d have to wait for the dust to settle before you could play on!” - Jimmy Dykes, Class of 1961. “Brother Ken Boesch ran the cafeteria, and he always tried to make the food seem fancier than it was. Whenever we were having pudding
for dessert, he would list it on the menu as ‘Ginza Parfait.’ I don’t think anyone ever found out what ‘Ginza Parfait’ was, but I know none of us who went to St. Paul’s during that time can forget it.” – Derek Barfield, Class of 1993. “Many of the boarders during my time liked to catch flying squirrels in coffee cans. We would set traps at night and then get the squirrels before Mass in the morning. We’d carry them to class and hide them in our desks. This was back in the day when our desks had inkwells, and the squirrels would often stick their heads up out of the inkwells in the middle of class.” – Don Boudreaux, Class of 1952. “I can honestly say that the main driver of the school is [principal] Brother Ray. He made St. Paul’s. I’ll never forget that when I made Eagle Scout, he showed up at the ceremony. He knew everyone on that campus by name, and he would always ask about how you were doing … and he was truly interested in hearing the answer.” – David Ellis, Class of 1992. “My years at St. Paul’s were great, creating lifelong friends and memories. The Lasallian education gives you the opportunity to learn, grow and develop as a young man. It was even more gratifying to watch my son Joel, Jr. graduate from St. Paul’s in 2004.” - Joel C. Champagne, Class of 1975. “Honoring the past, while embracing the future.”
In 2007, Saint Paul’s initiated a five-year Capital Campaign to help launch the school’s legacy well into the next century. The initial phase includes the construction of a football stadium, track, field, concessions, lighting, sound and field house. The second phase will fund a new two-story technology and classroom building and reconstruction of Benilde Hall. To contribute, please contact Saint Paul’s Development Office at 892-3200, ext. 1270. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 71
Reprinted from Inside Northside, September-October 2010 by Karen B. Gibbs If Charles Sidney August Fuhrmann were a spice, he’d no doubt be Tabasco. This turnof-the-century Renaissance man seasoned the life of Covington with drama, movies, semi-pro baseball, art, food and more. Today,
Sidney Fuhrmann— A Breath of St. Tammany The Greater Covington Center’s Fuhrmann Auditorium, named for him, carries on his legacy as the city’s venerable venue for art, speakers and theatre. Born in 1890 in Goodbee, Fuhrmann was reared on the family’s rice farm and educated in New Orleans. As a child, he exhibited artistic talent but, because of the untimely death of his father when Fuhrmann was only nine, he was not able to take formal art lessons. Instead, the 72 I ns ide N orthside
spunky lad schooled himself by drinking in the natural surroundings of St. Tammany while hunting and fishing. In 1912, at the age of 22, “Sid” Fuhrmann, as he was called, moved to Covington to manage the city’s first movie theatre, the Parkview Theatre. More than just a silent movie house, the Parkview was a veritable performing arts center, featuring a variety of on-stage entertainment such as magicians, amateur nights, musicians and plays. It was in producing this entertainment that Fuhrmann showcased his own artistic talent, painting scenery, presenting comedy shows and even writing, producing and acting in plays. Indeed, Fuhrmann was as at home on the stage as he was fishing and hunting in the cypress-lined bayous he so loved. The same year he opened the Parkview Theatre, Fuhrmann opened his heart to
Pauline Frederick, the eldest daughter of Emile Frederick, one of Covington’s best-known citizens. Two years later, the couple wed in the most novel of venues—the Parkview Theatre— complete with scenery painted by Sidney himself. In her book Family Circle of Pauline and Sidney, a biography of her parents, Patricia Clanton includes the description of the headline event as reported in the St. Tammany Farmer: “…The center aisle, leading to the stage on which the marriage ceremony was performed, was arched with foliaged bamboo, while the stage represented a garden scene…At 2:35 p.m., the bride arrived in an automobile accompanied by her father and sister…who wore a costume of brown brocaded silk trimmed with fur. The bride was dressed in a dark blue traveling suit and wore a black velvet hat with a blue plume… Rev. Father O. Brisay proceeded with the wedding ceremony… “After the ceremony, more than the authorized speed limit was made in an attempt to get rid of old shoes and rice; and the effort to get baggage to the train without the usual distinguishing labels of newlywed property proved a failure…Just before the train started, the auto glided to the train and the party alighted amid a shower of rice that not only covered them but everybody around them. The trunks bore placards announcing, ‘We have just married.’ ‘We will telegraph if we are lost.’ As the train drew out, the screech of the whistle, reinforced by that of the steamer, Josie, awakened pandemonium until the echoes died in the distance.” In her book, Patricia says, “It has always delighted me to say my mother and father were married on the stage of the Parkview Theatre. Mama, I’m told, wore peacock blue. I think she was very brave—a good Catholic girl marrying on the stage, in a theatre, to a Lutheran. Why, it must have been the talk of the town.”
The Fuhrmanns’ first home was on the corner of New Hampshire and Rutland streets. There they had four children: Sidney, who died at birth; Brandon, who died in World War II; Rosemerry Hanian, who performed on Broadway and returned to Covington to open a school of dance; and Patricia Clanton, who was the mother of two sons and served on Covington’s City Council for twelve years. In this excerpt from her book, Patricia recalls an informative peek into life in Covington in the early 1900s that her mother shared with her: “There was a defined business section surrounded by residential neighborhoods. Much of the land was still wooded and in the spring, it was ablaze with wild azaleas blooming and colorful wildflowers. Cascading lavender wisteria was everywhere and the fragrance of honeysuckle permeated the air. There was no electricity and when night descended, if there was no moon, it was very dark. “Most people had flower gardens in their front yard and a vegetable garden in the back yard. It was common for households in downtown Covington to have chickens, a cow and horses, of course. Even owning pigs and goats was not unusual. Most streets were dirt, though some had gravel and a few had shell. Uptown streets had wooden sidewalks. “A commuter train chugged through town every day with its whistle shrieking on its arrival. The excursion boats, Madison, Camellia, and Susquehanna, brought passengers from New Orleans and docked at Old Landing, which was at the foot of Jahncke Avenue. “Arriving at Columbia Street Landing, whistles blowing, were the steamers and schooners and oyster luggers. The townspeople knew when the luggers were coming in, for the boatman made a horn of the conch shells and it could be heard up and down the river.” It was into this environment that Sid Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 73
Fuhrmann infused his love for the theatre once again when, fourteen years after opening the Parkview, he closed its doors. He, more than anyone else, knew that the new movie house on the block, the Majestic, an affiliate of the Saenger Amusement Company, had bested the Parkview. Owners wasted no time in hiring Fuhrmann to manage the new showplace, and he was zealous in assuring that every detail was perfect. He also used his artistic talents to embellish the movie house, painting large murals of St. Tammany. As with the Parkview, Fuhrmann made certain that the Majestic provided live entertainment of various genres—plays, vaudeville acts and regular Tuesday night talent shows. He also opened the theatre as a forum for talks by civic officials and as a venue for fundraisers. Newspaper accounts detail two such benefits, one featuring local talent to help a church, and the other, a Sunday matinee, to help the starving children of Armenia. About the latter, the St. Tammany Farmer dramatically stated: “Everyone who buys tickets will know that he or she has helped to maintain life in the starved body of some poor unfortunate child without food or clothing.” Fuhrmann was ingenious in promoting his theatre, using billboards and banners to spread the word of coming attractions. He also cleverly gave out passes to the theatre to schoolchildren, thinking that their parents would pay to accompany them to the picture show. Often, he took to the streets by automobile to announce his movies, using a loudspeaker while pulling a billboard on a trailer through the neighborhoods. Daughter Pat recalls accompanying her dad on such missions as a child, occasionally singing songs over the loudspeaker with the gusto of an exuberant theatrical wannabe, much to the amusement of her proud father. Over time, Fuhrmann opened three other theatres, 74 I ns ide N orthside
