H. O. West

 

Herman O. West
Born May 19, 1900(1900-05-19)
DeRidder
Beauregard Parish
Louisiana, United States
Died August 20, 1981 (aged 81)
Minden, Webster Parish
Louisiana
Alma mater Louisiana College
Occupation
Businessman
Religion
Baptist
Spouse(s) Gladys T. West
Children Claude Otis West
                  Gloria West Evans
Notes
At the time of his death at the age of eighty-one, West owned thirty-three department stores spread across the mid-
South, specializing in men's, women's, and children's clothing.


Herman O. 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, the seat of Webster Parish in northwestern Louisiana.

Contents

1 Background
2 Philanthropy
3 Death and legacy
4 References

Background

West was a native of DeRidder, the seat of Beauregard Parish in western Louisiana. 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.

In 1923, he and his brothers, W.D. and J.A. West, opened a small variety store under the name West Brothers in
Mansfield, the seat of De Soto Parish south of Shreveport. Charles B. Rouss, a jobber from New York, allowed the brothers credit which they repaid on consummating 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.

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 (born August 26, 1927). A 1944 graduate of
Minden 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 (born September 14, 1927) of Minden, and the couple had 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. 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) was the company secretary-treasure.

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 and, for a time in the middle 1970s, a twin-theater operation, which temporarily replaced the defunct Rex Theater downtown.

For nearly five decades, Matthias Henry Schuetz (1916-2010) of DeRidder was the West Brothers corporate treasurer. 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, the seat of 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 even 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 of the women's verbal applications as well as their belief that the company would have resented their even filing such applications for managerial positions.

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

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.
] 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."

In 1989, after a year in insurance and investments, former West vice president David Evans was named the president of Minden Builiding and Loan Association. Evans replaced the
CPA Jack E. Byrd, Jr., who instead became president of Minden Bank and Trust Company, since part of Regions Bank.


H.O. West Physical Education Building is named for
Minden businessman and retailer Herman O. West (1900-1981), who served as the LC board president in 1958.

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. West was chairman of the Louisiana College trustees from 1958-1959. He followed the motto: "What we are is God's gift to us. And what we become is our gift to God."

A veteran of
World War I, West was a member and commander of the American Legion.<SUP id=cite_ref-amlg_4-1 class=reference>[5] He was a director of the Webster Parish Free Fair Board, since the Bossier/Webster Fair and Forest Festival, and he was a member of the board of the former Peoples Bank and Trust Company, including a stint as bank chairman from 1969-1970. He was also active in the the Chamber of Commerce, Lions Club, and Masonic lodge.


West family grave monument at Minden Cemetery




Individual H.O. West marker; click to read.

[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),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.

Juanita Murphy Agan (1923-2008) of the Minden Press-Herald, reflected in a 2007 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. . . .

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."

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.

References
Social Security Death Index
Rootsweb.ancestry.com
Minden Press-Herald
United States Court of Appeals, 5th Circuit, N.O. 10/23/1986
Men and Women in WWII from Webster Parish
Obit of H.O. West, The New York Times 10/22/1981


Submitted by Billy Hathorn, Class of 1966