“Listen to a story about a man named Jed,
A poor mountaineer, barely kept his family fed,
Then one day he was shooting at some food,
And up through the ground came a bubbling crude.
Oil that is, black gold, Texas tea.
Now a millionaire, Jed moved away from there.” (Excerpts from “Beverly Hillbillies” theme song.)
My analytical mind finds similar parallels with the song and my main subject, with exceptions: “Poor Mountaineer”. My subject was not poor but the Appalachian Mountains were not far from his home in Louisville, Kentucky. The fact that his name, Charles, doesn’t rhyme with Jed or Fed is immaterial.
“Shooting for food”: He didn’t have to. His father had left him financially proficient.
“Patch”: His patch of land with “bubblin’ crude” was a continuous 50,000 acres of farm land in Lafourche Parish known as the Golden Ranch Plantation. Today it’s Gheens, Louisiana 70355.
His name was C. (Charles) Edwin Gheens (1878-1961).
A Brief Biography
Typhoid fever prevented him from attending Yale University but after recovering in 1899 he bought into a Louisville candy factory which he took over as the Bradas-Gheens Candy Company in 1920.
He married Mary Jo Lazarus (1891-1982) and in 1927 they journeyed to New Orleans to visit the sugarcane plantation his father had bought after the Civil War, 50 miles southwest of the city.
Gheens found that the heavily mortgaged land was about to be sold due to earlier financial reversals suffered by his father. Wisely, he bought it. It was a good move!
Less than 10 years later, Amerada-Hess struck oil and Mr. C. Edwin Gheens, already a wealthy man became a multi-millionaire.
He traveled often to manage his Golden Ranch plantation with over 100 sharecroppers. He was a kind owner who furnished medical care and housing for his workers.
I am fond of the Gheens community, having made many friends there through the years. I kidnapped Louis Breaux to play in my band when he was ten years old. (Just kidding, but he was very young).
Louis, whose father Harry managed South Coast’s Home Place store, told me he often saw Mr. Gheens chatting with his Dad while drinking a coke. Louis described him as a very frugal man, but you know Louie, that’s how you get to become a millionaire.
Musician Lawrence “Dupe the Drifter” Dupre and members of the Triche/Dufrene Brothers band, Clarence, Lester and Jerry, were also good friends and I recently lost one, Lafourche Parish Councilman Lindel Toups, a first class public official.
I played several benefits through the years in Gheens and campaigned for Assessors Hubert Robichaux, myself and son Michael. We always carried the boxes. Thanks Gheens!
A Lafourche Parish street in central Lafourche is named after another friend, Police Juror Johnny Dufrene. That’s not accomplished without merit. I often had coffee with Shedrick Dominique at his grocery store on my official rounds until he left for his school bus route.
How I met Mr. Gheens:
Owning 50,000 acres of land in Lafourche Parish made Mr. Gheens a major taxpayer, and, as most taxpayers, he often visited Assessor Hubert Robichaux’s office to discuss taxes. They were both soft spoken men but sometimes their “soft” conversations could be heard through the wall. Who likes taxes? My duties were to fetch documents and serve coffee.
In 1958, Mr. Robichaux and I were preparing to drive to Cleveland, Ohio, for an Assessors’ conference and he said, “Leroy you know we’re driving through Louisville Kentucky, Mr. Gheens’ home town. I have always treated him fairly and he often invited me to visit him if I’m ever in his city. Call him.”
I did and his wife Mary Jo answered the phone with the sweetest southern accent I had heard since Gone with the Wind. I handed Hubert the phone.
“He really wants me to visit and have lunch with him at his mansion. We’ll stop. He might have something for us.”
We did and he had!
That week we left for Cleveland with visions of material things like watches, diamond tie pins or gold cuff links in our heads.
Next week, I’ll give you an inventory of the gifts we received.
Comments are welcomed at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Posted on Tue, July 19, 2016
by The Lafourche Gazette