the Deluxe in Covington, the Madison in Madisonville and the Lake in Mandeville. While theatre, the outdoors and art were indeed passions of Sid Fuhrmann, his love of baseball rivaled all three. In the 1920s, he formed Covington’s first semi-pro baseball team, aptly named The Majestics. The team played for years at St. Paul’s field on Sunday afternoons, attracting townspeople to the games in large numbers. Fuhrmann’s life in the 1940s was dramatically changed when son Brandon was declared missing in action during World War II. In 1943, the government confirmed that Brandon had endured the infamous Bataan death march and ultimately succumbed to malaria and dysentery in a Japanese concentration camp. The agony of that time took a terrible toll on Sid Fuhrmann and the rest of the family. To make matters worse, a new, plush theatre moved into Covington. Named the Star Theatre, it was larger and grander and posed a threat to Fuhrmann’s income, as did the plummeting attendance at theatres nationwide as the war wore on. As a result, on October 29, 1943, the owners sold all interest in both Covington theatres to their newest competitor, W.J. Salles, owner of the Star. Pat Clanton’s recollections of the event illustrate how emotionally taxing this time was on her father. “I have a vivid memory of sitting with my Dad in the middle of the empty Majestic one afternoon after [the sale of the theatres was announced]. He cried, and I cried with him over the loss of the Majestic and the Deluxe. Fortunately, Dad owned the Lake and the Madison, and then he opened Sid’s Hot Dog Stand, a small place that served coffee, Mission Orange, sandwiches and hot dogs. It became famous in the area for the delicious chili sauce that was Mother’s recipe.” Sid Fuhrmann took out weekly ads for his
stand and used these ads as a platform for his thoughts. The following text, which balances his sadness with his trademark wit, is excerpted from his ad after closing the Majestic. “After 25 years in the show business in Covington, I have finally succeeded in winding up with a good Hot Dog STAND for the moment. “I’m awful blue over the sale of the Majestic Theatre, but I’ll use the lemons that fate throws my way and start a lemonade stand. It may be better than my Mission Orange. I’ve been going to the dogs anyway—10 cents apiece.” His ad on New Year’s Eve 1943 reflected the tenor of the times as well as the solid patriotism of a man whose only son was killed in the war. “…as the sun rises on the first day of 1944, millions more are going to face it with heavy hearts and anxious faces…Let us hope and pray for the best…There is only one solution— total, complete victory. It is the only way to keep faith with those who have paid the price. There is no alternative—we must carry on, unmindful of the dangers ahead, in every walk of life, every store, every business, every office, everything that it takes to operate America, because behind the armed forces is the greatest battlefield of all. Only sweat and toil can keep your army on its feet. It’s a privilege to be proud of. Keep on your job and stick to your guns. Every man overseas is depending on you to do your part. He’s not laying down so many
hours of work with pay and overtime. He’s making a target of himself and laying down his life that you might continue to live and prosper in the greatest land in all the world, America, our home—the only place under the sun where a poor man can make an honest living selling hot dogs and making friends. Sid.” It is interesting that, despite his years of success in the theatre business and his winning semi-pro baseball team, today Sidney Fuhrmann is celebrated for his artistic ability. Not only did he produce magnificent scenery and murals for his theatres, he was also a landscape artist in his own right. His paintings of river scenes, swamps, trees, the Madisonville lighthouse and his favorite, the Old Landing in Covington, were well known in the area. His appreciation for the parish that provided such inspiration is evident in the tribute he attached to the back of every one of his oil paintings. Entitled, “A Breath of St. Tammany,” it extols the area’s great pine forests, beautiful bayous and rivers, moss-draped trees and brilliant sunsets. Fuhrmann concludes by saying that the artist “offers you a Breath of St. Tammany…restful scenes of truly God’s Chosen Country.” Indeed, after 72 years on this earth, Charles Sidney August Fuhrmann has left a legacy to be admired. Actor, theatre mogul, entertainer, artist, baseball enthusiast, restaurateur—he was a living dash of Tabasco, just the right spice in the gumbo we call northshore.
Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 75
Reprinted from Inside Northside, April-May 2003 by Ann Gilbert The Wooden Boat Fest may be the economic engine that fuels the Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum, but it was the visionaries who made maritime history for two centuries who gave rise to the new repository on the banks of the
When Rivers Were Roads Tchefuncte River in Madisonville. Twentiethcentury visionaries, recognizing the need to acknowledge these early achievements, have made the museum a reality. The Formative Years
The seed for the museum first germinated when marine archeologist Allen Saltus of Prairieville received a grant to inventory the cultural resources on the bottom of the Tchefuncte River. The year was 1988. “We need to know our history,” says Saltus. “What happened on the river relative 76 I ns ide N orthside
to what happened on land. We need to collect, preserve and restore.” Saltus has recorded skiffs, bateaus, two-masted barges, schooners and steamers below the murky depths. Describing the vessels lying in the silt of the river, he says, “They are like rare books, untouched, because the river has been relatively stable, and hasn’t migrated or changed channels.” Saltus walked and felt his way along the bottom of the Tchefuncte, where visibility was just six inches, about enough to read a tape measure and call up the size of the giant, submerged artifacts. In a small boat bobbing in the hot sun on the surface, Don Aucoin, amateur historian, served as tender. In later years, the two would re-measure the sunken treasures using a global positioning satellite. “I retired so I could volunteer to be Allen’s assistant,” says a smiling Aucoin, former member of the Tourist Commission Board and
active in the Civil War Roundtable. It was at a meeting of the latter group that Aucoin learned of the three Confederate gunboats - the Oregon, the Carondolet, and the Bienville - that had been scuttled in the Bogue Falaya River to prevent them from being confiscated by the Union Navy. He began to speculate what else was in the murky waters of St. Tammany rivers. “We have a time capsule down there,” suggests Aucoin. “I was with Allen when he brought up a canon ball from the Pearl River,” he recalls with awe. “We have a Spanish-era anchor.” Aucoin was president of the museum board for three years and later served as treasurer. Another founder was the late John Hunley, who came up with the name of the museum and wrote it on a napkin at a dinner meeting during those formative years. Under the guidance of David Carambat, the museum’s creative director, the museum opened its first exhibit in January 2002. The building was completed in January 2001, financed by a $2 million grant from the state, and one-half million from the Wooden Boat Festivals. “We asked the state for three million. That’s why you see the slab out there. The research center will be out there,” says Carambat. Interim executive director of the museum Nixon Adams, says, “We are on a hard scrabble budget.” The board now has insurance to cover the Boat Fest, after being severely hurt by two hurricanes. A major area foundation came to the rescue, but to avoid another such catastrophe, the festival is being pushed into October. The museum’s broad purpose is to illustrate and explain the maritime tradition and related cultural history, such as the shipyards, brickyards and sawmills that lined the river. These and the railroad, the naval stores (tar, turpentine, pitch and rosin), the
sand and shell dredge barges and the forests that provided the fuel are explored. Madisonville’s Maritime History
The little town of Madisonville, where the museum is located, has quite a maritime history. It was from here that Andrew Jackson shipped out to New Orleans to meet the British. It was here the barge and keelboat men, who had floated down the Mississippi with their products and then sailed across Lake Pontchartrain, began their walk to the Natchez Trace and back home to Tennessee and Kentucky. They were called Kaintucks. The earliest-known boat built in the riverside village was the Esperance, constructed about 1797 during the time Louisiana was under Spanish control. By 1814, Madisonville had two shipyards, including a U.S. Navy facility. It never finished the Tchifonta, a 22-gun ship, despite desperate pleas from Jackson and Gov. William Claiborne, who wanted to use it to defend New Orleans from the British. Because the Tchefuncte and Lake Pontchartrain have shallow drafts and were not deep enough to handle the Navy vessels, “they were outfitted with life preservers,” says Carambat. “They actually strapped on so-called lifter barges to the hulls of the vessels and floated them out to the Gulf.” German immigrant Fritz Jahncke sold cement in the late 1800s in New Orleans. He needed sand, so he made a deal to dredge the Tchefuncte River. He had a fleet of barges and tugs to haul the sand and shells to New Orleans, so he built his first shipyard on the river where he could repair them. “People like Jahncke brought technology to the frontier,” suggests Carambat. “They had a strong work ethic and were industrious.” Carambat, a marine architect, is amazed as he uncovers the construction methodology of old water crafts. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 77
