There’s a treasure around every corner in St. John

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, November 18, 2008

How many of you have gotten a look at the book entitled, “Precious Gems from Faded Memories: A Pictorial History of St. John the Baptist Parish.”

The book was written by Gerald Keller, best known to a lot of locals as the president of the St. John School Board. He was assisted in the compilation by Lisa Keller-Watson and Darroch Watson.

But Dr. Keller is a historian of sorts to be sure, and you really know that after you see this book.

I had heard about the book for months, ever since it was released this year as part of the 100-year anniversary of St. John Parish. I had even glanced through a little of it earlier this year after it came out and we got a copy of it.

But it was only about a month ago when I really spent some time looking through it more closely, and realized what a fascinating book it is, and just as important, how down-right interesting it is to read.

And the pictures! You would enjoy the book if you only zipped through and looked at the pictures, which Keller obviously spent a tremendous amount of time digging up, through his own research and that of a handful of others who helped him.

Here at L’Observateur, I have a one-word answer for my reporters when I talk to them about what we want in the paper.


That’s right. It’s that simple. Sure, we have an obligation to report governmental news, since we are the only true voice to do so, acting as a watchdog to the parish bodies as they conduct our business. And I know some of that stuff isn’t so interesting. But it’s something we have to do.

However other than that, we always decide what to do by trying to find interesting stories, and the book on St. John Parish is most interesting to say the least.

Bet you didn’t know some of this:

** One of the more gifted photographers of the early 1900s was Olide’ Paul Schexnayder, originally of Edgard, who was the great, great uncle of Remy Amadee of Garyville. Remy found some of Schexnayder’s photographs in an abandoned corncrib in Edgard, displaying some outstanding photographic work of a local man, which you can see in the book.

** One early election for St. John sheriff got so heated over the transportation of the ballot boxes that it escalated into a riot, resulting in the death of one man. William Hart was eventually declared sheriff in the election of 1896.

** Msgr. Jean M. Eyraud, who served as priest for St. Peter Church in Reserve for 52 years, was the center of a long effort to be canonized for his outstanding contributions to St. John Parish, now resulting in the church and school that still stand on River Road.

** Daniel Madere began the Reserve Telecommunications Company from nearly nothing, stringing wire himself through the parish using his own Package auto and a flatbed trailer. He began the business in the downstairs of his two-story home on West Fifth Street.

** Charles Zewe, who went on to national TV fame, was a product of the St. Peter and Leon Godchaux schools in Reserve.

** A3M Vacuum Service, Inc., today one of the top industrial service companies in the parish, was begun by businessman Pat Sellars as a small company that would cut trees, clean septic tanks and do plant maintenance. Sellars used to be an insurance agent, but today operates one of the most successful businesses in the parish.

** A number of the region’s soldiers were captured during World War II and faced extreme cruelty and torture during the war. One of them, Private First Class Herman Toups of Reserve, was a member of the U.S. Army 31st Infantry who endured the terrible Batan Death March and spent 1,033 days in captivity in a Japanese POW camp. He was one man who survived and lived to be liberated by the 44th Tank Battalion on February 4, 1945.

** Airline Motors Restaurant has had a long and illustrious history, that included cockfighting which could be found outside nearby on Highway 51, along with a casino located on Airline Highway. Gamblers from New Orleans used to take a Greyhound bus and get off in LaPlace. Today the restaurant is being revived as a number of entrepreneurs have attempted to start businesses there, taking advantage of the historical name.

Those are just a few of hundreds of stories you will find in the book, and as I said, you might just find the photos to be even more interesting.

A lot of work went into this book and you would find that the $30 purchase price is well worth it to learn a lot about St. John Parish and the surrounding areas. For that matter, it would make a great Christmas present for a lot of people looking for something different to give to a loved one.

Contact the St. John Economic Development Department at 652-9569 to purchase a copy of the book, or stop by the parish office where you can pick one up.

Kevin Chiri is Publisher of L’Observateur and can be reached at (985) 652-9545 or at