This is US
Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
A special publication of L’Observateur
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 1 Visit us online at www.lobservateur.com
Bienvenue! Welcome: It is my pleasure to present to you St. John the Baptist Parish, a community located in the heart of the River Parishes along the Mighty Mississippi River. St. John is home to nearly 45,000 residents living in Edgard, Garyville, Mount Airy, LaPlace, Lucy, Pleasure Bend, Reserve, and Wallace. This issue will highlight life in the River Parishes and the many organizations and businesses proudly located in this rich and diverse community. In coordination with our partners, the Port of South Louisiana, the River Parishes Tourist Commission, GNO, Inc., Louisiana Economic Development and the River Region Chamber of Commerce, our efforts to promote and enhance our community are finally coming to fruition. It is a great time to live and work in St. John the Baptist Parish where billions of dollars of new investments are on the horizon and millions of dollars are being invested in infrastructure and quality of life improvements. As Parish President, I am committed to continuing to move St. John the Baptist Parish forward beyond pre-Isaac. As we work toward a full recovery, our vulnerabilities continue to be exposed by the increases in the frequency and intensity of severe weather events. Our hard work advocating for a hurricane protection levee has finally resulted in an authorized project and we are now working on securing funding for construction of the project. St. John the Baptist Parish is located along a major corridor with various modes of transportation that make us an ideal location for new businesses, industrial developments, and a future depot along the Super Rail between Baton Rouge and New Orleans. However, the beauty and uniqueness of our communities along Historic River Road continue to draw tourists from around the world. Locations such as San Francisco Plantation, Evergreen Plantation, Cajun Swamp Tours, Historic Riverlands, Woodville Cemetery, and others deliver the story of St. John’s rich history and culture to tourists from near and far. Please take time to read this special issue and share in the pride of our community and our people. We ask that you support our local newspaper, as it features important news and community events. Be a part of something great and help make St. John the Baptist Parish the best that it can be. Please visit the parish website at www.sjbparish.com to view our latest news and upcoming events in the community. St. John the Baptist Parish is the best place to live, work, and raise a family, and we invite you to take part in all that we have to offer.
– Natalie Robottom St. John the Baptist Parish President 2 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions may be no more kins of Tickfaw has a See what’s inside: There important local busifull-time career not Luce Marks Jr. graduated from high school in 1947 and owned his own barbershop in four years, working ever since cutting hair for those in and around St. John the Baptist Parish...Page 4 Craig James barely survived a grave injury in 2005, finding the energy since to build up a local janitorial business. He gives back to his community by reaching out to local youth and working with prisoners.... Page 8
ness on the West Bank than Club Grocery, located at 3035 Highway 18 in Edgard. It has served the tight-knit West Bank community for generations.... Page 12
many people would expect. Perkins works as an Elvis tribute artist, dressing in full costume and transporting audiences back in time with his deep, soulful voice....Page 24
Gery Gaubert of Luling relies on only four senses in his assistant administrator position in the information technology division of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office....Page 19
Brent “Cool” Duhe is one of those people who is genuinely caring and invaluable. Along with being the self-proclaimed mayor of Mimosa Street, he’s also a retired Marine, chef, runner and handyman who is celebrating more than 50 years of being out of the service and back in his hometown with family....Page 29
While other 18-year-olds hold part-time jobs at restaurants and grocery stores, Nick Per-
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This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 3
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Who needs a haircut? 4 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions
hen Luce Marks Jr. graduated from high school in 1947, he never expected he would become a barber. Less than two years later, he started cutting hair at Happy Jack’s Barber Shop in Norco. On Jan. 11, 1951, he established Marks Barber Shop on Main Street in LaPlace and has operated out of the same building ever since. It’s been so much more than a career for that last 70 years. For Marks, being a barber is an identity; it’s his life story, encompassing nearly seven decades of carefully clipping hair and conversing with familiar customers who have become family. The shop has persisted through the years, lasting as Marks reached retirement age, struggled with his hearing, lost his beloved wife and underwent surgery to remove a cancerous kidney. Life’s curveballs never kept Marks from work. Now 88, he finds comfort in staying active