“They used only practical knowledge, their hands and metal tools. Their designs were elegant. They would have been insulted if you called them woodworkers. Each boat had a personality, depending on the builder, who left telltale details.” Amazement fills his voice as he describes how they created water stops and terminations. “Their scarfs, the angle of the joint, the way the wood met. It’s amazing. We build crudely today, by comparison. Their boats had a working life of 80 to 90 years. We’re lucky to get 20 years.” The magnificent 22,000-square-foot maritime museum sits on the exact site of the Jahncke Shipyard, which employed 2,000 men during World War I and cranked out five wooden vessels, each weighing an average of 3,000 tons. Exhibit Highlights
Every museum strives to have one blockbuster exhibit. Carambat’s will be a replica of a Jahncke ship under construction. Because those ships were 300 feet long, it will only be the bow, towering up to the 24-foot ceiling. A 35-foot, full-size replica of the threeman Civil War submarine, the Pioneer, is being built by Southeastern Louisiana University industrial science students for a display titled “Secret Weapon.” It will be interactive, with visitors able to enter the sub and turn the handle that propelled it. Genealogist John Hunley, one of the museum’s founders, researched the sub, which was surreptitiously built in a New Orleans blacksmith shop and tested in Lake Pontchartrain 17 years before Jules Verne wrote his famous book. Waves splash and seagulls cry as visitors tread the wharf in the museum’s “Port Century” exhibit. “Our purpose is edutainment,” says Carambat. “It was Saltus who first used that word. We want to immerse 78 I ns ide N orthside
the visitors in the time and culture, rather than have them look at boxed artifacts.” Inside a replica of the sternwheeler Louisiana, which plied the waters of the Mississippi River, visitors view the nationalaward-winning film, “Treasures of the Tchefuncte.” The Louisiana belonged to J.J. Hill, who built a railroad through St. Tammany. The sailing barges were put out of business by the steamers, which were put out of business by the railroad. The woods and the water that drove the local economy are interpreted through a video and scale models of Biloxi schooners and oyster luggers. Frontier life on the bayou is depicted in a diorama of the daily activities of Louisiana pioneers. It was created by Nelson Plaisance, who is designing an exhibit of the 28 Gulf lighthouses for the museum Outdoor sportsmen will find the collection of antique outboard motors fascinating, while children will be enthralled by the ‘gator who hisses. Future Plans
Partnering with Southeastern, the museum presents lectures and classes in history and boat building and envisions a research center and estuary aquarium in its future. Other plans include opening up the 165-year-old Madisonville lighthouse to visitors and providing guided tours of the river. “This is the first layer as we peel back the onion of our heritage and history,” says Adams. The museum is not just about the Tchefuncte or Lake Pontchartrain. It’s Louisiana’s maritime museum.” The Lake Pontchartrain Basin Maritime Museum is located at 133 Mabel Drive, Madisonville, LA 70447. Hours are 10 a.m.4 p.m., Monday through Saturday. For more information, call (985) 845-9200 or visit them online at lpbmaritimemuseum.org.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, June-July 2003 by Martha Pool Running northeast from Covington along the south side of the Little Bogue Falaya River is Military Road, winding scenically through the sites of ancient Indian trails and early military cantonments. Along the way, behind an austere gated entrance, is Sunnybrook, a stately raised plantation house built in the mid-1800s and situated on 18 spacious acres. The historically significant property is home to William Johnston Gibert, a native New Orleanian and long-time Covington resident. Sunnybrook, so named for its proximity to the river, and now listed on the National Register of Historic Places, was built in 1870 by a German immigrant who raised sheep on the original 150 acres. The home was constructed of material salvaged from a wrecked steamboat, including massive ship timbers and quaint, five-foot doors-complete with brass cabin numbers-that now serve as closet doors in the downstairs entryway. The house has full front and rear galleries, both upstairs and down. It features traditional center hallways and fireplaces with 1840s cypress mantels. Sunnybrook is an accurate representation of rural Louisiana architecture; it shows the strength of the state’s eighteenth century Renaissance revival raised cottage tradition. Gibert’s parents, William P. Gibert and Rosalie Johnston Gibert, purchased the post-Civil War home in 1957. The couple immediately began an extensive, three-year restoration project that included the laborious task of elevating the structure, since the original downstairs area had a floor-to-ceiling span of less than six feet. During the massive renovation, great attention was paid to incorporating as much original woodwork and hardware as possible. In addition, building materials from the same
period were obtained, such as the handmade bricks used to construct the heavy pillars and expansive walkways in the lower galleries. Made from mud and moss, the 1830s bricks, together with vintage heart-pine floorboards, were salvaged from the nearby Judge Jessie Jones home that Gibert’s grandfather had purchased. While spending much of his life in Covington, Gibert made a series of career decisions which eventually led him to other locales. He left
Timeless Voices of Sunnybrook Covington in 1992 and moved to Ft. Myers, Florida before returning to Sunnybrook in the summer of 2001 to assume ownership of the estate. With a keen interest in antiquity and preservation, Gibert enjoys sharing his heritage and the rich history of Sunnybrook. “When you live in an old house with old things, past eras become a part of you,” says Gibert, whose childhood experiences reflect his historical perspective. He fondly recalls the early 1960s and attending numerous social functions with family and friends in New Orleans, as well as visits to Oak Alley plantation and its former owner, Josephine Stewart, his great-aunt. He muses how she Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 79
wasn’t particularly fond of children and it was only during afternoon tea-and while on his best behavior-that he was allowed to see her. Gibert’s family ties, rooted in New Orleans and Virginia, can be traced back centuries to men such as Peter Johnston I, the first immigrant from his mother’s side who came to America from Edinburgh, Scotland in 1727. He became a member of the House of Burgesses in colonial Virginia. The first Gibert to immigrate from Europe was Gibert’s great-grandfather, Leon Gustave Gibert, Sr., who came to New Orleans in the late 1800s. Each year, he and his wife would spend six months in France and the remainder in New Orleans. He presided over Gibert, Henican & Clay cotton brokers in New Orleans and brokered cotton at the New Orleans Cotton Exchange. Also prominent in the Paris Cotton Exchange, he was awarded the French Legion of Honor after World War I for insuring continued shipments of cotton to France during the war. Gibert’s mother was instrumental in documenting the family’s history and Sunnybrook’s notoriety. Legend has it that around 1814 Andrew Jackson camped at the site on his way to the Battle of New Orleans. During an archaeological dig many years ago, the Giberts were pleased to uncover several pre-Civil War artifacts that included lead musket balls and buttons from military uniforms. Jackson was even said to have hung two deserters from one of the centuries-old oaks that gracefully frame the grounds. Indeed, it is the stately grove of towering oaks that first commands your attention upon entering the gate and viewing the plantation setting. On the grounds of Sunnybrook, the curtain of time seems to delicately sweep back and offer visitors an intriguing glimpse into the past. Among Sunnybrook’s impressive trees are six that were among the first 500 live oaks 80 I ns ide N orthside
to be registered with the Live Oak Society, an organization established in 1934 that operates under the Louisiana Garden Club Federation. The society now boasts 4,267 trees in the 14 states where live oaks can be found. Sunnybrook’s historic trees are named and prestigiously registered as Andrew Jackson, General Robert E. Lee, Bishop Leonidas Polk, John James Audubon, Jean Lafitte and Sunnybrook. Documented to be more than 300 years old, the grand oaks of Sunnybrook punctuate the dramatic setting that is an inspiring view from the upstairs gallery. Reminiscent of the Old South, more than 70 camellia bushes line the property, many of which are unfamiliar varieties; some are nearly a century old. Gibert’s prized camellias share the earth with rows of beautiful azaleas, sweet olives, and other native shrubbery. Sunnybrook’s interior reflects a notable family legacy, with items such as a framed certificate detailing the battle record in Napoleon’s army of distant ancestor Leon Gibert. Paintings, sculpture and period furnishings are well-suited among cherished family heirlooms in the 6,000-square-foot home. A reflection of his upbringing, Gibert’s love of antiquity and respect for timehonored, southern traditions is apparent. In collaboration with Dixie Gallaspy’s Smoky Creek Summer School for Girls, he plans to host formal luncheons at Sunnybrook for the purpose of instructing young ladies on the finer points of dining etiquette. While greatly appreciative to be a part of Sunnybrook’s history, and thankful for the opportunity to enjoy so many valued objects from the past, Gibert humbly maintains his priorities. “The thing that strikes me is that nothing is permanent. You realize how short a lifetime is, and that what you have isn’t really yours; it’s going to belong to someone else. You’re part of the chain, but you’re not the end.”
