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Jul 4, 2010 3:19 PM by Chris Welty

Community Leaders Recall Their First Jobs

HOUMA, La. (AP) - Shoe-shining brought self-confidence. Painting
boats in the summer heat awakened a passion. Wrapping meat and
sweeping floors taught discipline.
First jobs, often in the muggy days of summer, are seldom
glamorous. But Houma-area business leaders say the jobs they held
when they were teenagers or even younger played a crucial role in
teaching them values that brought later success.
Don Duplantis, now president and CEO at Terrebonne Mortgage and
Loan, started shining shoes in an east Houma barber shop when he
was 10. There, he developed a customer base but also learned about
politics and government events by listening to the men that
frequented the shop.
"I never let me being small in stature diminish what I could
do," Duplantis said. "You gained a source of self-confidence,
self-motivation. All things I learned as a child are with me today.
I did it on my own. I didn't let anything stop me."
Various community and business leaders in Terrebonne and
Lafourche parishes were asked about their first jobs, and how those
experiences shaped the adults they became.
Some got their start in a family business they later took over.
But that doesn't mean they got off easy.
Al Danos, of the Danos and Curole Marine Contractors offshore
company, started working in his father's shipyard when he was 14.
He painted and cleaned the engine rooms of the boats that served
oil rigs. Some were newer crew boats, but some were still wooden
oyster trawlers that needed to be patched and painted. It was hot,
the paint was smelly, but he was always the one in the yard asking
a million questions.
"I learned my true love was boats," he said. "That was the
foundation."
It was from those "old-time boat captains" who lived along
Bayou Lafourche and spoke French as their first language that he
learned more about the offshore business. He learned how to get
along among the offshore crews and with the company men, how to
satisfy a customer and keep peace with your boss. These proved to
be valuable lessons when he and his brother, Hank, took over Danos
and Curole. The company has offices in China, Nigeria and Angola,
and in 2009 employed more than 900 people.
"Following their advice was part of our success," he said.
At 12, Donald Rouse working at Ciro's, a grocery store in Houma
owned by his father, Anthony J. Rouse. He started out bagging
groceries, bagging potatoes, wrapping meat, mopping floors -
whatever was needed. He worked from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m., even on
weekends when his friends were off riding around having fun.
"I always enjoyed it," he said. "It sure taught me a lot
about being a disciplined person."
While in school, he worked at the store on weekends and during
the summer, and at 18 had become a manager. Today he's an owner and
the public face of the Thibodaux-based, family-owned Rouses chain
with 38 stores in Louisiana and Mississippi.
Others were surprised by the new interests that emerged during
their jobs as young people.
Travis Lavigne, chancellor at Fletcher Technical Community
College, stumbled upon his passion for education as a lab assistant
at Southeastern Louisiana University in Hammond, which he said
helped launch his career in education. He spent three years helping
teach zoology to students, studying microorganisms like amoebas
under microscopes.
"You had to find out by working with them what they didn't
understand," said Lavigne, who grew up on a strawberry farm in
Ponchatoula. "That was the art a lot of students taught me."
Phyllis Peoples, now CEO of Terrebonne General Medical Center,
says she still has the name badge from when she started as a
nurse's aide at the hospital as a teenager. She had worked other
summer jobs, including office work at a real estate agency and as a
phone operator at Dillard's back when you still had to plug and
unplug the lines to connect to different extensions.
When she started bringing meals to patients, taking vital signs,
changing beds and otherwise helping out around the hospital, she
never imagined she'd go on to become CEO.
"The difficult part is, you're nervous, overwhelmed, have a
multitude of patients to take care of," she said. "I don't know
that I was good, but it gave me the passion to do what we do
today."
Others say that while their early jobs didn't unlock their
specific calling, they still learned the value of a dollar and a
diligent work ethic. Terrebonne Parish President Michel Claudet
worked in the inventory department of a sugar mill in Mathews.
Windell Curole, director of the South Lafourche Levee District,
loaded up shrimp boats with ice at a plant in New Orleans.
Courier and Daily Comet Publisher Miles Forrest started out at a
Thibodaux candy factory where his job duties included sweeping
floors and making candy products, including candy cigarettes. Real
estate developer S.P. LaRussa started at 12 or 13 pumping gas and
washing windshields.
Martin Folse, owner and commentator of the HTV-10 news station
in Houma, started working at 16 mowing the lawn and maintaining the
property of longtime Houma physician Dr. Jerry Haydel. Along with
Haydel's son, Mike Haydel, they got $2 or $3 an hour, the minimum
wage at the time, to mow grass, paint a barn and do other odd jobs.
"He was tough. You couldn't pull one past him," Folse said,
recalling how Haydel made the boys rip out and repair a patch job
because it wasn't done with treated lumber. "If you cut corners,
he would let you know about it."
The life lesson was "if you're not going to do it right, don't
bother doing it all," he said.

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