Saturday, January 18, 2020

Justin Wilson, Legendary Cajun Humorist

Justin E. Wilson came to St. Tammany Parish in the mid-1970's to speak to the St. Tammany Press Club, and he proved to be a great guest and provided a thought-provoking message. He was invited to speak to the press group by John Fahey, the Times Picayune's "Florida Parishes" correspondent, who knew Wilson through his many sports-related activities. 

Wilson and his humorous presentation were well-received by the press club members, and the evening was a success except for one thing. While speaking to the group in the crowded restaurant, someone stole Wilson's leather hat that a famed LSU football coach had signed and given to him. So that was kind of put a damper on the event. Wilson was sad to lose his hat, and the Press Club was shocked and angered that it happened under their noses.


But all was not lost. Fahey went to work, got a new hat that looked just like the old hat,  contacted the LSU coach, and he signed it just as he had before. An informal meeting was called, and Justin Wilson appeared, not knowing what was going on. Fahey presented him with the new hat, autographed and everything. Hopefully, that restitution restored Wilson's faith in St. Tammany.


It must have, because 15 years later, Wilson decided to buy a house in St. Tammany and equip it to be his new home and television recording studio for his growing cooking show audience. 
 

Justin Wilson in his kitchen (Photo from PBS Archive)

 Back to the beginning, Wilson was born April 24, 1914, in Roseland near Amite in Tangipahoa Parish, the son of Louisiana Commissioner of Agriculture and Forestry Harry D. Wilson.

While he started his career as a safety engineer in south Louisiana, he soon found that when he spiced his safety lectures with bits of Cajun humor, the audiences at the oil refineries were more attentive. According to a New York Times article about him, he said that he once met American Humorist Will Rogers and that got him to considering a career in public speaking.

His career as a Cajun humorist was launched in the 1950's. He recorded several record albums of his Cajun humor, once appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, and became widely known throughout the South for his signature phrase: "I gar-ron-tee." That phrase is now a registered trademark of the food products company that bears his name. He also appeared on The Tonight Show (both Johnny Carson and Dave Letterman versions) and the New Hollywood Squares. That must have been interesting.

He recorded over 27 albums, authored eight Cajun cookbooks (beginning with the first in 1965), two Cajun humor books, and he helped develop many Cajun products.  In addition to his comedy gigs and recordings, he also composed several songs, including the music for his cooking show. There was even a Christmas album featuring a jazz band.




 

The Cajun Buys a Bird Dog Story: Click on Video Play Triangle

Somewhere along the line he hosted a number of cooking shows that featured his Cajun kitchen cooking skills sprinkled with Cajun humor. Filmed at WWL-TV in New Orleans in the early 1970's, they became popular on the Louisiana Public Broadcasting System in the 1980's, became a syndicated show and were re-broadcast on the Public Broadcasting System in the 1990's.



One of his many cookbooks

His Cajun cooking series aired on Public Broadcasting for more than 30 years. According to his obituary in the Livingston Parish News, he always said he was "not a chef, just a damn good cook."

"His status as a Louisiana celebrity and goodwill ambassador was confirmed when he was chosen as one of the first members of the LSU Hall of Fame. He was quick to point out that he had not graduated from college, noting that had he gone back to school at LSU he would be a fifth year freshman," the news article explained.

"One thing he was serious about was helping people. He is remembered as an ardent supporter of local youth athletics, once rewarding a team he helped coach to a championship in Denham Springs with a trip to the Houston Astrodome," it went on to say.

"Anytime that I called him that had anything to do with these kids around town, he was there," former PARDS director Tony Dugas said. Wilson would often donate money anonymously to help children who could not afford to pay for registration fees, uniforms or equipment, Dugas commented.


 

His story about squirrel hunting

 The Livingston Parish News article also noted that Wilson was a Professional Member of the American Society of Safety Engineers, Member of the American Federation of Television and Radio Artists, American Legion Facundas Post 181, and Lifetime Member of Ducks Unlimited. He taught four human relations courses at police academies in three states.


