The Advocate Got It Wrong, Ted Hicks, Baton Rouge’s Blue Collar Millionaire Isn’t Dead.

In December 2015 an article in The Advocate Newspaper in Baton Rouge, La. reported Ted Hicks as being deceased:

“In 2004, now deceased developer, Ted Hicks offered to donate 150 acres on I-12 and O’Neal Lane to BREC if BREC wanted to relocate the Baton Rouge Zoo.” DEAD—Not.  Long-time friend Sheriff Sid Gautreaux sent him a text “Ted, is it hot or cold.”

There are several highly successful people in Baton Rouge but few of them are “blue collar.”  Ted Hicks is admittedly blue collar and his story is inspirational and encouraging to children born into poverty. The Rouge Collection sat down with Ted Hicks after finding out he was indeed still alive for an interview.

February 14, 1944 – Not having a car, she was given a ride from the hospital carrying her new baby boy. Her husband was out of town. She was broke and did not have the money to pay the hospital or doctor. Baby Ted was to be one of seven children.

Ted likes to say “I started life in debt.” When Ted was 3 years old, his father abandoned the family.  He moved to another state, changed his name, never returned or paid child support.

His mother remarried when Ted was 4 and they lived in a 2 bedroom apartment in Galveston, Texas. There were no pets allowed in the small apartment complex. One day Ted and his sister were playing with a stray puppy. The landlord came by snatched the puppy up and beat its head on a post until it was dead. The two children watched and cried. One year later the family of 5 moved back to Louisiana into a one bedroom camping trailer, no running water or inside toilet. Ted’s sister slept in the small kitchen where the dining table made a bed. Ted and his brother slept on two folding army cots that also served as a place to sit during the day.  Hauling water from the uncle’s home next door they would fill a #3 wash tub for bathing. The stepfather worked in the oil field and his mother was a bar tender. They stayed married 17 years, having 3 additional children.  During these 17 years they moved or were evicted 14 times.

Just before daylight, a farm truck picked up nine year old Ted and his 11 year old sister. They worked all day picking cotton.  At 13 years old, Ted was sent to live with another family in Cecilia. Louisiana.  Ted earned his keep by milking the family cow before school and each afternoon he worked in the garden, picking pecans, cutting grass or whatever task he was assigned on the small farm.

I asked Ted “How did you feel when sent away from home to live with another family?”

ANSWER: “I remember lying in bed at night with tears running down my cheeks feeling unloved.  I realized I was on my own and would have to take care of myself.”

At 15 years old Ted returned home.  He worked weekends at service stations 12 hours a day for $5.00/day and during the summer for a construction company sandblasting and painting pipelines.

It was during this time he met and fell in love with a dark-haired, blue eyed beauty, Connie Fontenot. She attended the local catholic school. She was a cheerleader and came from a good family. She and her friends were popular in the community. The two had totally opposite backgrounds.

At 17 Ted’s mother signed the necessary papers allowing him to join the United States Navy. He attended school and received a diploma as a Dental Technician.  While in the Navy he and Connie eloped to Elizabeth City, North Carolina and were married. For the next 3 years he spent his days completing his tour in the Navy and at night worked at a hamburger stand. The first of their 4 children was born at the Naval Hospital in Portsmouth, Va.

In 1965, Ted was honorably discharged from the Navy and returned to Louisiana. He worked in the oil field and later as a plumber’s helper. Ted and Connie wanted more from life so they moved to Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where he found a job with a propane gas company. Later he applied for a job with Allied Chemical and was hired. While working at the plant he and Connie enrolled at LSU. On his days off he worked for a real estate company.  In 1969, Ted opened his own real estate and insurance firm. Shortly thereafter, he started building houses and commercial buildings.  In 1973 they purchased a farm and started raising cattle, which almost destroyed them financially and physically. The price of cattle went to an all-time low.  They sold the cattle at a loss. In heavy debt and with 4 children to take care of, Ted worked nights bidding on commercial buildings and during the day he would supervise the construction. Working day and night, seven days a week they paid off their debts.

I asked Ted “Where did you get the energy and drive to sustain the long hours, day and night, every day of the week. His reply was “Love of my family and fear of my children growing up like I did”.

In his early years in construction there was turmoil in the industry.  Union disputes and strikes occurred on a regular basis. Criminals infiltrated the local and national unions. Union representatives were re-elected by giving union membership cards out to friends who were not qualified craftsmen.  These men were sent to various job sites not capable of performing the tasks assigned.  If you fired them, the union representative would retaliate. This was hurting good union men (who were afraid to speak up) and business growth in Louisiana.

After numerous discussions and confrontation with the union representatives, Ted, a union contractor, started advertising for craftsmen. He hired 2 non-union skilled carpenters, Artile Mills and Tommy Vandiver, both African Americans. He sent them to the local carpenters union to get union cards. The union rep contacted Ted and said they were not allowing n(word)’s into the carpenters union. Ted refused to fire the two men so the union put a picket line on his project. Ted, Artile and Tommy crossed the picket line daily and completed the building.  Ted hired attorneys and fought for Artile and Tommy’s right to work. Ted’s wife, Connie, said “During these terrible times Ted wouldn’t answer the door at our home without a pistol in his hand.”

A small group gathered in Baton Rouge and decided to organize and fight back. They knew that threats, intimidation, beatings, destruction of property and even death would come to some. This group were self-made men prepared to stand up for their beliefs.

They formed a chapter of Associated Building Contractors and started working open shop. When the violence came, they stood on the front line, never faltering. They got involved in statewide politics, electing honest politicians. They were instrumental in getting right to work laws passed in Louisiana. The criminals in the unions, along with the crooked politicians, went to prison. The face of Louisiana was changed forever. This group, along with others, created an environment where business and industry could thrive.  Louisiana citizens enjoy low unemployment with saving wage jobs as a result of these visionaries.  When Ted was asked about his involvement, he humbly said “I served as the first program chairman of the Baton Rouge chapter of ABC. The leadership and courage of men like A. Hays ”Sonny” Town, Lane Grigsby, Bob Mixon, Rick Picou, Tony Salvaggio, W.O. Bergeron, Eddie Rispone and others at LABI, including Ed Stiemel and  Dick Schneider. These men were essential to a successful outcome. God bless these men for their courage and for never compromising their principals.”

So where do you find, MUCH ALIVE, Ted Hicks today.  In 2004 he fell 35’ from a deer stand breaking vertebrae and ribs. In 2005 the doctors placed 4 stents in his heart. In 2014 cancer and a lower portion of his left lung was removed and he was treated successfully with chemo. At 71 years old he is a multi-millionaire overseeing his properties in Alabama, Mississippi, Missouri and Louisiana. Last couple of years you could find him sitting quietly in airports texting his grandchildren while waiting on a flight to Albuquerque New Mexico, Atlanta GA., San Antonio TX, Ogden UT, Bossier City LA, Rochester MN, etc. where he participated in the renovation of large shopping malls. You can find him this year in Louisiana still developing and owning subdivisions or in flight to participate in various construction projects. Recently, I saw him playing golf with his close friend Dennis Pennington and I asked him, “You have plenty of money–when are you going to retire?”  His response was simple and direct “Money doesn’t make a man, a man earns money. Blue collar guys like me work until we die.” 

Like Ted, the American dream is still alive.

Community Spotlight

January 23, 2016