Reprinted from Inside Northside, March-April 2006 by Jane Walls Life is real! Life is earnest! And the grave is not its goal; Dust thou art, to dust returneth, Was not spoken of the soul. Lives of great men all remind us We can make our lives sublime, And departing, leave behind us Footprints on the sands of time. -Henry Wadsworth Longfellow The history of Covington CITIZENS who passed away long ago, but whose legacies continue today in the community, will come to life on Saturday, March 25 at Covington’s oldest graveyard, Cemetery #1. The event, “Whisperings,” will provide an entertaining way to learn about certain persons who are buried at the cemetery, as well as other notable past citizens. Some were socialites; some were politicians; others were lesser-known workers and contributors to a variety of different
causes. No matter who or what, they all left their footprints for generations to follow. Event promoters “dig up” the legacies of those portrayed to give the public a unique view of Covington’s history. The cemetery, located across from City Hall on North Columbia Street, will be lighted with luminaria on the night of March 25.
Covington Whispers in March Actors will perform at five stations. The show is well choreographed and colorful, and it’s interesting to note that not all the participants are actors. They are all local citizens who simply have a desire to illuminate—to whisper, so to speak—the lives of the people who lived before them. Well-respected playwright Peggy Altman wrote the script for “Whisperings,” with help from the St. Tammany Parish Library staff, Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 81
who contributed a great deal of research on the era’s history, music and costuming. One of the characters featured will be Francis Andre Guyol, Covington mayor around the late 1890s. Guyol was a graduate of LSU, became an attorney and sold real estate in Covington. He promoted the city’s growth and development during his administration, and recognized the need for a town hall, as well as a public school system. He also sought the creation of a fire department for Covington. Unfortunately, the mayor did not live to see the actual formation of a working fire department during his lifetime—a major fire destroyed large portions of the town several years after his death. Despite Mayor Guyol’s noteworthy participation in the history of Covington, he is not buried at the Covington cemetery. He died from an unknown illness at the age of 38, but his remains are not to be found either on the northshore or in New Orleans; no one seems to know where he was laid to rest. Each time a “Whisperings” event takes place, a certain ethnic group is featured. This year, the Italians take the spotlight. The history of the Barrelli family will be presented, including Lucille Barrelli, who was married to Mayor Guyol and is buried in the cemetery. Her father and grandfather had a large impact on the Italian community in the area and founded the Italian Society in New Orleans. Other women buried in the cemetery will be featured in the tableau, as well, including Blanche Hebert and Laura Hosmer. Hebert was married to E.J. Frederick; the couple made their home at the corner of Boston and Theard streets. Actors will outline the history of the Hebert family members, who were prominent Covington citizens at the turn of the century. Hosmer, the daughter of William and Mary Jane Hosmer, was a spinster who owned a boarding house, the Swiss Chalet, on Jahncke 82 I ns ide N orthside
Avenue. She also had three rental properties on 18th and 19th avenues. Apparently, she was deeply mired in the traditions and habits of the day. The Hosmer family owned many acres of land in the Covington area and was quite prominent in the political and social scene of the time. Other historical residents represented in the performance are William Brenan, architect, teacher and one of the builders of City Hall; D.E. Kimble, a brick mason who is buried in the cemetery; and W.N. Keen, a prosperous lumberman. “Whisperings” is usually held every other November, but did not take place as scheduled last fall due to Hurricane Katrina. It is produced through the combined efforts of several civic-minded persons and groups, including Covington’s Council clerk Lynn Moore, Director of the St. Tammany Parish Library System Jan Butler and the Greater Covington Civic Association. The themed production isn’t a new idea; events such as this have taken place for years in Bay St. Louis, and more recently in Baton Rouge. All money raised supports the cemetery’s upkeep and improvements, a community tradition. In 1913, the townspeople of Covington took it upon themselves to clean up the cemetery, as it had become seriously rundown and they felt leaving it in such disrepair was a poor reflection upon their community. Throughout the years, different citizens volunteered to maintain the burial grounds and keep the graves presentable, particularly as All Saints Day approached. Funds from the first “Whisperings,” held nine years ago, were used to purchase the elegant wrought iron fence that welcomes visitors at the front of the cemetery. This year, the hope is to raise enough money to wrap the fence around the entire property.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, May-June 2008 by Ann Gilbert Editor’s note: Internationally renowned author Walker Percy, the subject of this in-depth profile, lived on the Bogue Falaya River in Covington for some 40 years during the height of his literary fame, from 1950 until his death in 1990. New Orleans and Southeast Louisiana were the settings of many of his works.
ear are pressed alike to the human chest.” Percy’s love of literature had been fostered by his “Uncle Will,” William Alexander Percy, actually a cousin. Will took Walker and his two brothers into his bachelor quarters and adopted them after the boys’ father committed suicide and their mother died in an automobile accident three years
When his medical career was shortcircuited by tuberculosis, Covington writer Walker Percy became a diagnostician of a different sort. He turned from the pathology of the body to the spiritual pathology of modern man. “I was the happiest doctor who ever got TB and was able to quit. It gave me an excuse to do what I wanted to do,” he told a reporter. Novelist and physician have something in common, said Eudora Welty at Percy’s memorial service in New York City in the fall of 1990: “The physician’s ear and the writer’s
Walker Percy: Dostoevsky of the Bayou later. In Will’s home in Greenville, Miss., Shakespeare and Keats were read aloud, and William Faulkner, Carl Sandburg and Stephen Vincent Benet were visitors. Will was a lawyer, writer and planter; a sponsor of the arts and a supporter of the early civil rights movement. His autobiography, “Lanterns on the Levee,” is a Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 83
classic. Walker absorbed it all. He published essays at age 19, but decided to pursue medicine, unlike the law careers of most of the men in his genteel Southern family. Percy studied first at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (where his papers are archived), and then received his medical degree from Columbia University. During a pathology internship at Bellevue Hospital, he contracted tuberculosis, was laid up two years, and then a third year after a relapse. Confined and isolated, he read to occupy his time, choosing the great European philosophers Jean Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Kierkegaard, and novels by Dostoevsky, Tolstoy and Kafka. He didn’t read many English writers, saying, “They are not metaphysically oriented.” As if his disease weren’t enough of a trial for the young physician, about the time he entered the sanitarium in upstate New York, Uncle Will died and World War II began. Percy could only observe. He would later write, “It left me in a confused and brooding state, and I found solace in books.” Percy had entered psychoanalysis during medical school. When asked if his father’s suicide, when Percy was only about 10, had depressed him, he said, “It made me damn angry why it happened to him, and I am going to make sure it doesn’t happen to me.” College classmates recall how Percy regularly cut classes to go to the movies. He told a reporter, “It wasn’t escapist. I was getting to know how people looked at the world and what they thought.” He also believed “the study of the external man was necessary for understanding the internal man.” St. Tammany friends recall how, when going to dinner with Percy, he would always sit so he could observe people and overhear conversations. Percy has been called the “most provocative voice in American letters.” His 84 I ns ide N orthside
six novels are: “The Moviegoer” (1961), “The Last Gentleman” (1966), “Love in the Ruins” (1971), “Lancelot” (1977), “The Second Coming” (1988) and “The Thanatos Syndrome” (1987). Two non-fiction works are “Message in a Bottle” (1975) and “Lost in the Cosmos” (1983). Percy knew if he got preachy or moral about his observations of man’s alienation, he would lose his audience. He never lapses into a serious tone. Far from being glum and dogmatic, his commentary on Western society is laced with humor and irony. A satirist, he wraps his thoughts in comedy, parody and illusion. In his prose, one sees how hollow man’s pursuit of life, liberty and happiness can be. Percy’s novels are not easy reads. They are not books one brings to the beach. They are standard fare in college literature classes and even in some high school religion classes. His first novel, “The Moviegoer,” was given to the religion editor at Knopf. Because of the metaphysical themes, his works can be somewhat challenging and puzzling. They have been compared to Hermann Melville, Robert Penn Warren and Nathaniel Hawthorne. But dozens of books, essays and dissertations have been penned to help us understand Percy. As one critic said, “His novels yield their riches more readily to the well-informed reader.” Retired judge and longtime Percy friend Steve Ellis says he’s read “The Moviegoer” three times, and each time was like the first time, so many new ideas came forth. Cleanth Brooks wrote that Percy writes with a “lively, sharply perceptive prose that accurately mirrors life.” Maybe Percy is difficult to read because the reader doesn’t like what he sees. His novels are filled with a sense of despair, but also humor and hope. The author himself said, “It is as if discouragement were
necessary, and that one has to first encounter despair before one is entitled to hope.” Percy author and Holy Cross College English professor Eddie Dupuy recalls being confused upon his first reading of “Love in the Ruins,” one of Percy’s more difficult books. It was right after Dupuy left St. Joseph Abbey Seminary College, and he was deciding what path to take in life. “I went to a lot of trouble studying Percy, because I knew he was writing about something very important—namely me.” Percy won the National Book Award for fiction in 1962 for his first and most popular novel, “The Moviegoer.” A serendipitous event in New Orleans would lead to Percy’s nomination for the prestigious honor. A.J. Liebling found “The Moviegoer” in a French Quarter bookstore when he was in the Crescent City researching his book, “The Earl of Louisiana.” He took it home to his wife, who was on the committee for the National Book Award for fiction. Percy beat out J.D. Salinger’s “Franny and Zooey” and Joseph Keller’s “Catch 22.” Fortune smiled on Percy again in 1966, when his second book, “The Last Gentlemen,” was a contender for the award. His friend Steve Ellis says Percy was a shy man. But he loved to get his associates into heated discussions. When with a group of men who met regularly, Percy would bring up something he knew two of them disagreed on to get them arguing. Another group of Percy friends, men and women, met weekly for lunch and stimulating conversations at Bechac’s on the Mandeville lakefront. Ellis says Percy liked to have a drink of bourbon at lunch and dinner. Percy ruminated about bourbon and the pleasure of “knocking back a few shots” in an article for Esquire Magazine. Writers often keep daily journals, jotting down this and that, ideas for future novels.
