To Honor Your Father and Mother
11/21/2016 11:06AM ● Published by Robert Frey
By Scott Brazda | Photos By Lee Ball
“I’m named for my father, who with my grandfather ran Fremin’s Food and Furniture in New Iberia, which started back in 1941,” explains Ray Fremin Jr. “We are in our 75th year and that means… we are still here.”
And at the age of 60, Ray Fremin, Jr. is not only still here, but also actively involved in Iberia Parish’s present and future. As with everything, it all begins with a foundation and for Fremin that foundation was laid by his father and mother.
“I’m the second of nine children, and at one point, seven of us were working at the same time in the store,” he recalls. “And I don’t recall there ever being any real problems between us kids because my parents had showed us how it should be: You go to work and you do what you’re supposed to do. It was that simple.”
Outside the workplace, came even greater lessons, lessons that would manifest themselves as Fremin became involved in the matters of Iberia Parish government. Motivations for changing the world, or at least protecting the people and places of his part of the world, circled back to his mother and father. “’Just take of people,’ they would tell us and show us,” says Fremin. “’Taking care of people is what we’re here for.’”
Ray Fremin, Jr., graduated from Catholic High of New Iberia in 1974 and then for two semesters was a student at USL. “But I was too smart for college at that time,” he laughs, ‘’so I went to work at the store fulltime, eventually becoming the manager of the meat department at Fremin’s Food and Furniture. Me and my brothers and sisters soon began managing the whole store and that was the way I thought it was going to be the rest of my life. I was with family whom I loved dearly and I was just fine with that.”
The Fremin family name can be seen in all nearly all corners of Iberia Parish, with brothers, sisters, grandchildren and even his father having business ventures to this very day. Ray Jr. became aware of his family’s iconic place in the area at a young age. ‘’It is definitely a sense of pride, but at the same time is also quite humbling. Instead of running from it, you embrace it, and in keeping with the examples given by my parents and grandparents, you want to do even more.”
But all lives contain those unfulfilled or unpursued dreams. And for Fremin, his parent-infused duty to help his friends and neighbors eventually took him back to school and to the USL Nursing Department in 1996. “What really motivated me to do that was when both of my grandfathers died in the late ‘80s, and I saw my mama take care of everyone. Watching her give of herself so much and then helping as best I could, just told me ‘I want to do something like this; I want to do something in medicine.’ I wanted to do more.”
Still, Fremin needed the vehicle, needed to find the right time to make that move into nursing. There was always something that was seemingly more pressing such as Fremin’s opening a second store in Lydia. That store was a rare miss for the Fremin family and when the decision was made to close it, his wife Brenda told him it was the time. “You’ve always been locked into the store, or the second store; now, before you get locked in again, chase your dream.” The entire Fremin family, notes Ray Jr., was extremely supportive.
For 15 years, Fremin worked as a nurse, first in hospitals and then in home care, although he still did some part-time work with the store and ran his Fremin’s Fireworks business. He felt fulfilled, rejuvenated by the knowledge that his new career was an extension of his parents’ “help others” example. Everything was in place for Ray Jr.’s next phase, one of deepened civic involvement.
“In 1991, I was always involved in New Iberia, whether it was the Jaycees or whatever, so deciding to run for Iberia Parish Council was a natural progression. And as I campaigned, going door-to-door, so many people had stories about things my father or grandfather had done for them. One guy said, ‘Back in the 40s, my grandfather stepped on a nail, got tetanus and couldn’t work for more than a year. But your grandfather fed us for months and never asked for anything in return.’” Fremin chokes up just a bit. “Those kinds of stories were not just a few—they were a ton – and are constant reminders of what being a part of this family in this community is really all about.”
He served on the Iberia Parish Council for 16 years, took a break for a few years and then came news of an opening on the Iberia Parish Hurricane and Levee Board. The position was a good fit for a person for whom loving and protecting family is a personal mantra. “The good news is: we haven’t lost anything yet,” explains Fremin. “There are lots of coastal parishes that have lost whole communities. They’re gone.”
But Fremin and other members of the Hurricane and Levee Board perceive the future as one of imminent and almost certain danger unless something is done. “Some estimates suggest by the year 2050, the coastline will be very near Highway 90. We can’t have that.”
Keeping that from happening, says Fremin, would be the implementation of a multi-faceted plan, the first element of which is protecting communities from storms. ‘’Our current levee system is about four-and-a-half miles south of Highway 90; we’d like to raise a stretch of the highway so that people could evacuate and get back to their lives as well.” Other plan elements involve construction of highway gates and other flood control structures to keep storm waters out.
And when waters do get in, which they at some degree will, “We have five pumping stations planned to get that water out. But a rainfall analysis will soon be done to see if those pumps will be enough to get the job done.” Not only that, says Fremin, but it’s also important to speed up the building out of our state’s marshes and wetlands that exist beyond the borders of those levees. “Those wetlands are our first line of defense. Plus, the more we build out our marshes means there will then be more Louisiana places, places to go out and hunt and fish and just enjoy our beautiful parish and state.”
Fremin has enjoyed his nearly two years on the Hurricane and Levee Board, but says there’s a good bit of work that has to be done, both in terms of raising money and getting residents and officials to buy in to the plan. “The key is educating people and helping them to understand what’s going to happen,” furthers Fremin, “because there are a lot of moving parts and a lot of misconceptions about what a levee will and will not do.”
His present work comes back to the core values of Ray Fremin Jr., and really, to the teachings of his mother and father. The first element is home….
“First it’s home, I really have no desire to leave home. But I also have a desire to make this a good home for me, my family and my grandchildren and other peoples’ children and grand-children.”
And the second element for Ray Fremin Jr. is protecting that home. “From a levee standpoint, I got involved because I saw it as a way to protect ‘home,’ to protect Iberia Parish. Because if we don’t protect Iberia Parish we’re gonna’ lose it.”
“Mama and Daddy wouldn’t want us to do anything less.”