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Dining with the Gheens

Dining with the Gheens

In America, millionaires often establish foundations to distribute some of their wealth to charitable organization. They are called philanthropists. I knew the meaning but not the spelling. (One of my skills is the ability to draw my Webster as fast as John Wayne can draw his Winchester.)

They are sometimes called the “Super rich 1%”. But they help the less fortunate through organizations like the Gates, Buffett, Forbes, and Ford Foundations, some donating 90% of their fortunes in their wills.

In Lafourche we have the Danos, Chouests, Lorios, Peltiers, and other foundations. I commend those benefactors who also help the economy by creating jobs. I do not envy them. I would just like to be them.

The C. Edwin and Mary Jo Gheens Foundation is one. Founded by the Gheens in 1957, it was valued at $23 million at her death in 1982, worth $145 million today and distributes $6.5 million in grants per year. The grants are to benefit the City of Louisville, Kentucky and the parishes of Lafourche and Terrebonne in Louisiana, (details next week.)

In 1958, my boss Assessor Hubert Robichaux and I, were invited to dine with the Gheens at their home in Louisville, Kentucky which was better than our previous plan to find a McDonald’s. (Reality check: Just a metaphor as there were no McDonald’s in Kentucky or anywhere else in 1958, nor a Wendy’s, I-Hop, Pizza Hut, Burger King or interstate highways.) I had just driven 773 miles on 2-lane highway heading to an Assessors’ conference in Cleveland, Ohio.

We slept in Louisville where the name Gheens was everywhere, a street, a school and the Bradas-Gheens Candy factory, all viewed from our hotel room. Awesome!

At 11 the next morning, as pre-arranged, we drove to the Gheens’ mansion where a young man took our car and a uniformed butler ushered us to an elegantly dressed couple exuding poise and charm extending their hands. Mrs. Gheens was 67-years old, dressed in a flowery gown and Mr. Gheens, 70-years old, wore a coat and tie.

As my head spun, I visualized us meeting the Master and Mistress in the grand ballroom of Tara Plantation in the 1860’s.

The call of “dinner is served” brought me back to reality and we were escorted to the dining room and a long table. On the wall was a beautiful painting of a moon over the mountains and I inadvertently sang out “Blue moon of Kentucky.” Mr. Gheens chuckled and said, “Bill Monroe. Not my music but my employees love him and he plays at their Christmas parties at their request.”

We were then served by two maids, but the glamour of the event has long obliterated from my mind what was served. We chatted briefly and were escorted to another room where a giant glass bowl embossed with the words “Bradas & Gheens” sat on a table filled with paper wrapped candy.

“Here’s something to nibble on during your trip,” Mr. Gheens said as he filled two small paper bags with candy.

After a brief chat we were escorted to our car sitting in the driveway with the motor running. As we settled in, Mr. Gheens’ butler approached the car with a white box in his hand.

“Mr. Gheens wants Mr. Robichaux to have this,” he said.

Hubert opened it and with a hearty laugh showed it to me. It was a large chocolate bar embossed “Bradas & Gheens, wt. 1 lb.”

Mr. Robichaux, still laughing, tossed the box on the back seat and said, “Well, we got a gift after all.”

Yeah, “I answered, “and a tour of Tara Plantation.”

He looked at me quizzically and I wondered if he had ever seen “Gone with the Wind”.

I turned on the radio and watched the Appalachians fading away in the rear view mirror. We never saw the candy bar again. It disappeared at one of the gas stops.

Do I consider this column braggadocio? Maybe, but as legendary baseball great “Dizzy” Dean once said: “It ain’t bragging if you can do it”, and using the great comedian Red Skelton’s catch phrase: “I Dood It!”

Bye now!

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