Percy was no exception. Ellis says, “He noticed things no one else ever noticed. I remember one time we were walking on the Appalachian Trail, and a group of Boy Scouts passed by. I completely forgot about that, and then it showed up in one of his books.” Percy married Mary Bernice Townsend, known as “Bunt,” in 1946. They converted to Catholicism in 1947, and moved to the northshore in 1950 after a few years in Uptown New Orleans. They eventually settled into a secluded, gracious French Chateaustyle home on the Bogue Falaya River, where they raised two daughters, Mary Pratt Lobdell and Ann Moores, who gave them four grandsons and four great-grandsons. When not writing in his studio at home, which remained unchanged for 15 years after his death, Percy rented space in several locations in downtown Covington— the old St. Tammany Art Association building on New Hampshire Street across from Christ Episcopal School; in a New Orleans-style slave quarter off Theard Street; and upstairs at his daughter’s bookstore, Kumquat, on Lee Lane. Often he would take a break by sitting on the steps of the shop, chatting with visitors on the popular shopping venue, many of whom were probably unaware of his national, even international, stature. Not a few national writers described the setting in articles after interviews on the Percy porch from the ’60s through the ’80s. Bunt recalls William F. Buckley and George Will coming for lunch, among their many noted guests. On a recent spring morning with a view of the dark, brown bayou through the windows, she shared how “Walker always had time for the young. He was pleased to get letters from students.” Percy once explained to a young reporter from the Brother Martin High School newspaper why he lived in Covington: “As Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 85
bad as it is, and everything is bad—the politics is bad, schools are bad, pollution is terrible—still I think the people are the saving grace. I’ve tried living elsewhere, but it is the people here that make it so special.” Percy cared about the poor. He volunteered for Head Start, supervising the bus drivers and even driving himself. Bunt recalls the day “Walker came home with a child asleep under a seat in the bus. We had to drive to Lacombe to bring the child home,” she recalls, with a disbelieving grin. In the 1960s, Percy organized the biracial Greater Covington Community Relations Council, and a cross was burned in his yard. As a member of the St. Vincent de Paul Society, he helped collect and distribute fresh vegetables to the needy. Percy was honored many times in his lifetime: with dinner at the White House with President Reagan, participation with 40 other world figures in a series of meetings with Pope John Paul II, presentation of the Jefferson Lecture for the National Endowment for the Humanities and presentation of the Chekhov Festival Lecture at Cornell University. During a Walker Percy Symposium in Covington, author Jay Tolson discussed the writer’s friendship with fellow writer Shelby Foote. Tolson speculated that the lives of the two men were colored by the fact they both lost their fathers at a young age. “Such loss leads to artistic development. It spurs reflection and forces one to confront his mortality. There is a need to explain and make sense of the loss and what endures. The loss forged a remarkable friendship,” Tolson said. Foote also lived in Greenville. The boys’ competitiveness in who could read the fastest or the greatest number of books continued through much of their lives, as reflected in their letters, said Tolson. (He edited the book, “The Correspondence of Shelby Foote and 86 I ns ide N orthside
Walker Percy.”) Both wrote for their high school newspapers and the literary magazine at the University of North Carolina, where Shelby wrote short stories and Walker, essays. Tolson said that during Walker’s early, struggling writing career, Shelby was the master and Walker the apprentice, as he came late to writing novels, publishing his first at age 45. One letter reveals how Shelby teased Walker upon the latter’s conversion to Catholicism, “You are giving up your mind.” Shelby would later tell Tolson that he was surprised Walker didn’t get angry at some of the things he said. Percy died of cancer in 1990 at the age of 73. In its memorial column about the author, the Washington Post said, “He called his second book, ‘The Last Gentlemen.’ That distinction belongs in truth to Percy himself.” The Times Picayune paid similar tribute with: “He was both a gentleman and a gentle man.” Walker’s brother Phin wrote to the Times Picayune that the many memorials missed out on one thing. “He counseled countless aspiring writers even after his own physical pain became so intense he could no longer continue his own writing.” Patrick Samway, S.J., who has written two books on Percy, said at a local Percy conference, “We can gauge his stature by the critical attention given him. Percy is still teaching me.” In his tribute to Percy, the Los Angeles Times’ Frank Levering wrote, “He is one of the few contemporary fiction writers who have written as if God matters. And for that reason, he will last beyond our times.” In 1989, an International Walker Percy Conference was held in Denmark, evidence of the breadth of his influence. Since the early ’90s, the St. Tammany Parish Library has sponsored annual symposiums on Percy, attracting speakers and attendees from across the country.
What Percy’s Characters Say
• In “The Thanatos Syndrome,” we read, “TV has screwed up millions of people with their little rounded-off stories, because that is not the way life is. Life is fits and starts, mostly fits.” • Also in “Thanatos Syndrome,” psychiatrist Dr. More says, “People who set their hearts on happiness either usually end up seeing me or somebody like me or having heart attacks or climbing into a bottle.” • In “The Moviegoer,” Binx says, “The search is what anyone would undertake if he were not sunk in the everydayness of his own life. To become aware of the possibility of the search is to be on to something. Not to be on to something is to be in despair.” What Other Writers Say About Percy
• Alfred Kazan wrote in Harper’s Magazine: “Percy is a philosopher among novelists, the satiric Dostoevsky of the bayou. The madness of his heroes is a figure of speech for the loneliness of looking for a God who is the great unknown and cannot be found. That a novelist should make one think of such things says much about Walker Percy.” • Gary Ciuba said of Percy’s characters: “His displaced people recognize that they have fallen away from what they should be. Troubled, they are then quickened by an almost Augustinian restlessness of heart. They begin to look beyond their insularity to a divine other.” • Frank Levering wrote in the Los Angeles Times after Percy’s death: “In one form or another, his six novels are variations on
the theme of alienation of self from God. These are the existentialist themes of the men he studies, but Percy was Catholic and draws very different conclusions from those who announced the death of God.” • Gail Godwin wrote in the New York Times: “All his fiction chronicles the continuing battle between good and evil in a modern society where both words are out of fashion, if not downright suspect. The malaise Percy visits upon all his heroes is a dis-ease with the godless modern world, which causes them to despair, but also permits them to see better than those who are sunk in everydayness, a favored term in the Percy canon.” • Lewis Lawson suggests that Percy’s works are filled with the ideas of those he read while convalescing: “Kierkegaard said that despair is not a catastrophe but a ‘stage on the road to hope.’ Percy’s characters follow Kierkegaard’s conception of life as a series of ‘stages of existence.’” • Tom Clancy, S.J., former president of WWL-TV, said: “In many ways, Percy’s writing reminds us of the parables. Sometimes it is hard to get his point. But for all their subtlety, his stories are powerful and moving. Like Jesus, Walker loved humor and irony.” • Fred Cascio Jr. wrote: “Percy has allowed man to laugh at himself in spite of his serious dilemma. Each man must strive to be happy in an unhappy world where superpowers play poker with missiles. But the pervading humorous tone of his novels serves to illustrate that all is not bleakness and despair. Salvation is to be found in faith in God and themselves.” Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 87