in the business that has always treated him well. “Business has been good to me,” Marks said. “I can’t complain about that. As long as my health holds out, I’ll keep doing it.” After a fall in his garage last summer, Marks went to the doctor to have his broken rib checked and inquire about blood in his urine. Tests came back indicating a cancerous growth in his left kidney, and on July 28, Marks underwent surgery to have the organ removed. He was back to work in two weeks. “Everything’s looking good,” Marks said. “I’ve been taking tests every so often. I’d say the operation took some of my ambition and kept me from spending time out in my garden. This is the first time it’s mostly empty. I’m getting that drive back again now, and I’m feeling better.” Marks’ garden, stretching 170 by 100 rows, is one of his prized possessions. Cutting hair, tending to the
garden, hunting, fishing and spending time with his family have been the hallmarks of his life. Originally from St. Landry Parish, Marks worked on a tugboat for Louisiana Dredging following his high school graduation. The work was unfulfilling, and when he ran across an old friend who was attending barber school, Marks knew in his gut it was time for a career change. It all happened fast. Through talking with his old friend, Joe, Marks learned there was a class starting the following Monday. That Sunday, Marks packed his bags and traveled to Houston, where he attended barber college for six months. While finishing his certification in Houston, Marks traveled back to New Orleans to visit his father. He’d heard from Joe through a letter not long before and made plans to stop and visit. Working in Norco but hoping to relocate closer to home, Joe
told Marks he planned to leave his job at Happy Jack’s Barber Shop. A timely job opening was left in his place. Marks remembers the day clearly. “I went hunting and killed a 7-point buck. I went back to the house - my Mama was there. Then I took a bath and went off to talk about starting the job a few weeks later, after I got my license.” On January 14, 1949, Marks started working at Happy Jack’s in Norco and stayed for about two years. With seemingly half the town of Norco moving toward LaPlace and an offer from his brother-in-law to operate from a building on Main Street, Marks took steps to start his own business. The building was originally a barroom, and the addition of Marks Barber Shop meant people could come to get a haircut and head through the door to enjoy a beer. As industry developed along the Mississippi River, it brought in a lot of business
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 5
from neighboring towns. “Most of my customers are regular customers,” Marks said. “There are a couple of customers that I still cut hair for that I’ve known since I started off in 1949.” After marrying, Marks settled down in LaPlace and raised a family of five children, two boys and three girls. None of his children share his passion for barbershop work, Marks said. However, daughter Cindy Waldron has fond memories of her father cutting her and her siblings’ hair. Waldron said Marks Barber Shop has served generations because of her father’s personable nature. “I think it’s a family connection,” Waldron said. “The people who come to the shop are not just his customers; they are his friends.” Over time, Marks has come to know just about everyone in the community, Waldron said, and he even has a street named after him. When two E. 30th streets spelled confusion for 911 emergency response teams, Marks’
Marks Barber Shop on Main Street in LaPlace was established Jan. 11, 1951, and today still serves loyal customers used to quality work.
residential road was renamed Barber Dr. because of the history his family business holds in LaPlace. Today, Waldron lives only one street away from Marks, and she stops by to make him breakfast every morning. She holds her father’s values and work ethic in high respect.
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“He’s a devout Catholic who says his prayers every night and a very mild-mannered person,” Waldron said. “He’s worked hard all his life to put five kids through Catholic school and college.” Marks said he is lucky to have all of his children live either with him or within a couple
thousand feet. “Since the wife passed away, I’ve been fortunate to have my kids really help me out,” Marks said. At 88 years old, Marks now has numerous grandchildren and great grandchildren. Just as his family has expanded, so has LaPlace. “This was a country town when I first started off,” Marks said. “At one time, if you drove past Airline Motors and Roussel’s Restaurant, then you’d missed LaPlace. The rest was sugar cane.” Expansion has brought positive changes and diversity, Marks said, though he misses the days when nobody knew a stranger. Marks Barber Shop has remained more or less frozen in time. It remains in the same space, with one employee and no telephone or website. Word-ofmouth and friendships have always been enough to rely on, Marks said. — By Brooke Robichaux