Some of his many books
 
Wilson came to live in St. Tammany Parish in the early 1990's, outfitting a large abandoned mansion on Big Branch bayou east of Mandeville for a television recording studio for his cooking shows.

The Big Branch House

Hyatt Hood recalls that the house Wilson chose in Big Branch had quite a history. It’s an Art Deco styled home that was started in the 1930’s by William Rankin who was a crony of Huey Long. "It is believed that it was built with embezzled money and bricks that were intended for Fontainebleau State Park,” Hood said. Rankin was caught and the shell of what appeared to be an unfinished castle/fortress was abandoned.

"The house, not being far from the edge of a bayou, soon had trees and vines and scrub brush growing up all around and inside the walls. The house was brick with curved walls and a flat roof. It had tremendous openings for windows, but was never completed," Hood stated. "My father, knowing of stories of the property, one day became determined to find it. Walking through the thick woods in the area on the Eastern side of Cane Bayou, Dad was just several feet away from the structure but didn't see it. It was that overgrown.

"Anyway, Dad found out who owned the property and sold it to his friend Peter Uddo in 1977. Peter cleaned the property up, but never completed the house. He loved that property and at one point was working on plans to turn the house into a retreat center and or music venue."

Ultimately Uddo sold the property to Justin Wilson in May of 1989. Justin was still doing cooking shows and decided that the house could do double duty as home and TV studio for his show. 


He eventually moved to Summit, MS, and lived there for several years, but at 87 years of age, Wilson died on September 5, 2001, at a family home in Denham Springs. Upon his death, many articles were published around the country, revering him as an internationally renowned humorist, cook and cultural ambassador. He is interred at Port Vincent Community Cemetery in Port Vincent in Livingston Parish.

He had brought Cajun humor, the Cajun lifestyle and philosophy, and Cajun cooking to the forefront across the nation. His name will always be associated with Louisiana and the Cajun heritage of which he was so proud. 


The company to which he lent his name provides Cajun cooking essentials and is now under new ownership and has a website at Justin Wilson Cajun Products Webpage .

That webpage offers this account of his life:

 The Legacy of Justin Wilson

Justin E Wilson was born in Roseland,La. outside of Amite. He wrote and published his first Cajun cookbook in 1960, thus unknowingly launching his entertaining and cooking career and grew to a national syndicated cooking show on PBS and Mississippi Educational Television. With three TV cooking series and ten published cookbooks, Justin has entertained millions with his instructional cooking and whimsical Cajun stories., poetry, and Louisiana heritage.

Justin is famous for the catchphrase I Garontee® and How Yall Are®. Justin has charmed his way into the hearts of countless of Americans popularizing Cajun and southern cuisine unlike anyone else to this day. His cooking shows still air on PBS and other local broadcast networks. Justin Wilson died September 5th, 2001, in Baton Rouge Louisiana. He was 87.

Justin Wilson Southern Products strives to keep is legacy alive through his products and television cooking shows. 


Before Justin Wilsons first cooking shows appeared on PBS and Mississippi educational television (METV) Cajun food and cooking barely had a place on the national stage. With his trademark catchphrase and down home charisma , Justin brought Cajun cooking out of the Bayous of Louisiana and into the homes of everyday Americans.

Justin Wilson Southern Products uses Justin’s recipes and we stick to his level of quality therefore making it in Justin’s words a Gourmand Cajun product.




See also:

Fabled Humorist Justin Wilson Dies In Livingston Parish

Justin Wilson Wikipedia Article

You Tube Videos Featuring Justin Wilson

Justin Wilson's Cajun Story Store: CD's, Books







Friday, January 17, 2020

Juniors At CHS in 1953

Here are the yearbook pictures of the junior class members at Covington High School in 1953. Click on the images to make them larger. 

















100 Years Ago This January 17

What was going on 100 years ago this week? CLICK HERE for a link to the St. Tammany Farmer Issue of  January 17, 1920. The link is provided by the Library of Congress and its Chronicling America service.

Click on the sample images below to see larger versions.




