Granddaughter of L’OBSERVATEUR founder reflects on newspaper’s history

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, August 25, 2021

RESERVE — Gloria Triche, the 88-year-old granddaughter of L’OBSERVATEUR founder Wallace Lasseigne, vividly remembers childhood days spent at the original newspaper office near the intersection of River Road and East 22nd St. in Reserve.

She can still close her eyes and picture the side door entrance, the slope of the roof and the fruit trees that stood near the building. She has scrapbooks filled to the brim with old newspaper clippings detailing her family’s history, but none of the photos captured the outside of the office that now only exists in her memory.

Before her friend Dudley Beadle passed away in 2017, she enlisted his help in designing a 3D model that would represent the office exactly how she remembers it, thereby preserving a piece of St. John the Baptist Parish history.

Triche keeps the model of the old office in the bedroom where her grandfather passed away. She knew Wallace Lasseigne better than just about anyone else, having lived with him for a period of time as a preteen after her father passed away.

That close relationship is part of the reason why Triche became the self-appointed family historian. She wants to help today’s readers see L’OBSERVATEUR through her eyes.

“L’OBSERVATEUR has been in my house for 88 years because I’m 88 years old,” Triche said. “I’ve kept a lot. I couldn’t throw any of it away. It was part of him. It’s part of me.”
The roots of L’OBSERVATEUR trace back to the 19th Century with the newspaper’s predecessor, Le Meschacebe.

Le Meschacebe, named for the Mississippi River, came to St. John Parish in the 1850s on a steamer called the Mary Foley. The first editor was Hyppolite Prudent deBautte, though he was better known in the area by his pen name, Prudent d’artly. The paper was published mostly in French, the predominant language along the German Coast at the time.

Le Meschacebe passed through various owners throughout the years. Gloria Triche’s great-grandfather Charles Lasseigne took over in 1879, along with co-editor Lovincy Montz. After 1880, Charles Lasseigne became the sole editor.

Rather than passing the paper along to his son, Wallace Lasseigne, Charles sold Le Meschecebe to Eugene Dumez shortly before his death in 1913. The paper was published on the West Bank of St. John for a number of years before it was discontinued in 1942.

Meanwhile, Wallace Lasseigne was starting his own legacy.

Wallace Lasseigne owned and operated Lasseigne’s Print on the River Road near his home in Reserve. He had studied journalism in Ruston, and he was displeased with the parish’s political situation. His dream, fulfilled by the founding of L’OBSERVATEUR in 1913, was to present an “up-to-date, clean, free and independent newspaper, a newspaper which will not be controlled by any ‘clique or ring,’ but will defend the interest of the people within its power.”

The first edition of L’OBSERVATEUR was printed on Jan. 18, 1913. The weekly newspaper started out with only four pages. It had elements of English and French, including the weekly publication of a chapter from a French novel. The earliest subscription rates were $1 per year.

After more than 25 years of hand-setting the paper — and having to coat his hands with Vaseline to relieve the resulting dry skin and cuts — Lasseigne purchased a linotype in 1940. The large, typewriter-like machine allowed type to be set automatically using molten lead.

Lasseigne prepared his son, Larry N. Lasseigne, to take over the reins of the newspaper after his retirement. Larry was a skilled writer and smart as a whip, just like his father and grandfather. He showed great ambition and promise for a successful future when he studied journalism at LSU, but World War II brought a halt to his education. Triche had a special bond with her Uncle Larry since they were close in age, and she still treasures the handwritten notes he sent to her while overseas.

The future they envisioned slipped away when the War Department reported Larry missing in action near Irsch, Germany on March 5, 1945.

Just four years later, Wallace Lasseigne handed L’OBSERVATEUR to Joseph A. Lucia Sr.

The newspaper industry has changed drastically since the days when Triche would accompany her grandfather at the old office. Back then, the paper published exclusively on Saturdays, and the staff was only responsible for filling the front and the back of the newspaper. Each week, Triche and Lasseigne would pick up the inside sheets that were pre-printed by the Western Newspaper Union, which provided newsprint for small newspapers across the country. Obituaries were handled differently as well. When a death notice came in, it was printed as a flyer and tacked onto storefronts and other locations around the parish.

Triche’s aunts also had a role in the history of the paper, and her mother, Leslie Mabile, worked on the linotype for a number of years. The family legacy continued into the 2000s, when her grandson, Rhett Triche, worked as a graphics designer and circulation manager at the current location, 116 Newspaper Road.