Some people just stand out. They are like cream that rises to the top. Paul White, Sr., is just that kind of guy. He has been called a “man for the ages” in Cenla, and has received accolades by many organizations for his service to the community. This month, he can add one more. White has been selected as the 2016 Cenla-ian of the Year by Cenla Focus Magazine editorial board and a panel of community leaders.
The Cenla-ian of the Year award is reserved for a select few who exemplify noteworthy leadership qualities and who made significant contributions to their community. “I’m honored and surprised by this award,” White says with a grin, adding, “There are so many others more deserving than me. But this honor makes me very happy.”
The 87-year-old Alexandria resident still reports to work Monday through Friday at 8:00am each day, like clockwork, and has no plans to retire. “If I retire, I’d probably die. I want to keep growing and making a positive impact,” declares White, seated behind his large desk at his office on Jackson Street.
His dedication as CEO of White Companies—consisting of White Real Estate, White Development and White Property Management—reflects a personality character that is intertwined with his business sense and philanthropic projects. For decades, he has helped shape the architectural landscape of his community, and is a big believer in “giving back”. “Giving–that’s the most important thing you can do. We try, as a family, to give back,” White notes.
In the 1980s, White, along with his late wife and soulmate, Joanne, played a central role in the founding and funding of both the Shepherd Center and Hope House in Alexandria. For more than 30 years, the Shepherd Center—an ecumenical ministry of 56 churches and two synagogues—helped thousands by ministering to the needy and helping people connect with resources to become independent. Hope House, a residential facility for homeless and battered women and children, continues its good work today.
Projects of the heart have always been at the top of White’s priority list. This month, he will oversee the creation of the Joanne White Prayer Garden, complete with water fountains, on the grounds of the First United Methodist Church in Alexandria, a setting of great significance. White has been a life-long member of the church, and it is where he met Joanne, the “love of his life.”
Growing up in Alexandria with seven siblings, White attended West End Grammar School. In the fourth-grade, he learned how to play the saxophone. As a student at Bolton High School, his musical abilities had grown to the point where he was playing in various dance bands around Central Louisiana. White continued to play while earning his bachelor’s degree in music at Southwestern Louisiana Institute. Besides entertaining soldiers at the various military camps throughout the state, White played in a dance band that played at the legendary Blue Moon in Bunkie. “Music had become my life, and it was very entertaining. Playing in the bands kept me out of trouble, and each of us got paid $8.00 for each dance we played,” White recalls.
After college graduation, Paul moved back home to Alexandria. In the fall of 1950, he met his future bride at a young single adult gathering at First United Methodist Church. For the service, Joanne was asked to play the piano while Paul led the singing. After the first hymn, he leaned down to Joanne and commented on her piano playing saying, “This is a church, not a honky tonk.” At the time, White says he had a girlfriend who told him on a dare he “better not” ask Joanne for a date, but he did. “We went to a movie; the worst movie I ever saw,” White says, adding it was the only real date the two had before they got married. “She knew I was the one. That’s the way she worked,” he jokes.
Shortly after their date, White was drafted into the Army and sent to Fort Chaffee in Arkansas. On March 3, 1951, Joanne drove to see him, and on March 25th, he drove all day to bring her an engagement ring. On leave after basic training, on April 29th, the Young Adult Group gave the couple a wedding shower. The next day, the two decided to secretly get married in Lafayette instead of waiting for their announced date of June 2nd. Despite having eloped, they still continued with their public wedding as planned on June 2nd. “Nobody knew we got married that day in secret, not even our parents,” White said, adding that they always celebrated two wedding anniversaries each year.
During his two years in the Army, White served in the Army band with some of the “best musicians who could play anything.” The couple had their first born son, Paul Donald, Jr., and soon after returned to Alexandria. Joanne went back to teaching at Bolton High School and White resumed his receptionist job working in his uncle’s real estate office. He obtained his real estate license and soon got his first real estate deal. He was hired to sell 100 small houses in the Sundale Subdivision on MacArthur Drive.
“On one Sunday, I sold 24 homes with $50.00 down payments and $36.02 a month mortgage notes,” recalls White, adding that, within four months, all the homes were sold. He continued to sell real estate and develop subdivisions with his uncle for 20 years. By 1966, five of their children had been born—Paul Don, Charles, Lamar, Paula and Martha.
In 1970, White started his own company, Paul White Real Estate, and started building custom homes in Charles Park subdivision. “From 1970 to 1973, I bought all the empty lots in Alexandria and built the first townhome development,” notes White. In the early 1980s, his sons joined him in forming White Development and started building condominiums, apartment complexes and acquiring existing apartment complexes, as well as building custom homes.
Today, the company owns 939 apartments in the Alexandria-Pineville area, 530 apartments in Shreveport and 274 apartments and condos in Baton Rouge. Plans are in the works to expand the number of apartments in Pineville and to construct 280 new apartments, called Tuscany on Provine Place in Alexandria. White’s daughters, who live in Dallas, are partners in the White Real Estate business, also.
In 1971, Paul and Joanne’s son, Wally, was born. Just three short years later, he tragically passed away. The Whites created large endowments internationally and nationally in the arts and music as a memorial to Wally. The family established the Wally White lecture series that brought diverse presenters to Cenla as guest speakers. In the early 2000s, the Whites experienced another loss of a son when Lamar was killed in a traffic accident. Again turning tragedy into a lasting worthwhile memorial, the Whites established an endowment at Perkins School of Theology in memory of their son. In addition, the family established the Lamar and Wally White Sports Field.
White continues to give back to the community with endowments, support for the Alexandria Museum of Art and to the Rapides Symphony. He helped to establish and raise capital for the Wesley Center in Woodworth and built the Bishop Oden Pavilion at the center, as well as nature trails. He served as the choir director for eight years at his church and served on the National Methodist Churches Board.
In building his real estate empire, White has established quite a legacy for his children and grandchildren, and says he is happy that his business is truly a family one. “That’s been the whole point. We planned all this, and hoped it would end up this way,” he says. The White family is close-knit, and White says he likes to get all of his children, 13 grandchildren and eight great-grandchildren together as much as possible. He plans on treating the family to a trip to Jackson Hole, Wyoming, for their annual family get-together. For Paul White, Sr., faith and family continue to matter most.