H. O. West

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Herman Otis "H. O." West​

(Owner of a chain of 33 department stores in Louisiana and Arkansas)


Born May 19, 1900​
DeRidder, Beauregard Parish
Louisiana, USA
Died August 20, 1981 (aged 81)
Minden, Webster Parish, Louisiana​
Spouse Gladys Tatum West

Children:
​ Claude Otis West
​ Gloria West Evans​

Religion Southern Baptist

Herman Otis West, known as H. O. West (May 19, 1900 – August 20, 1981), was the co-founder and later owner of a chain of thirty-three department stores in mostly north Louisiana and southern Arkansas. From 1923 until his death, West was based at company headquarters in Minden in Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana.​ ​

Background

​ West was a native of DeRidder in Beauregard Parish in western Louisiana.[1]​ He served in the United States Army during World War I. He dropped out of Louisiana College in Pineville because of a lack of funds and took a job as a shipping clerk at a lumber company.[2]​ ​

Business success

​ In 1923, he and his brothers, W. D. West and J. A. West, opened a small variety store under the name West Brothers in Mansfield in DeSoto Parish south of Shreveport. Charles B. Rouss, a jobber from New York, allowed the brothers credit which they repaid on consummation of their sales. A few months later, H. O. West relocated to Minden to open the second store in the location vacated by the variety store, Morgan and Lindsey, Inc., which moved elsewhere downtown. Other outlets followed in Magnolia, El Dorado, and Camden, Arkansas.[1]

In 1965, H. O. West relinquished the presidency of West Enterprises in Minden, as it was then called, to his only son, Claude Otis West (August 26, 1927 – June 10, 2019),[3] A 1944 graduate of Minden (Louisiana) High School and a United States Navy veteran of World War II. C. O. West subsequently procured a Bachelor of Business Administration degree from Louisiana State University at Baton Rouge. C. O. West married the former Leatrice Mae David (1927-2013) of Minden,[4] one of three daughters of Larkin Cortez David (1902–1988) and his wife, Leo David (1908–1998). Larkin David was a brother of former Minden Mayor John T. David.[5] Claude and Leatrice West have three daughters, Sandra Jackson (born 1948), Peggy Waters (born 1951), and Claudia Lee (born 1954). C. O. West began his career with the West company as the assistant manager of the outlet in Springhill in northern Webster Parish.​[3]

When C. O. West became president of the company, H.O. West was elevated to the new position of chairman of the board for the remaining sixteen years of his life. Arthur David Evans (born January 23, 1941), H. O. West's son-in-law, became vice president, and J.W. Clark (1920–2002), H. O. West's nephew, was the company secretary-treasurer.[1][6]

At West Plaza in Minden, the company operated its headquarters and a West-Gibson Discount Center, launched in 1964. West-Gibson had grown to ten outlets by 1974 before falling to the competition of Sam Walton's Wal-Mart. The West company also maintained a Chrysler-Dodge dealership known as West-Clark Motors, West Furniture & Appliance, West Computer Service[1] and, for a time in the middle 1970s, a twin-theater operation, which temporarily replaced the defunct Rex Theater downtown.[7]

Early in 1972, the company opened a new store in Springhill and another outlet in Atlanta in Cass County, Texas.[8]​ ​ For nearly five decades, Matthias Henry Schuetz (1916–2010) of DeRidder was the West Brothers corporate treasurer.[9]

In 1976, H.O. West bought out his brothers' share of the company. That same year, six female employees at the West Brothers outlet in Vidalia in Concordia Parish in eastern Louisiana, filed a complaint with the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission that the company had discriminated against them by not considering them for promotion to managerial status. All the West managers were men. In a 1982 district court trial, West Brothers called no witnesses but prevailed on grounds that the women had never filed a written application to become a manager. West took the view that it had no need to present its own evidence because the plaintiffs "have effectually shown a non-discriminatory" policy by the company, citing the case Lewis v. Brown and Root. In 1986, however, the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in New Orleans reversed the district court on grounds that West Brothers had not taken into consideration some women's verbal applications as well as their belief that the company would have resented their even filing such applications for managerial positions.[10]

