A Life Celebrated

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, September 24, 2002


NORCO – Earl Edward Cupit, long-time owner and operator of the Western Auto store on River Road in Norco, left behind a legacy of love in his adoration of his family and of children everywhere.

After he recently died, while sorting through his bills, papers were found that showed his donations to various children’s charities, including overseas “adopt-a-child” programs.

His wife, Norma, and his daughters, Linda Reif and Sandy Mannear, remember a loving husband and father, always with a smile on his face, ready with a hug and to be there for his children and grandchildren.

Cupit, 78, who died Sept. 13, was a native of Meadville, Miss., the youngest of 11 children. He apparently learned about love of children and Christian charity from his church, Cool Springs Methodist Church, and his parents, the late John Lee and Verna Hemphill Cupit.

When an older sister died, Cupit’s parents took in their two children. When two local black parents died, their surviving son was also taken in by the Cupits and raised with the rest of the children.

Earl Cupit was always an enterprising youngster. Once, when a county fair was scheduled, he talked his father into hauling a wagon-load of watermelons, intending to sell them for extra money. The family tried to talk him out of it, since everyone raised melons and no one would buy any.

Instead, at the fair, a political candidate preparing to make a speech approached the boy and asked how many melons $10 would buy him.

“Mister, you just bought a wagon-load!” Earl said, and the politician bought the load, giving out slices of melon to the crowd after his campaign speech.

On the way home, he asked his dad to stop at a store, and Earl spent the entire $10 on gifts for his family, including silk stockings for his mother and a new pocket knife for his father – and nothing for himself.

After he graduated as valedictorian of his class at Woodrow Wilson High School, World War II broke out, and he traveled to Bridgeport, Conn. to work in an airplane factory for the war effort. Cupit soon decided he wanted to enlist and turned down a promotion offer (and an exemption) and soon found himself working as a supply clerk. One day, while working in the mess hall, he heard the approach of a “buzz-bomb.” The bomb was deflected by a support pole and headed for the motor pool.

Cupit dived toward the motor pool then something slammed him to the ground and the bomb exploded. If he had reached the motor pool, he would have been killed. He ended up promoted to First Lieutenant.

After the war, Cupit studied business at Tulane University in New Orleans and remained a Tulane sports fan the rest of his life.

He had also played basketball for his high school and for the Tulane Green Wave.

He came home to marry little Norma Wagner in 1949, whom he had met in 1943, just before leaving for Europe and the war. Before long, he had a job as a Western Auto sales manager and the couple soon had their first daughter, Linda.

By the time Sandy came along, he felt it was time to have his own store, so Cupit opened one in 1958 on River Road, between St. Charles Street and Apple Street. Cupit soon gained a popular reputation, earning many new friends through his generous business practices and his civic activities. He was a member of the Veterans of Foreign Wars, American Legion, Lions Club and also served as parish Civil Defense director.

In his store, he never charged interest while allowing people to pay “on account.” During a strike at Shell, he called customers and told them to come pick up toys for their children, allowing them to pay only after the strike ended. This success allowed him to build a new store which opened in 1968 (now the Dollar General Store).

Meanwhile, at home, Cupit was always the loving husband and parent, while staying faithful to his Methodist upbringing. He helped push for the establishment of the St. Charles United Methodist Church in Destrehan and donated many items to the church as well, while supporting their activities and charities, including donations to their “sister church” in Cuba.

He supported his daughters through their many activities including as majorettes at Destrehan High School, “He never missed a single game, and always with this big smile on his face,” Sandy remembered.

As his grandchildren came up as well, he stayed just as involved in their lives.

“We’d run home and sit on his lap and he’d read to us,” Linda, whom her dad nicknamed “Cooter,” said. “He was the best dad you could ever imagine.”

Sandy, nicknamed “Tiger,” likewise recalled, “I never heard him yell, ever.”

After his retirement in 1995, following 37 years of work, he planted a vegetable garden and enjoyed his children and grandchildren, while caring for his beloved wife.

Finally, when the end came, Linda said she arrived at the hospital to see him after he had just passed away.

“And he had the most amazing smile on his face – a smile of recognition. He must have seen Jesus and his parents and his brothers and sisters,” she said.

Cupit is also survived by his grandchildren, Josh, Zac and Matthew Reif, and Kelly and Kristen Mannear. He is interred at St. Charles Borromeo Mausoleum in Destrehan.

Editor’s Note: As a regular feature, as often as we can, staff reporters will highlight the life of a local resident who recently passed away. It is meant as a gesture of respect and a nod to the adage, “Every life is noteworthy.” Let us know what you think by calling 985-652-9545.