Restoring a Memory

Published 12:00 am Thursday, January 29, 1998

By Leonard Gray / L’Observateur / January 29, 1998

RESERVE – The Godchaux Sugar Refinery and its historical impact on St.John the Baptist Parish remains considerable, years after its closing. ForQuincy Montz, who retired in 1982 as assistant vice-president, the closingwas the end of a much better era.

Along the way, Montz has been helping preserve much of that vital parishhistory before it is lost forever. To this end, Montz has arranged to have afountain, which once stood in front of the refinery employees’ clubhouse,donated to the Godchaux-Reserve Historical Society.

The society, which owns the Godchaux Plantation House at West 10thStreet and River Road in Reserve and is restoring it as a museum, willrestore and display the fountain as part of its permanent display.Already in the museum’s yard is one of the old mini-locomotives whichonce pulled sugar cane stalks from surrounding fields to the refinery forprocessing.

Julia Remondet, president of the society, commented, “We thank theReserve Lions Club for their help, and we look forward to continuedcooperation with them toward the preservation of this history and hopewe can still preserve the treasures which are still out there.”

Montz, 78, began his career with Godchaux in 1947 as director ofengineering and traces his roots deeper into local history. He was born inthe village of Lions and graduated from Leon Godchaux High School. Hisfather was director of engineering at the refinery, and he started as hisfather’s assistant. After serving in the U.S. Army Air Corps in World War IIas a radio operator and mechanic, he succeeded his father in the job atGodchaux.

“It was a different era then,” he recalled, sitting in his home on West10th Street across from where the open-air employee dance pavilion oncestood. It was in that dance pavilion where he met his wife, Beverly, now aretired registered nurse.Montz served on the board of directors of the Godchaux Sugar employeeCommunity Club from 1952 to 1958, when the refinery was sold out ofGodchaux family hands.The Community Club operated many amenities for Godchaux employees.

This ranged from the semi-pro baseball field (now the open area on RiverRoad between West 10th Street and the ramp across River Road), to theCommunity Clubhouse (now the pink Globalplex office building) built in1920, where silent films and later sound movies were screened in thesecond floor. The building also included a library and an indoor swimmingpool, which was later converted to a billiard room.

Employees and their families could join the Community Club for $1 permonth and non-employees and their families for $2 per month. Membershad full use of the library and pool and could also attend movies onTuesdays, Thursdays and Sundays, evenings and matinees.

In 1934, Mrs. J.P. Greven, wife of the plant manager, designed the waterfountain, which included a pineapple at its top. Montz explained apineapple is a traditional emblem of hospitality. In his own garden, afountain stands with a pineapple on top, as well.

Mrs. Greven also designed the flagstones area which led between theclubhouse and the dance pavilion. Some of the flagstones can still be seenin the building’s parking lot, not far from where the tennis courts oncestood.

Montz said the pay was relatively low, but the amenities helped make upfor it. “When the family owned it, they were very paternal,” he added.

Employees’ children got Christmas gifts from the company, a Fourth ofJuly party with fireworks was held each year and company housing,between West Eighth to West 10th streets, rented for $10 per month,including electricity and water.

Every Sunday night, leading big-bands from New Orleans would perform atthe dance pavilion. “All of the River Parishes would come, from as faraway as Hammond,” Montz recalled.

However, all this passed with the advent of labor unions and the sale ofthe company. A 1954 strike was devastating to the company, Montz said,and the Godchaux family sold the refinery in 1958.

“Nowadays, when people graduate from high school, they don’t know whatto do. Back then, you knew,” he said.After the refinery was sold Montz joined the Reserve Lions Club where,ever since, he has served as either president or secretary. The ReserveCommunity Club remained in operation from 1960 to 1973 operating thepool on West 10th Street until the Lions Club acquired it and it eventuallybecame owned by St. John Parish.

The fountain eventually found its way to present-day Leon Godchaux JuniorHigh School, where it was dedicated in 1972 in memory of School Boardmember Joseph Duhe, who served from 1945 to 1972. The fountain, sadly,has since fallen into disuse.

But, it is through Montz’s association with the Reserve Lions Club and incooperation with the St. John School Board and Superintendent ClevelandFarlough that the fountain will find a new home, newly refurbished andsprinkling sparkling water into the sunlight once more.

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