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ometimes life has a tough way of teaching us lessons. It certainly did for Gramercy native Craig James. On July 11, 2005, just a few weeks before Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans, he was in a dreadful car wreck that left his doctors hopeless. “My car was smashed like a can. I was on life support for one-and-a-half months in Charity Hospital and I lost 60 percent of my eyesight because there was so much glass debris in my eyes,” James explained from his home in Lutcher. The doctors told his mother that, if he lived, he would be in a vegetative state and unable to do very much. “My mom just wouldn’t give up. She would visit every day and anoint my hands and feet to the service of the Lord,” said the 39-year-old father of four. “She put headphones over my ears so that I could hear praise and worship music. “One day the doctors came in and told her they were ready to take me off life support. My mom went outside and began to pray. She said if it was the Lord’s will that I should go, she would accept that. But, she said that if it was the Lord’s will to let me live, then she would accept that too. Just at that time a brown pigeon came and landed on my mom’s foot and, no matter how much she tried to shake it off, the pigeon just stayed on her foot. At the same time, the nurses got her and told her to come quick and see. When they removed me from life support, I just started breathing on my own and I’ve been breathing on my own ever since.” While on life support, James continued to have the same two visions. He said he was in a very dark place in both visions. In the first, he repeatedly cried
out to God, asking for His grace and mercy so he could come back for the sake of his children. In the second vision, he was being chased by three headless demons. He ran so fast he got away and ran to church. Even after he was out of the hospital, James remembered those visions. Later he interpreted the chase vision, knowing the church he ran into was actually Jesus, who he ran to for shelter from the demons trying to claim his life. After recovering from the accident, James flew to Boston to see eye specialists in the suburb of Needham. Doctors learned his corneas were scarred from glass fragments. He was fitted with a special contact lens that improved his vision. His first trip cost approximately $18,000 because of the two-week stay. He returned a year later for a new set of lenses, which allowed him to have normal vision. With three children at the time — the fourth arrived after his accident — James knew his government benefits for disability would not be enough to support his family. Research led to the discovery of the Louisiana Rehabilitation Program, which gave three options: Go back to school, go to work or start a small business. With years of janitorial and grounds keeping experience, James decided to start his own janitorial business. He took classes at the University of New Orleans and “sponged up” as much knowledge as he could on how to run his own business. After writing a 30-page business plan, James was approved for $50,000 to start his own business in 2009, and he’s run that business successfully ever since.
8 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
Craig James, owner of Sparkling Touch Janitorial Co., has operated the business since it began in 2009.
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions 9
“God healed me from this car accident so that I can offer that healing to others.” — Craig James
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else benefit from what God has blessed me with,” he said. “It’s great to hear some of these young men say that they turned their life around because of something they learned from me. One said they paid off their car while working for me. Another said he was able to buy his first house with money earned while working for me. God blesses me so that I can be a blessing for others.” As a faithful member of New Zion Christian Center in Gramercy, James is involved in prison ministry. “I want to be able to give these young men in prison a light at the end of the dark tunnel,” James said with a broad smile that can surely brighten anyone’s day. “God healed me from this car accident so that I can offer that healing to others.”
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West Bank’s must stop on the way home 12 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
Customers and staff members Donald Edwards, from left, Mike Doran, Kerry Lumar, Terry Young and Alvin Perret Jr. gather at Club Grocery in Edgard.
or many, stepping into Club Grocery LLC feels a lot like coming home. Located at 3035 Highway 18 in Edgard, the store has served the tight-knit West Bank community for generations. Community members congregate at the storefront after a hard day’s work, sharing stories of days past and keeping up with the latest news. Several employees recall running through the aisles as young children and buying candies for a penny. Club Grocery is vital to the community as the only grocery resource in the area, but manager Mike Doran said the small-town atmosphere separates the store from larger brands. Everybody knows everybody, Doran said,
and no one who enters the store leaves a stranger. “There’s a family feeling as soon as you walk in the door,” Doran said. “Everyone gets greeted. It’s not like your regular department store.” The Club Grocery family is steady and dependable, willing to help anyone in need. “This is a small community,” Doran said. “If somebody gets in trouble, help is just a phone call away. “If the baby doesn’t have milk, come over here and we’ll buy them milk. There are very few people who come into the store with a dire need who don’t get help.” From regular conversations with customers, staff members are able to gauge the community’s biggest needs and adjust inventory accordingly, Doran said.
