Richard Greene

January 4, 2014

‘Duck Dynasty’ is only the latest success story for a Louisiana town

Backwater? No, West Monroe has a rich history.

I’m indebted to this paper’s Bud Kennedy for alerting me to a remaining issue with the now-resolved Duck Dynasty flap.

Among the endless commentaries on one of the most successful television series of all time, one appeared in the Houston Chronicle referring to West Monroe, La., (the setting for the reality show) as a “backwater.”

Because my wife and I shared our high school and college days in Monroe, just across the magnificent Ouachita River, Bud apparently thought I should set the record straight.

Although we have not lived in Monroe for almost 50 years, we both have family there. Together with the more than 60,000 residents in the Twin Cities, we share a real sense of pride in this extraordinary community.

It’s a lot of things, but it is nobody’s damn backwater. The Duck Commander family is just the latest in a tradition of entrepreneurial success stories spanning the last century.

Monroe is the second-oldest city in Louisiana. Its namesake is our fifth president, James Monroe.

He was the last of our Founding Fathers to serve as the country’s chief executive. His devotion to personal freedom was demonstrated by his opposition to the ratification of the Constitution because he felt it gave too much power to the central government.

His spirit is alive and well in the very conservative, self-reliant community and throughout the state.

West Monroe’s origins can be traced to the business of shipping cotton by steamboat, and it flourished as one of the most important commercial transportation centers in the country.

Among the area’s most famous is the Biedenharn family. They were in the candy business and operated a soda fountain. It was in 1894 at their store in Vicksburg, Miss., that 28-year-old Joe Biedenharn observed people enjoying a new drink called Coca-Cola.

Recalling his father’s advice to look for a product that could be sold for 5 cents, he decided to put the beverage in a bottle so people could take it with them.

Today, his portrait adorns the spacious halls of the Coca-Cola Bottling Co. in Atlanta. It was hung on the 50th anniversary of Joe’s first bottle of Coke, which launched the company’s empire.

Through their philanthropy made possible by that stunning financial success, the Biedenharns are still among Monroe’s greatest benefactors.

By 1920, the Twin Cities were prospering from the wealth generated by the good fortune of being in the world’s largest natural gas field. Industry flourished with the abundant supply of the very affordable fuel.

Before the end of the 1930s, the Monroe area was producing a variety of products from the valuable natural resource and sending it through the Port of New Orleans to the four corners of the globe.

In 1928, a group of local businessmen, including another member of the Biedenharn family, purchased the crop-dusting service of a Monroe company serving agricultural communities from North Carolina to South America. They had a fleet of 18 airplanes.

The new owners changed the company’s name to Delta Air Service and started flying passengers from place to place. By 1941, it had become Delta Air Lines and relocated its headquarters to Atlanta.

Seems that the big Georgia city owes much of its economic success to Monroe and West Monroe for launching two of its largest corporate citizens.

Today the Twin Cities are characterized by the arts, culture, history, higher education, opportunity, diversity, outdoor adventure and a devotion to the values upon which our great nation is built.

Deep-seated in its DNA is legendary Southern hospitality, charm and style.

Perhaps the aforementioned Houston newspaper writer would be well advised to do a little research before expressing a really senseless opinion.

Richard Greene is a former Arlington mayor and served as an appointee of President George W. Bush as regional administrator for the Environmental Protection Agency.

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