Reprinted from Inside Northside, March-April 2010 by Stephen Faure Let’s play Jeopardy! The answer is: A Grammy winner who recorded more than a dozen albums during his career, built a home and a golf course in Covington, Louisiana, and wrote songs that are featured in over a hundred motion pictures and television shows, including
Louis Prima: King Louis’ reign on the northshore The Jungle Book, Raging Bull, Mystic Pizza, Mad Dog and Glory, Casino, Analyze This, Pollock, Anger Management, Elf, Gilmore Girls, The Simpsons, The Sopranos and Everybody Loves Raymond. The correct response: Who is Louis Prima? Spanning eras and styles from Dixieland Jazz to Swing to Big Band, Boogie-Woogie and Rock and Roll, his songs and performances are intertwined in America’s cultural fabric. His 88 I ns ide N orthside
classic recordings, such as Sing Sing Sing (With a Swing); Just a Gigolo/I Ain’t Got Nobody; Buona Sera; Jump, Jive and Wail; Angelina; I Wanna Be Like You; and When You’re Smiling (The Whole World Smiles with You) have been used in commercials for companies like The Gap, Coca-Cola, Nike, Fiat, Talbot’s, General Motors and Commerce Bank of America. To this day, they are performed by singers and bands and heard on radio stations and jukeboxes worldwide. The New Orleans entertainer, born December 7, 1910, on St. Ann Street, would be 100 years old this year. Prima and his family were a part of St. Tammany for 45 years; their story is a great northshore story to tell as Prima’s centennial year and St. Tammany’s bicentennial coincide. A big fan and student of all things Louis Prima is northshore notable and former Louisiana Music Commissioner Bernie Cyrus,
who had a lot to offer about Prima, his music, his popularity and what Cyrus (and many others) believe Prima’s place in New Orleans’ music pantheon should be. “Louis Prima was such a deep musician and an all-encompassing entertainer; it’s amazing we were blessed enough to have him over here in Covington. To me, he was understated, underrated and underappreciated—I mean he never got what he really deserved,” Cyrus says. He notes that one of the earliest groups of inductees into the Rock’n Roll Hall of Fame [which, he says, rightfully belongs in New Orleans] included Louis Armstrong, whom Louis Prima idolized. “Louis Prima was the white Louis Armstrong. I’m not saying that as a slight to Louis [Armstrong], because he called Louis [Prima] ‘one of the white greats.’” Prima, like Armstrong, might be remembered for a gruff singing voice, but he was an accomplished instrumentalist who might have become a concert violinist if his childhood training on that instrument had not been derailed the first time he picked up his brother Leon’s trumpet as a teenager. “Louis Armstrong is famous for Hello Dolly and a handkerchief and sweating and having a charismatic personality. Except among musicians and jazz enthusiasts, he’s not as well known as the great player that he was,” Cyrus says. “Now, Louis Prima had a great horn, too. He was a bad-ass player.” After getting a taste of performing in clubs in New Orleans, Prima set off touring the country, heading up to the “big-time,” New York City, in 1934. There he began a fast-moving career with his own band, Louis Prima and His New Orleans Gang, and his own brand of swing music, headlining nightclubs up and down 52nd St., which became known as “Swing Street” after Prima hit town. His energetic, fun-loving style made him a very
popular performer. As Cyrus observes, “Louis Prima was a totally accomplished entertainer. I always tell people we’re not just in the music business—we’re in show business. Because if you want to be in the music business, you’re going to be playing to people in an elevator or at the symphony. You can’t captivate people for four hours on stage and not entertain them. You have to have something. Louis Prima knew that.” Prima was always recording and always touring, selling out nightclubs and theaters all over the country. In the 1940s, his group evolved into a big band orchestra, always under the banner of his motto, “Be Happy.” It was also in the ’40s, in tribute to his mother and in celebration of his Italian heritage, that he wrote and recorded tunes such as Angelina, Josephina, Please No Squeeza Da Banana, Bacciagaloop, Makes Love on the Stoop, and Felicia No Capicia, preceding the wave of Italian crooners Frank Sinatra, Tony Bennet, Perry Como, Dean Martin and Vic Damone. In the 1950s, Prima developed a Las Vegas nightclub act with New Orleans saxophonist Sam Butera and his band, The Witnesses, and singer Keely Smith, who married Prima in 1953. The three performers proved to have great chemistry. Their act was punctuated by back-and-forth comedic dialogue, with Prima interjecting nonsense scat-jive while Smith sang (think of sounds like “beep-bop a-deedly bo-do”). As one modern critic noted, “Long before there was a Little Richard, there were people sitting around listening to Louis Prima records, asking, ‘What was that? What did he say?’” Smith also served as the “straight man” to Prima’s jokes. Many believe the act was the model for Sonny and Cher’s shtick later in the ’60s and ’70s. In 1958, Prima and Smith were awarded the first-ever Grammy in the category Best Performance by a Vocal Group or Chorus for their recording of That Old Black Magic. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 89
They also appeared in movies, including The Continental Twist and Hey Boy! Hey Girl! Rock and roll was at its beginnings then, and Prima’s showmanship served as an early influence. He always moved on stage, a constant, wiggling, shuffle. Butera’s trademark ripping saxophone solos were adopted by early rockers like Bill Hailey and the Comets; the sax solo quickly evolved into rock and roll’s wailing guitar solo. Prima’s on-stage style rubbed off on at least one legendary performer. When asked where he got his wiggle, Elvis Presley said, “From Louis Prima, of course.” Cyrus commented on Prima’s influence, saying, “To me, rock and roll is Chuck Berry and Elvis Presley. Now, there’s a lot happening in the 50 years between them and Coldplay today. If you look at jazz, there was Rag Time, Dixieland, Swing, Big Band, Be-Bop, all developing from the 1890s to the 1950s. Louis Prima was a conduit of those styles for later cats. Prima transcended jazz because he was tied to the rock and roll era, too. He had hits all the way up to the ’60s; he acted in movies. I hate to use this cliché, but he was a natural-born entertainer.” In the 1960s, sometime after he and Smith divorced, Prima, Butera and the band began performing with singer Gia Maione, having found her after two years of auditions held across the country. Prima and Maione married in 1963. It was during the 1950s and ’60s that Prima invested in St. Tammany, first buying 36 acres along Highway 190 south of Covington in 1951. Gia Prima recalls the history of the Prima’s St. Tammany property, which he christened Pretty Acres. “Louis had racehorses, which ran at Aqueduct and also at the Fairgrounds. He thought it would be some nice acreage, a little farm, where he could turn the horses out and work them when they weren’t racing. After a while, he actually put in a mile90 I ns ide N orthside
and-a-quarter race track on that property for the horses to train and work out.” Besides racing horses, another of Prima’s hobbies was golf. In a moment of genius, Gia explains, Prima combined his two loves. “He put a couple of holes of golf in the infield of the track for himself so he could putt around and enjoy his golf as well.” Finding St. Tammany life appealing, “Before you know it, he purchased a few more acres, built the house there and brought his mother (Angelina) and father (Anthony) over from New Orleans to live on the property,” Gia says. “In 1956 he purchased an additional 60 acres. Little by little over time, he built the 18 holes at Pretty Acres. He built motel units behind the house. He put a super-duper kitchen in the house and a seating area for a restaurant in the lower level. Mama Prima became very famous for her cooking in the restaurant there. At the same time, he had a little miniature golf course right along the highway for kids to enjoy and a small pro shop on Highway 190. It became a very popular spot for people to get away from New Orleans for the weekend, stay in the motel, enjoy Mama Prima’s cooking and play some golf. Of course, over the years, we visited there on vacations and time off. Papa passed away in 1961 and Mama in ’65. After Mama passed away, they discontinued the restaurant and motel and just ran the pro shop and golf.” All the while, Louis, Gia and Sam Butera were performing throughout the country. In 1966, Prima, who had appeared in movies all during the 1930s, ’40s and ’50s, took on one of his best-known roles, providing the voice for King Louie, the orangutan in Disney’s The Jungle Book. Animators captured Prima’s on-stage antics for King Louie’s performance of the tune I Wanna Be Like You, a song that has been covered by bands from Phish to Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, Smash Mouth and the Jonas Brothers. Louis and Gia had two children, Lena and
