Broussard passes carpentry skills to son
Sitting in a humble home off hwy 62 in Orange sits a gentleman whose fingerprints are in thousands of area homes. Not figuratively but literally. Drifting in and out of 87 years worth of memories, Norris Broussard, easily recalls details of stories and events, times and dates from over half a century past. His hands are still the hands of a workingman and his face riddled with the lines of age and years of earning a well-deserved rest.
Work is what Broussard has known for ninety percent of his life.
“I quit school at age fourteen to learn carpentry from my uncle,” Broussard said. “He and my aunt were raising me and they were poor.”
His uncle, a cabinetmaker, that made a meager living in the fields of building and other jobs, taught him well.
“I worked with him for seven years,” Broussard says informatively, “ I made a buck-fifty a day with room and board and that was big money for me.”
He continues to describe other jobs his uncle did for a dollar a day, all heavy labor, working for the Hunter Canal in Louisiana, where Broussard was born and raised.
There were elements of the work ethic and skills he obtained from his uncle that stayed with him his whole life but those initial skills were only the foundation.
Marrying in 1947 he and his wife struck out for a better life. He didn’t find his way to Texas by accident but came looking for more money, which he found.
Landing in Texas City in 1950, Broussard found himself with a jump in pay from $1 an hour to a huge increase of $2.50 an hour. He also learned new crafts quickly and his sharp mind used those new skills effectively.
Though his specialty was dealing with the wood projects of construction, whether walls, trim, or cabinets, Broussard was a practical but opinionated thinker, always looking for better ways to move a project forward.
His determination soon generated notice by Dal Sasso Construction. This attention meant another increase in pay, a foreman position and another move, this time to Port Arthur. His time with Dal Sasso started with a new construction area in West Orange.
Fair Park consisted of 105 empty lots, however, by the end of his first year as foreman there were new homes built on 85 sites.
“This was before nail guns but we put up homes faster than they do today,” he said. “Everyone knew what they were doing. We would show up at 7 a.m. and by 7:01 everyone was working.”
The workers under his foremanship flourished, but worked hard and long. His ability to think ahead and also put in overtime served him well. He sometimes found his ideas clashed with the superintendent of a job or the boss himself. He also found that he was usually right. This willingness to buck the system when he knew it would be for the best kept him with Dal Sasso for 14 years.
His personal skills were ever increasing but cabinet making continued to help provide additional income. He did lots of work free as well, believing it would be to his advantage when it was time to build his own home; which he did in 1957.
While building cabinets for a gentleman in Groves another man of influence saw his flawless work and inquired about him. This influential man was the owner of Burton Shipyard that was, at the time, located in Port Arthur. Broussard was offered a deal Dal Sasso couldn’t match and one he couldn’t turn down.
Taking his skills to the shipyard ruffled feathers for many people for a variety of reasons. There were carpenters employed with fifteen years of construction experience who couldn’t perform at the level of excellence Broussard maintained. He was favored by the boss and could only be fired by him. His work ethic surpassed those of lesser motivation and, though he encountered off the cuff remarks, he didn’t tolerate them.
In the final analysis, his work spoke for itself leaving those would be critics with less pay and fewer promotions.
Broussard built more than just homes during this time. His family was growing as well.
One of his five children sits next to him watching his father tell the stories he has probably heard many times.
Windell Broussard, the youngest of Broussard’s children has found himself following in his father’s footsteps.
The elder Broussard smiles increasing the lines born of age and work, “He got his first hammer when he was two,” pointing toward Windell, “In the evenings after work I would build cabinets at home. I would put the flooring on the inside bottom and he would load it up with nails getting it nailed down. That part was covered with another board anyway.”
When asked if he had planned to go into construction Windell says, “No I actually never really thought about it. But in the end I kind of fell back on the things I knew growing up.”
Wendell started his business ownership fresh out of school with a snow cone stand, using saved earnings in 1989 to start working in the vinyl siding and aluminum clad business.
From there he branched out by building his first spec home. A spec home stands for Speculation home.
“It’s basically a home you are building without a buyer. You are speculating that one will come along that’s interested. It’s pretty scary building your first spec home with your earnings and savings.”
But it would seem Windell was cut out for it.
Before he was finished building his first one, it garnered the interest of a buyer and was sold before he could place his worries into divine hands.
From there his business began to increase until he started his own contractor company. In Orange County he is responsible for the construction of some 200 plus homes.
His father is quick to point out that he was never a contractor per se. There is obvious respect shown from father to son and son to father. One builds a life while life is happening. Many things can effect how life is built.
Asked about the effects Ike had on business Windell explains, “After Ike, naturally, we were very busy. We took part in rebuilding homes we had built damaged by the waters. The biggest problem right now is the economy.”
Discussion of how the housing market is currently slow means both Broussards know work will be harder to come by. Though retired, Norris Broussard has lived long enough to understand the wiles of the construction business. Another son, Paul, has started a building and repair business as well. It is what they all know.
“We had a two car garage,” Windell said. “In the evening Dad would back the cars out and we would build.”
There is a comfort to have learned something that is cathartic as a youth that can also become a source of income. Windell has integrity to offer, not only referring to the stability of the homes he has built in the physical sense but also in his personal outlook. He has proven to be a trusted, dependable contractor in Orange County and parts of Jefferson as well.
With his health weakened due to breathing issues, Norris Broussard, longs to play a hand made Acadian Accordion. He purchased it after he retired but says he waited too long. Its valuable. Handmade of a rare wood from India he squeezes out a few runs.
He has produced an incredible amount of work in his 87 years, but it became a step ladder for his sons to climb on to another level.
Jim Rohn, a motivational speaker, once said, “Whatever good thing we build end up building us.”
No truer words could have been spoken as the Broussard legacy of building continues. Much of Orange County has been hammered into existence through their hands, and more is to come.