Wednesday, January 15, 2020

Miss Lucy Perkins - Madisonville Schoolteacher

In 1976 the Covington B&PW Club recognized the many contributions of Miss Lucy Perkins, a school teacher in Madisonville in the late 1800's and early 1900's. Here is the article about her written by Naomi Rausch, as part of the group's acknowledgement of the pioneer women of St. Tammany Parish.

Madisonville's Lucy Perkins Pioneered Teaching in the Area
By Naomi Rausch

Today the Business and Professional Women Club salutes a pioneer teacher, Miss Lucy Perkins, who lived and taught in a time when public education was only beginning to take root in the deep South, in a time when the slate remained the backbone of school equipment.

It was only thirty years previous to her teaching (1859) that  John McDonough, a wealthy businessman died, leaving his estate of over a million dollars to the New Orleans and Baltimore school systems. It was a period that was not favorable for social planners or for dreamers, for the aftermath of the Civil War constituted perplexing life problems to the people of the South.

Here was a young woman who without a school building, with meager supplies, and a Bible for her textbook, taught the young children of Madisonville and surrounding areas how to read, write, add, and subtract, and at the same time she took heed of the words from Proverbs "to know wisdom and instruction, to perceive the words of understanding."

Captain William W. Perkins and his wife, nee Harriet Newell Thurston, arrived in Madisonville in 1847. Captain Perkins was originally from Massachusetts and his wife, Harriet, was from Ohio.

Their possessions were sent to Madisonville via the Ohio and Mississippi rivers on a float boat that the Captain had constructed in Massachusetts. The boards of the float boat were used for the flooring in their newly-built Madisonville home which is now one of the oldest homes in Madisonville.

Miss Lucy Perkins was one of nine children born to Captain and Harriet Perkins. She was born in 1852 and died in 1937. She was born, lived in and died in the float boat timbered home. Her body is interred in the old Madisonville cemetery.

Rather than write of Miss Lucy, as she was lovingly known, I submit a very descriptive letter written in 1936 by Mrs. Jessie Dutsch Johnson, who was principal of the Madisonville Junior High School in 1925. The letter is addressed to Miss Jane Dutsch.



Houltonville School. Miss Lucy Perkins was appointed teacher.

"Miss Lucy started her teaching career in 1880 in a residence on which she paid rent, had her own benches built (each bench accommodated six pupils) and used tables for desks. She bought her heater and the wood for burning, in fact she paid for all supplies.

"There were no blackboards. Students used the slates which they continued to use until about 1916. Her salary at that time was $30. She had gone to school in New Orleans and graduated from high school according to their standards. In later days she took what came to be known as a Teacher's Examination for a certificate.

When her salary was $30, she really was making money because at that time one could buy groceries for one-half of a nickel in quantity. Remember "quartee red beans, quartee rice, and lagniappe. (Salt meat to make it taste nice.)

"It was not until 1900 that her salary was raised to $50. Unfortunately, she never made more than $100 per month. But she always contended that she made the most when she first started as far as buying power was concerned.

"A school house was built in 1886, merely a garage, but the wooden desks then had places to put your books, still six sat in a row, and the blackboards were merely painted walls. Miss Lucy went to summer school in New Orleans, usually she attended Tulane University, but not every year.



1928 Madisonville Presbyterian Women Social at the home of Mrs H U Hayden in Houltonville. Mrs REA Flasdick, Miss Martha Wachenfeldt, Mrs HU Hayden, VC Davenport, Miss Lucy Perkins, Mrs Ruth Ebelin, Mrs Elster Oulliber, Mrs Blanca Johnston, Mrs Troy Farrar, Mrs JD Smith, Mrs John Koepp, Mrs John Hano, Mrs Wm Koepp, Mrs Henry Chatellier, Mrs Charles Koepp, Mrs JB Buckley, Mrs GA Pennington, Mrs Wilder Perkins. Nellie, Katherine, Evelyn, McNeil and Troy Farrar Jr

"The old brick building on our river front known as the Chambers Home at one time supplied a room for her to use. That is the building that was torn down years ago. Remember the tale about the damage done to that building during the war by a cannon ball."