Louis Jr., who attended St. Peter School and River Forest Academy when the family was in Covington (they lived in Las Vegas and in New Orleans as well). “Of course, they loved the golf course, loved River Forest Academy. It was a healthy, wholesome place to live,” Gia remembers. Both are entertainers in Las Vegas now. Gia recalls Louis Jr. showing an early flair for showbiz. “He had a high I.Q., but he was always clowning around.” Occasionally, Gia would get a call from the sisters at St. Peter School, “Like his father, he would rather get a laugh than get an A.” While enjoying northshore life in the 1960s and ’70s, Prima made New Orleans his home base professionally. “We appeared at the old Blue Room in the Fairmont [now Roosevelt] Hotel during the ’60s. In fact, we did a special performance at Jesuit—Louis went to Jesuit High. They presented him with an honorary diploma. It was really a beautiful event,” Gia recalls. (Prima was removed from Jesuit two weeks before graduation, the tale is told, for cursing a priest.) The Primas took over the Hotel Monteleone’s rooftop Skylight Lounge for three years, until it closed in 1974. Andrea Thornton, the Monteleone’s director of sales and marketing, remembers, “Prima’s crooning in Italian was known to have a strong effect on his female fans. In fact, at some concerts, women would express their adoration by lining the stage with pans of lasagna.” Not too long after his last show at the Hotel Monteleone, Prima’s health took a bad turn when, in 1975, he underwent surgery for a brain tumor and fell into a coma during the procedure. His surgery took place in Los Angeles, and after six months in a coma there, he was brought to New Orleans for further treatment. “Louis was very good friends with Drs. John and Mims Ochsner. Mims used to call at the hospital in Los Angeles
regularly to check on Louis,” Gia says. “He had Louis brought to Ochsner Clinic for a shunt procedure, which was not successful. “Louis’ sister was a nun at St. Joseph’s in New Orleans; she taught piano lessons for years. When he was still in the coma, they honored Louis for the St. Joseph’s Day Parade in 1977. Sister Mary Ann, Lena and Louis Jr. and I rode in the carriage. It was very special, a spiritual thing, in the hope that he would have a miraculous recovery.” Gia stayed at his side until he died in August 1978. While Louis languished in a coma and his family focused on his care, hoping for a recovery, Pretty Acres fell into disrepair. After Prima’s death, Gia took over and put her heart and soul into the property. “Eventually, before I took it over, people got to calling it ‘Ugly Acres’ instead of Pretty Acres, or they would say, ‘we’re going to play the cow pasture.’ I had a big job on my hands to get it back in shape. I was actually on the tractors and the greens mowers. Pretty Acres never had sand traps or cart paths. The tees were all at ground level, so I raised them up and made nice tees. I put in cart paths, drainage ditches and gorgeous sand traps. I bought some used carts. I’ll never forget the day [people] saw the golf carts. You could hear them screeching their brakes on 190 and pulling into Pretty Acres saying, ‘You got carts!’” In the 1990s, Pretty Acres closed. The site is now commercially developed with retail stores and restaurants, along Highway 190 from Copeland’s to Wal-Mart. A street named Louis Prima Drive alongside Copeland’s is the only sign that Prima was ever part of the area, apart from the row of oak trees on the neutral ground in front of Home Depot; the trees once lined the driveway to the Prima’s home. “I was forced to sell it—I would never have sold it—it was a heartbreak for me,” Gia says, but Prima’s estate had to be settled. Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 91
“On closing day, the golfers were crying and taking souvenirs. It was a special place. Everyone loved it and I loved them,” Gia says. “It was such a wonderful family atmosphere. Everyone took me under their wing. Forever in my heart, Covington and the people of Covington have a special place.” But the world wasn’t finished with Louis Prima yet. In the late ’90s, GAP began an advertising campaign selling their khaki pants featuring swing dancers hopping to the sounds of Prima’s Jump, Jive and Wail, performed almost note-for-note with his original arrangement by the Brian Setzer Orchestra. Setzer won a Grammy for the recording in 1998, and a new generation was exposed to Prima’s legacy. Other bands carried on with a resurgence of swing music. Groups such as The Cherry Poppin’ Daddies, Big Bad Voodoo Daddy and Royal Crown Revue carried the torch and covered Prima’s hits. The 2007 DVD release of The Jungle Book was met with phenomenal sales. The 2006 Academy Awards featured a montage of famous movie primates from King Kong to Planet of the Apes and many more that was underscored by Prima’s performance of I Wanna Be Like You from The Jungle Book. Louis was honored on the February 2008 Grammy telecast with a special tribute to the 50th anniversary of his receipt of the Grammy for his recording of That Old Black Magic. He was also inducted into the Louisiana Music Hall of Fame that same year.
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Local music fans such as Bernie Cyrus hope there will be more recognition of Prima and his contributions, not only to the entertainment world, but also to the northshore community. “The fact that he was over here in Covington, invested money in the northshore and built Pretty Acres—we should have a statue for him the size of the Fifty-Foot Woman, in my opinion,” Cyrus says. “That little-bitty street next to Wal-Mart ain’t cutting it for me, even though it’s the site of Pretty Acres. It should be something meaningful.” Prima was interred in Metairie Cemetery alongside his mother and father in a crypt overlooked by a statue of the angel Gabriel, who’s blowing a trumpet. And only in New Orleans, and only with Louis Prima, would you find these words forever engraved on a tomb: When the End Comes I Know They’ll Say “Just a Gigolo” As Life Goes on Without me. Gia has since moved from the area, but visits on occasion; she and her children still maintain ties with close friends here. She now manages the licensing and sale of Prima’s music and image full-time. More on Louis Prima can be found at the official website, LouisPrima.com, including CDs of his recordings and other merchandise.
Reprinted from Inside Northside, September-October 2010
The northshore is gearing up for its bicentennial celebration, and there’s no better person to talk to about the area’s history than Judge Frederick Stephen Ellis, the man who wrote the book (literally) on the story of St. Tammany Parish. Ellis is a distinguished lawyer and jurist, World War II veteran, historian and all-around delightful guy to have a conversation with. His curiosity about the area culminated in 1982, when he published St. Tammany Parish: L’Autre Côté du Lac (the other side of the lake), the definitive history of the parish to the cusp of the 20th century. “I really believe the people in this parish were independent thinkers,” Judge Ellis says, noting that independence is a theme that describes area residents from the days of the first European settlers. As he observes, it rubbed off on all the subsequent “come heres” who, through the course of a tumultuous history, became natives and shaped the parish into what it has become today.
