Joyce S. Hebert lobbied local and state officials numerous times to keep it open. The battles amid state budget cuts continued a myriad of obstacles for the Plaquemine Lock, which operated 1909 until 1961, when the opening of the Port Allen locks led to its closure.

Preservation efforts for Plaquemine’s most prominent landmark endured pitfalls and setbacks over nearly four decades, but the local newspaper’s founders ensured its preservation.

A ceremony Saturday honored the work of Joyce S. Hebert, cofounder of the Post/South, for the years of work by she and her husband, the late Gary J. Hebert, and for her continued efforts to promote the significance of the Plaquemine Lock State Historic Site.

The unveiling of a bronze plaque in honor of Joyce S. Hebert highlighted the event in front of the Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse. The event noted the work she did alongside her husband, as well as her efforts over the last 20 years that halted state plans to permanently shutter the lockhouse.

Friends, family and public officials comprised the crowd of approximately 100 at the event.

The ceremony took place in front of the lockhouse, where a commemorative plaque bearing the likeness her husband adorns the wall adjacent to the building’s entrance. Gary J. Hebert spearheaded efforts in the early 1970s to block demolition of the Lock and the close-in of adjacent portion of Bayou Plaquemine, where the state planned to expand La. 1.

“My dad, rightfully so, was honored for this battle when the building was renamed the “Gary J. Hebert Memorial Lockhouse,” Ellie Hebert, daughter of Gary and Joyce Hebert, said in a speech during the ceremony. “My mom supported him when no one else did, she helped him with research, and she suffered with him on the losses they endured throughout the battle.”

Joyce Hebert established “Friends of the Lock State Historic Site Inc.” in 2010, a nonprofit which ultimately blocked the plans by the state Office of Tourism during the Jindal Administration.

Joyce S. Hebert lobbied local and state officials numerous times to keep it open. The battles amid state budget cuts continued a myriad of obstacles for the Plaquemine Lock, which operated 1909 until 1961, when the opening of the Port Allen locks led to its closure.

Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso and then-Mayor Mark A. “Tony” Gulotta stepped up to the plate to allocate the funds that kept the lockhouse open. Present Mayor Edwin “Ed” Reeves Jr. has continued Gulotta’s support of the Lock.

The battles amid state budget cuts continued a myriad of obstacles for the Plaquemine Locks, which operated 1909 until 1961, when the opening of the Port Allen locks led to its closure.

In its heyday, the Plaquemine Locks area was a bustling area that hugely impacted commerce not only for the state, but the entire nation.

It also transformed life in Plaquemine, Ellie Hebert said.

“For 52 years, the Lock was the singular reason thousands of barges and boats plied Bayou Plaquemine and Intracoastal Waterway with all means of cargo, from cypress logs to critical supplies for troops in World War II,” she said.

A VERY DIFFICULT BATTLE

The Lock – a catalyst for the city’s growth in the first half of the 20th century – sat dormant upon its closure, which made it ripe for the wrecking ball.

It remained an icon for both Plaquemine and Iberville Parish, and a source of pride for the community – something her parents understood in their two-year fight to halt demolition, Ellie Hebert said.

Few Plaquemine residents supported the preservation at the time. Instead, many turned against Gary and Joyce Hebert.

“This was a very difficult battle for my parents,” Ellie Hebert said. “They lost friends, fought with family members, and their newspaper was boycotted by business leaders and officials who all wanted the Lock torn down and the bayou filled in to make way for a highway.”

An array of obstacles threatened efforts to save the Locks, but the tide turned when Gary Hebert learned a listing on the National Register of Historic Places could derail the demolition plans.

“Making that happen was in itself a huge endeavor for my father, taking tremendous time and resources, but my parents showed unyielding determination,” Ellie Hebert said.

The historic site opened in the late 1970s, but issues over state maintenance and upkeep of the facility continued after Gary Hebert’s death in August 1994.

THE SOUL OF PLAQUEMINE

“Friends of the Locks” continues to address the upkeep and funding needs for the Lockhouse, which remains a popular tourist attraction.

Joyce Hebert served as president upon its inception in 2010 and remained at the helm seven years. The inaugural board included: Richard Trepagnier, vice president; Charlene Bishop, secretary; Verna Roberts, secretary; Leonard “Buddy” Roberts; Michael Eby; Louis Favaron; and Laura Stewart.

Roberts and Trepagnier received honorary plaques during the ceremony for their seven years on the board.

The group has spearheaded repair efforts, tours of the facility, evening music shows and student field trips to get people to the Lock and educate them on the historic significance of the Lock.

In the years since the battle to save the Lock, local officials have embraced the site as one of the cornerstones of Iberville Parish history.

“This is the soul of Plaquemine,” Iberville Parish President J. Mitchell Ourso said during the ceremony. “This town was built around this Lock, and I want to thank you all for your efforts and all the people who had relatives retire and work here.”

Iberville Parish cannot underestimate the efforts to preserve Plaquemine Locks, Sheriff Brett Stassi said.

The continuous dedication to the site comes at a time when many Americans downplay historical significance, he said.

“These people have worked tirelessly to make Plaquemine a better place,” Stassi said “We all think we’re doing a good job and we all think we’re doing everything we can, but these people gave everything to this parish and the state to hold this thing together. Miss Joyce, let me tell you . . . you are the first lady of Iberville and of Plaquemine.”

The city would have lost one of its crown jewels if Gary and Joyce Hebert chosen not to fight against the demolition plans, Plaquemine Mayor Ed Reeves said.

“Sometimes in life you have to take a stand, and Mr. Gary took a stand – with Miss Joyce by his side every step of the way,” he said. “We wouldn’t have had the Mark A. Tony Gulotta Waterfront Park here – instead, it would’ve just been “Tony Gulotta Park” because they wanted to fill that bayou in. That is our namesake in Plaquemine.”

The same approach to the newspaper industry applied to preservation of the Locks, Reeves said.

“They never missed a deadline, just like they didn’t miss a beat with saving the Locks,” he said. “First, they had to save the building, and then they had to fight to keep it open.”

The city and parish do not have to worry about another closure of the site, Ourso said.

“In 2011, during Tony Gulotta’s years as mayor, we partnered with the City of Plaquemine so that the Friends of the Lock never had to worry about the building being shuttered,” he said. “To this day, that stays the same.”