Myrle Rivalut Hebert Ostergren recalls years of family, travel, fun

Staff Report

For 107-year-old Myrle Rivault Hebert Ostergren, life in the mid-1930s was filled with transition, including one meeting that would change the course of her life.

Myrle commuted to Port Allen daily for work at the state Department of Welfare after she stopped attending LSU due to her father’s job loss. At that time, she also dated many young men.

A deck of cards has never been far out of the reach of Myrle Rivault Hebert Ostergren, whose love for bridge has been one of the longtime hobbies for the 107-year-old Addis native who lives in Plaquemine.

One of those men was Roy Anthony Hebert, who lived in Plaquemine. They dated, but she then met Opelousas native Eldred Stelly, who had money and a big car.

“He fixed the teeth of everyone in my family,” Myrle said. “After a while, we got engaged and he gave me a ring.

“But one day, my sister Nell said I didn’t love Eldred and that I loved Roy,” she said. “I realized she was right, and I had to give the ring back.”

Myrle said Roy was the love of her life.

The resumed dating after she and Stelly broke up, and it led them to the altar June 16, 1938, when she married Roy at St. John the Baptist Catholic Church in Brusly.

The wedding was not fancy, but she remembers the $25 check she received from the Poydras Fund, a dowry fund Julien de Lalande Poydras started in 1824 for brides in West Baton Rouge Parish.

“I used the money to buy a couch,” she said.

Roy was majoring in civil engineering at LSU but left in 1934, his senior year. He became a registered land surveyor and found work with Kansas City Bridge Co. in its fabrication shop.

They rented a small house in Brusly owned by Cecil Peavy, her boss at the Department of Welfare.

Myrle and Roy had not lived in Brusly very long when they bought a shotgun house on Meriam Street in Plaquemine. The two-bedroom home was a step up for Myrle -- it had electricity and a telephone.

They gave birth to their daughter Diane in January 1942. They added a second bedroom for their son Ronnie in 1946.

“Roy was a very devoted father,” Myrle said. “He never denied his children anything.”

During World War II, her brother Harry was in the Marines and fought in Trinidad, while her sister joined the Women’s Auxiliary Corps.

She often helped her mother during their absence, but otherwise life did not change much for Myrle during World War II.

Roy kept his job with Kansas City Bridge Co., where he built boats and mobile bridges for the military’s use. He was classified as “essential support” due to his employer’s support of the war effort.

It did not mean life was easy during the war, Myrle said.

“All through the war years, we had to be frugal … food and supplies were limited and rationed, and we were allowed only one pound of coffee per month,” she said. “On the bright side, the United States was truly united, and people did everything to support the war effort.”

The frugal years led to great prosperity for many Americans after the war, and Roy and Myrle were no exception.

In early 1946, he started Hebert Brothers Engineering & General Contractors with his brother Hiram, who was an electrical engineer.

The engineering firm stayed busy with construction of wastewater and sewage plans, along with wastewater lines and pump stations for cities and towns.

The following year, Solvay – where Roy’s brother Omer worked – sought help on a pipeline to move brine water from the Choctaw salt domes from Iberville Parish to Port Allen, and across the Mississippi River to the Solvay Plant in Baton Rouge to make chlorine.

Omer – an LSU graduate and civil engineer – joined Hebert Brothers, which became the first contractor with Dow Chemical’s Louisiana Division when it broke ground on the Plaquemine facility in 1956.

Myrle and Roy moved to a home on Elm Street in 1948. They were devout members of St. John the Evangelist Catholic Church, and Myrle joined the Plaquemine Garden Club upon its inception in 1955.

“I won ‘Best Yard’ five times over the years,” she said.

They also joined the two Plaquemine Mardi Gras krewes – Le Krewe du Roi (1965) and Krewe of Okeanos (1979). Aside from the Plaquemine carnival balls, they attended Mardi Gras celebrations in Baton Rouge and New Orleans.

Myrle said she loved the social life and always enjoyed throwing parties for her friends and children when they got married.

She also loved playing bridge and poker. Their poker club consisted of Church and Gloria Pendleton, Yves and Vera Ramirez, Joe and Naomi Marix, Jake and Marie Dupuy, Edwin and Dot Dupuy, and Thomas and Polly Tircuit.

One of her closest friends was Mavis Ocmand.

“We were known as the best bridge players in Iberville Parish,” Myrle said. “We played almost every day and we always socialized … we were enjoying life.”

They took first prize at a statewide double bridge tournament in New Orleans in 1956.

Myrle also became active in bowling when the Plaquemine bowling alley opened on La. 1 South in 1960.

“I bowled during the day as part of the women’s league, and Roy and I were in a couple’s league at night,” she recalled.

They also enjoyed dining in Plaquemine at City Café. She said their favorite Baton Rouge venues included The Village, Mike & Tony’s, Jack Sabin’s Steaks, Hopper’s Drive-In, the original Piccadilly on Third Street, Landry’s Seafood on Airline Highway and Giamanico’s on Government.

Roy and Myrle were also avid sports fans. They attended the World Series many times, and Mickey Mantle was their favorite player.

Another favorite moment came in 1957 when Warner Bros. was shooting “Band of Angels” in the Plaquemine/Baton Rouge area.

“One Sunday, Roy, Ronnie, Diane and I saw Clark Gable eating at The Village,” she said. Dianne and Ronnie got his autograph on a small slip of paper … they thought it was the best thing ever.”

They also enjoyed trips to the East Coast to visit her sister Nell in New Jersey.

Myrle’s favorite trips were to the Hebert family camp in Grand Isle. Her favorite events included the Tarpon Rodeo, the oldest fishing rodeo in America.

She was also active with scouting for both Dianne and Ronnie. A trip to the National Boy Scout Jamboree in Colorado Springs and Philmont Ranch included an opportunity to meet President Dwight Eisenhower.

Myrle and Roy remained active until Roy died unexpectedly Aug. 12, 1978.

“I was shocked,” she said. “Just the week before, his doctor had told him he was healthy.”

It took a while for her to move past her husband’s death but traveling and staying busy helped in the healing process, Myrle said.

In 1989, she married Clancy Ostergren. He lived a few houses down the street from her. He was a Purple Heart medal recipient in World War II.

“The whole family warmed up to Clancy quickly because he was so good to them and to me,” she said.

They enjoyed playing cards, going to movies and traveling. Their favorite destinations included Biloxi, Ocean Springs and Las Vegas.

Her favorite entertainers included Wayne Newton and Frank Sinatra, the latter of whom gave her his autograph.

“I love Las Vegas, even though it’s a lot different now,” she said. “There’s no point going if you don’t go there to have fun.

Clancy developed emphysema in 2002 and died Jan. 25 of that year.

Her caretaker Thomas Snearl has been her bodyguard and protector for more than 50 years.

“He is a great man with patience who has made my life easier,” she said.

Myrle remains an avid sports fan. She loves NASCAR, and her favorite racer is Jeff Gordon.

She is also a football fan. While she does not particularly like the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, she loves Tom Brady.

“I heard he just got divorced … I’m sure glad to know that,” she quipped.

Myrle drove until she turned 100, and she still enjoys life – which she considers the secret to her longevity. “There’s no point being on earth if you’re not going to enjoy it,” she said. “Other than that, I didn’t do anything to live this long … It just so happens that the Lord picked me to live a long time.”