Don Spiers: The Boy from Bogalusa Part 4
“Don’t wait to buy real estate. Buy real estate and wait.” — Will Rogers
As a twenty-two-year-old lieutenant in 1960, Don Spiers – with an unparalleled work ethic – was doing quite well. Continuing his service with the Bogalusa Fire Department eight working days a month and his work for Ventilite Building Specialties, he was banking, as the kids call it today.
With the purchase of a spacious piece of land on Dogwood Drive for $1,200 and the arrival of their son Don Arnold in early April, the Spiers contracted renowned local builder Milton Rider to build a new family home for the then princely sum of $12,000. The 1,250-square-foot brick house—Don’s foray into home building—conformed to a house plan from a book he purchased at Snowden’s Drug Store. Their house on Dogwood was, in fact, the first of some 400 houses he helped build over the next forty years.
Getting to know his brother Glynn’s friend, Doyle “Pee Wee” McMillan, who worked in the insurance and real estate business (mainly insurance) and helped him get the home loan from Tideland Life Insurance Company, Don was galvanized. And meeting R. Morton Roche at the Washington Bank was the turning point. Not only did Don learn the ropes of bridge financing and discount points, but he also developed a remarkable and lasting friendship with Roche, a colorful character to say the least.
Don wisely noted that in the 1960s there was not a single real estate company selling only real estate in Bogalusa which at that time was bustling. Preparation met opportunity. Sensing a desperate need in our area for “a real estate specialist”, Don filled the bill. A quick study, he took the test in Baton Rouge for his real estate license, passed it with flying colors, and became a real estate broker almost overnight. First working for McMillan on commission, Don sold scores of homes to firefighters and other Bogalusans. He found his calling. Real estate has become the province of Don.
But wearing several hats, he became a campaign consultant in 1962 for his father. Arnold Spiers, who was up against the well-respected incumbent CP Verger and another gentleman by the name of Joe Adams, was elected as Bogalusa’s Public Safety Commissioner for both police and fire. Also in 1962, Don was elected secretary of the Louisiana Association of Professional Firefighters and promoted to firefighter, just below captain. Additionally, he has been active in the International Association of Fire Fighters. And as an officer and platoon leader of B Company of the Louisiana National Guard, he ultimately resided in the coveted BOQ. Not only were there private restrooms at camp, but Don had his own driver, Archie Julian. His cup is overflowing.
The year 1962 – in the words of Frank Sinatra, “[i]It was a very good year. Don formed McMillan-Spiers Real Estate and Construction Company, Inc., with Doyle McMillan becoming partners in real estate. McMillan and Spiers built fifty-two homes from 1962 to 1966. But nothing lasts forever.
In 1966, Arnold was defeated in a heated re-election campaign for commissioner. And shortly, with a monthly National Guard commitment consuming him, Don sent a letter of resignation, resigning as executive officer of B Troop, to Col. Cecil Ellzey, the National Guard battalion commander. – and to my father. I learned from Mr. Don’s autobiography “The Boy from Bogalusa” and also from his missive to me that resigning from his Commission was one of the few regrets of his life. And dad tried to talk him out of it by calling him and asking him not to quit. My father offered to transfer Don to the Bogalusa unit where he would be a headquarters officer. But with his decision made, he declined the opportunity, going ahead with his resignation – more of a shame. Back in Sinatra, Mr Don wrote of his decision, “regrets…I had a few”.
And things went from bad to worse. The shortage of mortgage money at that time was a recipe for disaster. With funds tight in the real estate business, McMillan-Spiers Construction Co. closed, but not before Mr. Don, taking to the high road, personally repaid his creditors. Don Spiers was down but not out.
Moving forward, in November 1966, the Spires family moved into their newly built home on Gaylord Drive in the exclusive Founders Drive subdivision in Bogalusa. The sky was not all gray. Cautiously using his Army OCS training, Mr. Don redefined his mission and developed an effective plan of action. Along with his first cousin Seymon Hartzog, who also had his real estate license, Don returned to the real estate business, listing and successfully selling homes from 1967 to 1969. Mortgage money was again readily available. With VA mortgages and FHA insured mortgages, they resumed home building, building 86 new homes from 1969 to 1973.
Then Don and his wife Georgia, who became a licensed realtor, formed Don Spiers Realty, Inc., in 1973. They were joined by friend and former fire chief Alva “Bugs” Myers, also a licensed realtor . Ms. Georgia received a prestigious award from the St. Tammany Realtors Association for over $1 million in annual sales. She surprisingly sold a slew of homes, averaging around $18,000 each, to amass that kind of volume. The real estate sector, once again, has exploded.
• Stay tuned for the conclusion of this series next week, as Don Spiers branches out – with a bank and a railroad – and organizes the Krewe of MCCA.