He said the personal quality of the business has allowed Club Grocery to persist through the past seven decades. Longtime customer Brenda Mitchell was born in St. James Parish but has lived in St. John the Baptist Parish for 50 years. Club Grocery has been a constant in her life. “I can remember coming from St. James to this store and it was really beautiful, even then,” Mitchell said. “They had a competitor down the street for a while, but it was never as big as this store. You can always get what you need here.” Over the years, Mitchell has come to know Doran and owner Alvin Perret, Jr., son of former owner Alvin “Baby” Perret. “The owners have always been pleasant,”
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 13
Mitchell said. “I’ve found when I come in here and didn’t find what I wanted, if I mention it to Alvin, the next week it was in the store.” At times, Alvin Perret Jr. has gone into his home at the back of the store to search his kitchen for items requested by customers. Mitchell regards the late Baby Perret with high respect for the support he offered to the community. As a former teacher in the St. John public school system, Mitchell would often see Perret donating food for events. Doran became manager after Perret passed away during an open-heart surgery in January 2006. He knows he has big shoes to fill. “Mr. Perret gave a lot away in this community,” Doran said, adding Perret was heavily involved with the fire department and School Board and always found ways to give back to others. “He would take off his own table to give to the community if they needed it,” Doran said. “I’m just carrying on a legacy. I could never be Mr. Perret. I’ve never tried to be Mr. Perret, but I think as time passes, I’m becoming closest to the best fit that you could get to him.” Doran only met Perret a few times over dinner with Alvin Perret Jr., but their discussions about customer service and treating others the way you want to be treated
Club Grocery manager Mike Doran, above, is seen with longtime customer Brenda Mitchell, while, at left, Club Grocery owner Alvin Jr. stands with mother Juanita Perret in one of the store’s aisles.
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left a lasting impact on him. Originally from Alabama, Doran was working his way up to a manager or director position at Red Lobster when he was asked by the Perret family to help run Club Grocery. “It was a big decision for me to walk away from my Red Lobster job to come into a grocery business I knew nothing about,” Doran said. “Twelve years later, I’m still here, and it’s been great.” He’s assimilated to the West Bank culture while honoring Perret’s legacy through helping others. When an employee fell into a rough financial situation, he used lottery earnings to put a roof over her head. Club Grocery staff participated in relief efforts during Hurricane Isaac in 2012 by donating frozen and refrigerated food items to feed first responders. A portrait of Perret is visible to customers on a photo wall honoring employees and renowned community members who have passed away. West Bank natives who have achieved fame are also recognized on the wall, one example being Quinn Johnson, fullback drafted by the Green Bay Packers. The photo wall is a testament to the generations of residents Club Grocery has reached. Over time, it’s taken many roles in the community. Alvin Perret Jr. said the store was given to his parents 71 years ago, though the
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This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 15
building itself predates the transaction. Originally known to residents as St. John Club, the business was a barroom and gas station owned by Alvin Perret Jr.’s grandfather. Alvin Perret Sr. grew up working in the store, joined the Army and married his wife, Juanita, who still resides in the home attached to the back of the business at 93-years-old. Juanita’s father purchased the store, but his obligations as the primary doctor for the West Bank prevented him from putting in the necessary time and energy to keep it thriving. Soon after, the store was turned over to Perret. The store expanded in size yet decreased in focus as the bar, gas station, barbershop and gambling room were traded away, and the business became known as Club Grocery and General Merchandising. Employee Loretta Lumar recalls coming to the store as a young girl. She said the store once sold “anything you could think of,” from clothing to pipe fittings, lawn mower pull cords, saw blades and car belts. Perret and his daughter, Susan,
ran the store for years until they both passed in 2006. Since the reins were handed to Doran and Alvin Perret Jr., the store has been renamed Club Grocery LLC, and its focus has drifted away from general merchandising. Doran said there’s less of a need for it now, and the most popular items by far are smoked turkey necks and pig tails from the butcher section. “We still butcher our own meat,” Doran said. “Everybody stops here when they get out of church to get what they need to cook. It’s become more of a one-stop ‘let’s get this for tonight’ instead of buying groceries for a month.” No matter how much the community’s needs change, Doran is confident Club Grocery is here to stay. “It will be here forever,” Doran said. “Even when I’m gone, there will be someone in this family to pick it up. They will never let the legacy of Mr. Perret die. Not in this community. His name will always be known.” — By Brooke Robichaux
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The photo wall is a testament to the generations of residents Club Grocery has reached.
Alvin Perret, left, and many others have made Club Grocery in Edgard a place for all kinds of food, fellowship and occasional home supplies.