The Breast Works were near our home that the soldiers used. The little school was surrounded by old stately oaks laden with moss and the clear waters of the Tchefuncte rippling by.

At this time Miss Lucy was self appointed and paid by the few who had money. Later the Parish Officials appointed her and set her salary. She retired in 1925.

"Until her death she was a very active person with perfect teeth and an infectious smile and a wonderful disposition. Brick houses followed log cabins in quick succession. The home she lived in is no doubt one of the oldest in town.

She always spoke of the difficulty of getting textbooks. None were available so they used writing, spelling, arithmetic and the Bible.

"Upon her retirement she received a loving cup (from private contributions.) There was no pension fund. She lived an independent life, and as far as I know financially supported herself. During her entire teaching career, she brought her lunch to school, always enough in her lunch box to feed two, herself and the unfortunate.




Teacher/Principal Lucy Perkins wrote this letter about one of her students Ollie Gitz in 1927.

"Even while working under me, she brought that lunch. Some of the earlier school sessions were only three months long, but the nine month sessions began some time in the early 1900's."


(End of letter)

From letters and diaries of the Civil War, one finds numerous indications of friendly sentiment among opposing participants: it was the same "Billy Yank" like "Johnny Reb," and during the Civil War the Northern or "Yankee" soldiers camped in the street directly in front of "Miss Lucy's" home. Always the Yankee men were courteous to the young Perkins ladies. However they did take all of the chickens and animals for their food.

And then there is the story that when a pupil used profanity such as damn or perhaps stronger words, Miss Lucy would say "Use the word sugar bowl, it is much sweeter."

Miss Lucy and the Perkins family played an important role in the Madisonville Presbyterian Church. Often the Church was without a permanent minister and ministers from New Orleans or Covington would hold services. 



Madisonville Presbyterian Church Sunday School Picnic. (year unknown). Identified in this picture are: Viola Perkins Stanga, Hattie Perkins Ney, Lucy Perkins, Dora Perkins, Blanche Phillips LeBlanc, Mamie Phillips Oulliber, Lelia Heughan Elflein. There are also Chatellier girls, Mrs Dan Cooper, Wallace Ballam.
 
On these occasions it was the Perkins family who entertained them with dinner or with supper. Miss Lucy also served as a Sunday School teacher for many years.

So the Business and Professional Women's Club (of 1976) saluted Miss Lucy Perkins for her interest and tireless efforts in broadening the minds of young children, for her sharing of her meager earnings, and because from her teachers children grew into wiser men and women.

In gratuity Miss Lucy received a loving cup without a pension. Certainly that loving cup was overflowing with brightness, with potency and with love. 


Published  Feb. 29, 1976, in the St. Tammany News Banner
Photographs from Iris Lulu-Simoneaux Vacante and the Madisonville La. Historical Facebook Group




Cemetery Found Near Slidell Shopping Center

An old cemetery, very small, was discovered several years ago near the newly-built Fremeaux Town Center shopping center in Slidell. NOLA.com did a story on it with several photos of the headstones. 

CLICK ON THIS LINK to visit the webpage telling the story and sharing the photographs. Among the family names listed on headstones in the cemetery are Claude, Means, Anderson, and Williams.



There have been several cemeteries in the vicinity of Fremeaux Town Center over the years, including the Harrison and Oddfellow Cemeteries, on Daney Street.


Monday, January 13, 2020

Gallagher Gym Dedication at CHS 2013

In 2013 the Covington High School gymnasium was dedicated to former Coach Hubert "Hubie" Gallagher. Dozens of former players from the 1940's, 50's and 60's attended a special reception in the CHS library prior to the dedication ceremonies, recalling Gallagher's impact in their lives. 

Although I have already published some of the pictures of that event, I came across an additional number of them in my files and decided to post them here. Click on the images to make them larger. 






Looking over the player rosters year by year













Coach Hubie Gallagher




Checking out the yearbooks



























See also:

Coach Hubert "Hubie" Gallagher