Before 1810, as Ellis explains, the northshore’s history was quite turbulent. France, Spain and England all laid claim, and, briefly, so did the United States, before the United States even existed. After an American Revolutionary War ship captured a British ship in the Mississippi Sound, it headed to
Talking History with Judge Ellis the northshore for the surrender of its British subjects. “They surrendered to a United States ship and declared themselves to be citizens of the United States. The same day, the British surrendered to the Spanish in Baton Rouge and surrendered the whole territory, so instead of being American, they were Spanish,” Ellis notes of this quirk in our past. Spanish rule lasted until 1810. It was in the late summer of that year that the Spanish garrison at Baton Rouge Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 93
was taken over by rebellious residents, and the West Florida Republic was born. The upcoming bicentennial marks the 200th anniversary of the Florida Parishes becoming part of the Louisiana Territory, and thus, part of the United States, on December 22, 1810. On that day, Gov. William C. C. Claiborne issued a proclamation creating four parishes out of the land between the Pearl River and the Mississippi: Feliciana, East Baton Rouge, St. Helena and St. Tammany. They’ve been further subdivided since; parts of the original parishes became Tangipahoa, Washington and Livingston parishes, while Feliciana was divided into East and West Feliciana. Ellis says that the northshore’s independent streak never died, however. “When the time came for the West Florida Republic, the area that’s now St. Tammany wanted to remain in Spain because Spain left them alone. They fell into the West Florida Republic anyway. When Louisiana came into the United States, they wanted to be part of the Mississippi Territory, yet they fell into Louisiana anyhow, because they didn’t have the votes along the Mississippi River.” Student to Naval Officer to Country Lawyer
Ellis’ own story begins in those upstart Florida Parishes. Born in Amite, his family has a long history on the northshore. “My greatgrandfather practiced law throughout that district [the judicial district covering Livingston/ St. Helena/Tangipahoa parishes]. I remember I was up there one time, driving through Greensburg, and there was his name on a window up on the second story of some building by the courthouse. He’d been dead since 1918, and he hadn’t practiced law since 1880!” Ellis, though, did not remain long on the northshore for the first part of his life; his father moved the family to Uptown New Orleans when he was 3 months old. “My 94 I ns ide N orthside
mother was a schoolteacher, and since she was married she couldn’t teach in the public school system in those days, so she was teaching in a little private school called New Orleans Academy. As part of her compensation, my two brothers and I went to the school, which was, generally speaking, inhabited by people with money—you didn’t send kids to private school in the 1930s unless daddy had a bit of money. It was a military school; I was in uniform from the time I was six years old. So we were fortunate to get our education there; it was a very, very good school.” After graduating from high school there, he entered Tulane University and joined the Navy ROTC. “When the war started, I was immune from being drafted. At the end of our junior year, they came in and announced we were going to be commissioned a year early. They needed a lot of people to man those amphibious ships they were building. So here I was, 19 years old, and they slapped a stripe on my sleeve, shipped us off to Camp Bradford in Virginia and we underwent six weeks of training. Then, as a crew, we went and boarded a ship in Pittsburgh, Pa. We went down the river, took it down to Panama City, Fla. and then overseas.” The ship was of a type called a Landing Ship, Tank, or LST. Lt. j.g. Ellis was assigned to LST-751, which took part in deciding battles of the Pacific Theater of World War II. “We did D-Day [the military term for any invasion date] in Leyte Gulf and D-Day at the Lingayen Gulf in the Philippines. We also did D-Day in Brunei Bay in Borneo.” Later, as the United States closed in on the Japanese home islands, Ellis says, “We already had our assignment for the invasion of Japan. We were going back to Leyte Gulf to start rehearsing for that when the war ended.” LST-751 then took part in the occupation of Japan. As things wound down in the Pacific, Ellis says men started getting sent home. “We
started loosing people. I became the executive officer and was ordered to another ship, the LST-1026, in China as the commanding officer. I was CO of the LST 1026 for a few months. We went down to French Indochina [now Vietnam], down to Haiphong, which is the seaport for Hanoi. It was a convoy, and we picked up a boatload of Chinese nationalist troops and carried them up to Manchuria. They had been along the Burma Road, and we took them up to Manchuria because they were going to fight the communists. Of course, they lost. By the time we got to Shanghai, my points were up, and they found somebody to take over the ship. I was happy to go home.” After arriving back in New Orleans, he remembers, “I was separated from the service on a Friday. On Monday, I started summer school at Tulane.” He studied civil engineering for three years, and journalism for one. “I met my first wife at the office of the Tulane Hullabaloo and married her that summer. He switched to geology, but decided he would enter law school. It was, after all, a family tradition, going back to his great-great grandfather Ezekiel P. Ellis, who had been Clerk of Court in St. Tammany in the 1830s and judge in Tangipahoa. He earned his degree and decided he wanted to get out of New Orleans. In 1949, he began commuting to Covington to work in the office of Dalton Barranger, doing mostly real estate work—title examinations and transactions. He moved to Covington in 1951. Ellis fondly remembers the time spent with his close friend, St. Tammany icon Walker Percy. They met soon after Ellis began working in Covington, and their families became close in the 1970s, occasionally vacationing together. “Then, when my first wife died, [the Percys] were very good to me, almost made me a member of the family. When I remarried, my current wife [Haydee] and Walker were big friends. We still see Bunt every week,” Ellis
says, referring to Walker’s widow. “I didn’t function on the same intellectual level he did,” Ellis says. “I read all his books and we talked about them, but mostly we were friends on a level other than that. His fame was not an issue to us. Walker kind of liked to be famous when he got caught at it. When someone recognized him and came over to get an autograph, you could tell he was pleased, even though he pretended as if he wasn’t. Walker was a nice man; he was a good man. He wrote novels because he really believed he had something to say.” On the Bench
After ten years of practicing law, Ellis made a successful run for district judge and was elected in 1960. “When I first came over here, there was one judge. He would have one week of court in Washington Parish and one week of court in St. Tammany Parish every month.” When Ellis was elected, it was the first time the district had two judges, and he worked fulltime in St. Tammany, clearing a clogged docket within eight months. “We did everything from traffic to murder,” he recalls. In 1966, his cousin Robert Ellis died. Robert was chief judge of the First Circuit Court of Appeal at the time. “That election [to replace Robert] was held the same day as my election, or potential re-election, to the district court,” Ellis says. “So I was faced with having to give up my district judgeship if I wanted to run—most guys like to run in an off-year election so if they lose they’ve still got a job—I didn’t get to do that. I finally decided to take a shot at it and got elected to the Court of Appeal in 1966 and served there until 1982,” retiring as the court’s chief judge. For many years thereafter, he worked as an ad hoc judge all over the state, sitting in when other judges weren’t able to hear cases. He mainly sat in New Orleans, but notes with his characteristic humor, “I went to Co vi n gt o n B i c e n t e n n i a l 95
Pointe à la Hache and Edgard—exotic places like that.” In 1990, he was appointed liquidator of Champion Insurance Co., at the time one of the ten largest insurance failures in history. “Now it would be peanuts,” he notes, in this post-AIG world. After that, he became counsel for the state medical licensing board, a post he holds to this day, and is of counsel to the law firm Dutel and Tomeny, LLC. The Historian
So how did this naval veteran, country lawyer and judge become a history book writer? “I was on the Bicentennial [the United States bicentennial in 1976] Commission. I had already published one article on the American Revolution in Louisiana, so they put me in charge of the past—there were sections for past, present and future. I thought it would be a good idea to get a history written. So I went to some real historians and asked if they would help out and collaborate on it.” He says that, after securing their promise to help, “As is usual in that sort of thing, neither one of them did a thing, so I wound up having to do it myself. That’s how I became a historian.” The result, St. Tammany Parish: L’Autre Côté du Lac, is an interesting, easy-to-read compilation telling the stories of the people who built the parish. It’s carefully documented and reflects a lot of hard work that, as his fascination grew, became a labor of love. “I plowed a lot of new ground with that book. I spent time finding primary sources. I did a lot at the State Museum Library in New Orleans and got a lot of material from the Archive of the Indies in Seville, Spain; from the British Museum; some material from Paris; and a lot of stuff from the Harvard library. Of course, I went to New Orleans and looked at archives there. I was able to find material that pertained to St. Tammany Parish back to the middle of the 18th century. “The prevailing myth at the time I started 96 I ns ide N orthside
was that St. Tammany Parish was settled in the 1770s and on by British people moving from the east coast. Then I found French people living over here as early as 1727. That just ballooned. I got a lot of material from those old archives, and then I had to translate them—I had to re-learn my high school French and Spanish; there wasn’t anybody else to do it. My mother translated a couple of pieces, but I mostly did it myself. The most surprising thing, I think, was that there were big-time tar kilns here, people making tar out of pine trees, in the 1720s and 1730s. By then, there were settlements along the Tchefuncte River and Bayou Liberty. Bayou Liberty, I was pleased to learn, was named after a guy named Bertrand Jaffre. In the lower levels of French society people had nicknames—aliases. His nickname was La Liberte, and that’s where Bayou Liberty comes from—he was on Bayou Liberty.” One thing that stoked his interest in St. Tammany’s history was something he noticed during his time examining titles in the parish—that people had been making plans to subdivide it since the beginning. “If you could look at all the planned subdivisions up to the turn of the 20th century, we were just plastered with subdivisions. But none of them ever succeeded. Then in 1953, two guys named Bierhorst and Elmer subdivided a big tract of land on Bayou Liberty, and [the lots] were going for $300.” Not an unusual situation, but, he notes, “This time, people started building houses on them—the first time that happened.” Later, he says, “Gus Baldwin on Bayou Bonfouca subdivided the back part of his property, and he was selling lots for $600. Upscale stuff; and people built on that, too. It took off, and then the Causeway came, and that just changed everything.” Ellis sees continued growth for St. Tammany. “New Orleans is always going to be there, because the river is there, and
there’s no getting away from what goes on in the river. The port business is the backbone of the city. You can say what you like about tourism, but in hard times tourism goes away and that river stays right there.” He hopes the independent streak keeps running through the parish, recalling, “When the Civil War came along, St. Tammany Parish voted Union by some large majority. It’s been like that throughout our history. The old people have been sort of submerged by the 10-fold increase in population between 1950 and now. But
they’re still there somewhere. I said at the end of the book, I hope that some of that rubs off on the people living here now—that they’re going to think for themselves and view things independently and act on those beliefs whether it’s the smart thing to do or not. This is a great place to live because of that.” All of us at Inside Northside are grateful to Judge Ellis for writing the introduction to St. Tammany: A Bicentennial Celebration, the official publication commemorating the parish’s first 200 years.
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