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions 17
18 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions
Focused Attention Blind officer helps support Sheriff’s Office’s information technology
Gery Gaubert holds up a toy eyeball at his office. The Luling resident dreams of people close to him, though the visual aspect of the experience is limited to flashing of lights and shadows, remnants of his memory before his eyes were removed for medical reasons and replaced with artificial eyeballs.
ery Gaubert of Luling relies on only four senses in his assistant administrator position in the information technology division of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office. Blind since birth, Gaubert enters help desk tickets, answers phone calls, oversees purchasing and requisitions and assists users in solving technical problems without the use of sight. In the early 1990s, when computers were more expensive and less disposable, his work
involved taking machines apart to carefully remove and replace hardware. People call it inspiring, but Gaubert wholeheartedly disagrees. To him, it’s simply reality. Being born blind is different from abruptly losing vision or a body part, Gaubert said. His life is all he has ever known, and he never had any choice but to adapt and find a way to thrive. “Everybody looks at it and says it’s impressive or it’s amazing, but it really isn’t,” Gaubert said. “I never
knew what it was like to see. Everything I learned, I learned as a blind person. It’s not amazing; it’s just life. I can’t impress upon anyone enough that you have to do what you have to do.” Information technology has interested Gaubert from the time he was a child and computers were an up-and-coming technology. He was fascinated by the mystery and yearned to understand how the innermost parts of a machine could work together to process code. After obtaining his associ-
ate’s degree in programming from Nicholls State University and starting a family with wife Patti, Gaubert accepted a part time position at the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office in 1993. Gaubert was initially monitored by administrators who wanted to make sure he was fit for the job during his first few months. His work and capabilities proved up to standard, and he was offered a full-time position in May 1994. Over the years, his responsibilities have shifted from hands-on to managerial, though he still enjoys tinkering
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 19
Gery Gaubert, right, stands with wife Patti and their granddaughter, Ryleigh.
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Gery Gaubert, assistant administrator in the information technology division of the St. Charles Parish Sheriff’s Office, works on his office set up.
with computers and working with users. Information technology staff member Matthew Cantrelle has known Gaubert for many years and works alongside him on a daily basis. Gaubert sometimes needs help accessing visually based programs, Cantrelle said, but for the most part, he takes care of business with a full office set-up consisting of braille displays and laptops optimized with voice control features. Cantrelle said Gaubert’s fierce independence is his most defining characteristic, one that makes him successful in his career and in life. “He’ll do something over and over until he gets it right, without asking for any help,” Cantrelle said. “He wants to do it on his own.” Gaubert learned to take care of himself from a young age. Growing up, his parents always gave him the same chores and responsibilities as his siblings. When he turned 5, his mother sent him to boarding school at the Louisiana State School for
the Blind, now known as the Louisiana State School for the Visually Impaired. He studied there for years before assimilating into the public education system in seventh grade. He suspects it was one of the toughest decisions his mother ever made. When his own son, Ryan, turned 5, Gaubert thought about what he’d experienced and doubted he could send his child out into the world at such a tender age. However, he never doubted his parents made the right decision. Attending school outside of a sheltered environment provided him with independence and life skills. Gaubert has done his fair share of traveling, living out of state and out of country and experiencing language and cultural barriers in addition to the differences that already set him apart. Yet, he never felt incapable of providing for himself. “Before I got married, I lived by myself and had to take care of everything,” he said. “I try not to ask for help unless I
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 21
Gery Gaubert sits on the couch with granddaughter Ryleigh and dog Rocky. Pictured inset, Gery works on his braille typewriter.
really need it because I’m just that independent. If you’re not sure, try. Then if you can’t, ask for help.” He’s learned to navigate familiar areas with relative ease and sort his own laundry by colors he’s incapable of seeing, relying on memorization and sense of touch. Gaubert said his remaining senses aren’t heightened; he just pays more attention to them. “If you were to walk around your house with a blindfold, in a few days, you’d be able to get around,” Gaubert said. “Maybe occasionally you’ll walk into a wall, as evidenced here,” he said, pointing to a small cut on his forehead.