West and Company closes, 1988

​ At the time of West's death, company stores extended into Texas, Mississippi, and Alabama.[2] The West store in Homer in Claiborne Parish, was one of two businesses in the building which now houses the Herbert S. Ford Museum.[11]

The company announced on May 12, 1988, that it was closing because of "circumstances beyond its control." A "going-out-of-business" sale began on May 14 and was still underway on July 4, 1988.[12] Minden Press-Herald publisher Bill Specht in an editorial described the West family as "class people, always upbeat. They never complained and were more eager to help you with your problem instead of asking for help themselves."[13]

In 1989, after a year in insurance and investments, former West vice president David Evans was named the president of Minden Building and Loan Association. Evans replaced Jack Edwin Byrd, Jr. (born 1946), who instead became president of Minden Bank and Trust Company, since part of Regions Bank.[14][15] Jack Byrd subsequently returned to the presidency of MB&L, and David Evans became chairman of the board.​ ​

Philanthropy

In addition to his business activities, H. O. West was a deacon and large donor to the First Baptist Church of Minden and the Baptist-affiliated Louisiana College, his alma mater, which named its H. O. West Field House in his honor.[16] West was appointed a Louisiana College trustee early in 1952.[17] West was the trustees' chairman from 1958 to 1959. He followed the motto: "What we are is God's gift to us. And what we become is our gift to God."[18]

A veteran of World War I, West was a member and commander of the American Legion. He was named "Outstanding Citizen of Webster Parish" in 1947[19] and two years later became the first president[20] and thereafter a director of the Webster Parish Free Fair Board, since renamed the Bossier/Webster Fair and Forest Festival,[21] and he was a member of the board of the former Peoples Bank and Trust Company,[22] including a stint as bank chairman from 1969 to 1970. He left the bank board on January 13, 1971.[23]

In 1948, West was named chairman of the American Cancer Society fund drive in Webster Parish.[24] In 1952, Governor Robert F. Kennon of Minden named West one of the first five members of the newly assembled Louisiana Civil Service Commission.[25] West was also active in the Minden Chamber of Commerce, Lions International and the Masonic lodge.[18]​ ​

Death and legacy

​ West died in Minden Medical Center at the age of eighty-one. In addition to his son, he was survived by his wife, the former Gladys Tatum (October 18, 1906 – December 13, 1989), a native of Noble in Sabine Parish,[26] and a daughter, Gloria West Evans (born October 17, 1941); a brother, W. D. West of DeRidder, and three sisters, Mrs. Merle Harper of DeRidder, Mrs. Fred T. Smith of Warren, Arkansas, and Mrs. H. L. Wiggins of Mansfield. Services were held at the First Baptist Church. West is interred beside his wife at Minden Cemetery. [18]​ ​ Juanita Murphy Agan (1923–2008) of the Minden Press-Herald, reflected in a 2007 "Cameos" column of her teenage years working for West Brothers in Minden in 1937:​ ​

"As [one] entered the store on the left was the ladies Ready-to-Wear, dresses and coats. On the right were the men's suits, pants and jackets. Down the center of the store were tables that held blankets, sheets, pillow casings, socks, underwear, baby things, and shirts and other clothes that could be folded such as pants, overalls, and men's jumpers. In the back of the store was the shoe department. [West] carried work shoes and dress shoes both for ladies and men and children. . . .