Such incidents are a source of good natured humor at the Sheriff’s Office. “We clown about it at work,” Gaubert said. “I can’t see, so what? You have to accept the hand you’ve been given, and you can’t let it get to you.” Mobility is the biggest challenge, Gaubert said, since smaller towns aren’t set up for people to travel by foot and thus aren’t handicap accessible. When he has to ask for help, it often deals with transportation. In his free time, he enjoys amateur radio work, cooking jambalaya and pastalaya, reading and listening to audio books, being around people and spending time
22 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
with 2-year-old granddaughter Ryleigh. At night, he dreams of people close to him, though the only visual aspect of the experience is the flashing of lights and shadows he recalls seeing before his eyes were removed for medical reasons and replaced with artificial eyeballs. The way Gaubert experiences the world has changed dramatically with advancements in technology. “Technology is a gateway to the world for someone who is totally blind,” Gaubert said, adding he uses voiceover technologies on a daily basis. With voiceover, Gaubert controls the home thermostat, scans
money to know how much he’s handing over during financial transactions, has typewritten documents read to him, conducts research on Google and make purchases through Amazon. Though he has thousands of dollars worth of equipment, he said the iPhone is the single most important piece of technology he uses. “Apple does a great job of making their products accessible,” Gaubert said. “Voiceover comes on every Apple phone, computer, iPod, anything. No other manufacturer does it.” — By Brooke Robichaux
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This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions 23
Nick Perkins, 18, has made quite a name for himself as an Elvis tribute artist. Elvis is Nickâ€™s rock hero. 24 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions
Son of the King While other 18-year-olds hold part-time jobs at restaurants and grocery stores, Nick Perkins of Tickfaw has a full-time career not many people would expect. He dresses in specially designed suits several times a week, styles his dark hair, applies makeup and reaches for his guitar to perform for crowds at restaurants in St. John the Baptist Parish and around Louisiana. The kicker is, when Perkins walks out on stage, people see a rock ‘n’ roll legend from the past. Perkins works as an Elvis tribute artist, dressing in full costume and transporting audiences back in time with his deep,
soulful voice. “I think this is probably one of the jobs you wouldn’t expect a lot of people to do, but it’s definitely been a big thing for me because I get to become my hero for a while,” Perkins said. He became an Elvis Presley fan when his mother took him to an Elvis tribute show as a child, and he’s been on a musical path ever since. After learning to play the guitar and dabbling in country music, Perkins decided he want-
ed to start his own Elvis tribute show. In January 2016, he started performing at local restaurants, and his show has expanded over time. He’s been recognized on a national scale, having placed top 5 in the 2016 Images of the King four-day Elvis tribute artist competition in Memphis, Tenn., featuring contestants from all over the world. In 2017, he placed fourth in the nonprofessional division of the Myrtle Beach Elvis Festival. His three-hour shows include 60 songs that originally focused on 1970s hits, paying homage to the iconic image of Elvis Presley in a white jumpsuit. Perkins said the first part of his show has shifted to include song selections from the 50s and 60s as well, though his favorite song to perform is still the 1970 hit “You’ve Lost That Lovin’ Feelin’.”
Last year, Perkins recruited former classmate Skylar Leach to DJ his shows and manage sound production. Leach was happy to participate in honor of his grandmother, who was a huge Elvis fan. “I feel like I play an important role,” Leach said. “He [Perkins] wouldn’t be able to perform without sound.” The two regularly travel to venues including El Paso restaurants in LaPlace, Slidell, Gonzales and Lafayette, Barrios’ Rock’n Gator in Larose and private events. Along the way, Perkins met a man in LaPlace who has become one of his biggest fans. Sgt. Rick Bailey of the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office heard an Elvis tribute artist was scheduled to perform at El Paso and knew he had to check it out. “I’m a huge Elvis fan,” Bailey said. “I listen to Elvis day in an day out.”
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This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 25
Going into the show, Bailey wasn’t sure what to expect, but it didn’t take long for him to realize the attention to detail Perkins puts into each performance, not only in the sound of his voice, but also his expressions and movements. “I looked over to my wife and said, ‘This guy here is the real deal,’” Bailey said. “You can tell the fakes compared to the real deal. The way Nick gets into it, you can see the same expressions Elvis Presley had when he sang. Everything Elvis did during his performance, Nick does. You can see that motivates him.” Perkins has watched countless YouTube videos to familiarize himself with every move and achieve Elvis’ famous stage presence. Since that first performance, Bailey has returned to El Paso every time Perkins is scheduled to sing and has become good friends with him and Leach. Bailey booked Perkins for the annual St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff’s Office Senior Citizens Thanksgiving Luncheon. “Usually people just eat lunch,
play bingo and then head out,” Bailey said. “We had Nick up there for an hour, hour-and-a-half, and we had to pull him off the stage because they didn’t want him to stop.” He plans to continue supporting Perkins, whether it be attending shows or seeking out events for him to perform. Perkins said makeup, hair, packing jumpsuits and checking sound is the usual routine for each show.
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26 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
His most memorable performance was at a motorcycle safety awareness show in July, where he sang a tribute to his late brother, Mitch, who passed away in a motorcycle crash. “We don’t even really use the term impersonator anymore,” Perkins said. “In the business, it was originally like this cliché with the Halloween costumes and cheap wigs. Over time, it’s become more of a tribute show.”
He said tribute shows are more common than people think, noting there are 20 to 30 festivals and contests across the United States dedicated to Elvis Presley tribute artists. “It’s cool to be with guys who understand,” Perkins said. “If it wasn’t for his [Elvis Presley’s] memory, I wouldn’t know a lot of these people I’ve met. I’ve just been really blessed.” Meeting other artists has influenced his musical style, and he’s particularly inspired by the stage charisma of Baton Rouge native Jay Dupuis, who was previously named ultimate Elvis tribute artist in Memphis. Information about upcoming shows is available on Perkins’ Facebook profile under the name Nick Perkins (Elvis Tribute Artist). Perkins’ plans for the future include broadening his show and including a full band. Getting his own venue isn’t in the cards; Perkins loves traveling and wants to continue meeting new people. — By Brooke Robichaux
Nick Perkins, center, is helped by former classmate Skylar Leach, left, who serves as his DJ and sound production manager. Rick Bailey, right, is an Elvis fan and helped Perkins land a LaPlace show.
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Regionâ€™s People & Traditions 27
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Duhe brings ‘Cool’ to LaPlace
rent “Cool” Duhe is one of those people who is genuinely caring and invaluable. He’s a hard-working, 77-years-young LaPlace resident who remains active in the community as a jack-of-alltrades. Along with being the self-proclaimed mayor of Mimosa Street, he’s also a retired Marine, chef, runner and handyman who is celebrating more than 50 years of being out of the service and
back in his hometown with family. Serving as a communicator in the Vietnam War, he has lived through numerous life-altering events, such as surviving explosive land mines, the Bay of Pigs invasion and the Cuban Missile Crisis. “None of this came without a price,” he explained as he adjusted his hearing aids. He was in the back end of the car when he and his peers hit a semi-deafening land mine.
Luckily, the back door was unlatched and made it possible for him to be ejected. While this ultimately saved his life, his hearing suffered tremendously. As a part of the main line of resistance during the Cuban missile crisis, Brent had top-level clearance as a communicator. “It was scary to think that even with top clearance, we had so little information regarding what was happening with the missiles,” he says. “It was a miracle we got out when we did.”
He served in the Marines from 1961-1965 and made his way up to the rank of sergeant. Although he had plans of being deployed to Vietnam, he returned home to his wife, Marlene, who was expecting their first child. He said although he didn’t talk about it much when he first got back, the war impacted him more than he led others to believe. “Once you leave for war, there’s no guarantee you’ll come
This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions 29
Brent Duhe is as committed to his home and neighbors today as he was decades ago while serving as a communicator in the Vietnam War.
back, and you definitely won’t come back the same person,” Brent said. When he returned home from the service, Brent began a career at Entergy in Montz, where he worked in communications for 30 years. He was always one to remain active, picking up side projects whenever he could, mainly with carpenters and helping neighbors repair, remodel or rebuild whatever
needed to be done. Upon retiring at age 55, Brent opened a catering business that served events throughout the River Parishes. “Cajun Cookouts” was a home-grown business operated from the Duhe’s backyard kitchen. While he and his wife Marlene still cook occasionally for family and friends, Brent fills his time cutting lawns, building fences and overall “mayoring” the neighborhood.
30 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions
He sincerely said, “I help out as much as I can. If I see something that needs to be done, I let everybody know that I’m going to take care of it right away.” Whether you’re looking for a helping hand, a heroic war story or a genuine conversation, Brent “Cool” Duhe has proven the man for the job. — Victoria Michel
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32 This Is Us: Celebrating the River Region’s People & Traditions