​ [West] hired a group of young people that worked there as extras. At least fifteen met the door each Saturday. To be able to make sales a clerk had to be there as the customers came in and be the one that made the sale. There were no Wal-Marts back then, so West filled the bill for a variety of merchandise at reasonable prices.
​ ​

It was a pleasant surprise to be hired in about three months at West Bros. The salary was $1.50 a day with the opportunity to make more if you made sufficient sales. If you were fortunate enough to sell $40.00 worth you earned $2.00, and if your sales were $55.00 you earned $2.25. Now that was what I wanted to hear, and wanted to make. This was not picture-show money; it was money to help buy some groceries. By the time I was fifteen I had learned a lot about selling. . . . "[27]

​ Clyde Austin (born 1937) of Minden recalls having worked part-time at West Brothers during Christmas 1953. "The day I worked, Mr. West told us to go pick out any shirt that we wanted for Christmas. He was a very nice and kind man."[28]

West was listed in the 1959 edition of Who's Who in the South and Southwest and in 1961 in Who's Who in Commerce and Industry.[20]

Coincidentally in 1923, a second Herman O. West of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, opened a drug store there. In 1972, a charitable foundation was established in the name of that Herman O. West in the field of pharmaceuticals and health care.[29]​ ​

References

  1. 1.0 1.1 1.2 1.3 "West Enterprises Serving Minden Fifty Years:, Minden Press-Herald, January 30, 1974, p. 6D.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Death of H.O. West. The New York Times (August 22, 1981). Retrieved on June 3, 2010; no longer on-line.
  3. 3.0 3.1 Claude West Obituary. Tributes.com. Retrieved on September 27, 2019.
  4. Leatrice David West. rose-neath.com. Retrieved on December 18, 2013; no longer on-line.
  5. Minden Press-Herald, July 26, 1988, p. 3.
  6. "West's Assistant Arrives This Week," Minden Herald and Webster Review, January 12, 1956, p.1.
  7. "Rex Theater Near 'Last Picture Show,'" Minden Press-Herald, March 31, 1974, p. 1.
  8. "West and Company Sets Two Store Openings," Minden Press-Herald, March 1, 1972, p. 1.
  9. In Memory of Matthias Henry Schuetz. obits.dignitymemoria.com. Retrieved on June 22, 2010; no longer on-line.
  10. United States Court of Appeals, Fifth Circuit, New Orleans. openjurist.org (October 23, 1986). Retrieved on June 1, 2010.
  11. Herbert S. Ford Memorial Museum. claibornene.org. Retrieved on June 22, 2010; no longer on-line.
  12. "West's closing," Minden Press-Herald, May 12, 1988, p. 1.
  13. Bill Specht, "West and Co. will be missed," Minden Press-Herald, May 15, 1988, p. 2.
  14. "MB&L appoints A. David Evans to replace Byrd," Minden Press-Herald, June 23, 1989, p. 1.
  15. The H.O. West Home. mindenmemories.org. Retrieved on June 1, 2010; no longer on-line.
  16. "Louisiana College names building for local man," Minden Herald", May 28, 1964, p. 1
  17. "H. O. West Named a Trustee of Louisiana College", Minden Press, January 4, 1952, p. 1.
  18. 18.0 18.1 18.2 "Founder of West Enterprises H.O. West Services Friday," Minden Press-Herald, August 20, 1981.
  19. "H. O. West voted outstanding man for past year: Annual award made at C of C banquet last Tuesday," Minden Herald, April 11, 1947, p. 1.
  20. 20.0 20.1 "H. O. West, Founder of West and Company," Minden Press-Herald, September 9, 1974, p. 3B.
  21. "Webster Parish, La., Picks New Directors of Free Fair," The Billboard, February 19, 1949, p. 53.
  22. "H. O. West Named New Member for Bank Board," Minden Herald, January 16, 1948, p. 1.
  23. Minden Press-Herald, January 13, 1971.
  24. "Cancer Fund Campaign Now Being Conducted in Parish", Minden Herald, April 2, 1948, p. 1.
  25. "West Appointed to State Civil Service Board," Minden Herald, December 19, 1952, p. 1.
  26. "Prominent Minden woman Mrs. H. O. "Gladys" West dies; Services are Thursday," Minden Press-Herald, December 13, 1989, p. 1.
  27. Juanita Agan, "West Brothers," Minden Press-Herald, September 12, 2007.
  28. Clyde Austin to Sherry Gresham Gritzbaugh, Mindenmemories.org, June 7, 2010; no longer online.
  29. A Tradition of Community Service. westpharma.com. Retrieved on June 1, 2010; no longer on-line.

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