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STEPHEN HEMELT — Self-made family man delivered so much to so many

Life doesn’t operate by a set of rules or in accordance with a calendar.

Great accomplishments and tragic moments are rarely planned.

Such is the case for my family, which lost its patriarch on Wednesday when my grandfather, Leo Hemelt Sr., passed away.

It was expected. He spent his final days with his children inside a home he built himself.

He will be missed. He was my last living grandparent, but I am grateful for the 40 years he directly contributed to my wellbeing.

Our lives intertwined most directly from halfway between my sophomore year in high school to halfway through my senior year of high school. It was during that time that I lived with him and my grandmother.

My parents divorced when I was very young, and I spent the majority of my time with my mother — every other weekend and Wednesday evenings were reserved for my dad.

They were (and still are to this day) very involved in my life and now the lives of my children.

I performed particularly poorly during my ninth grade year in high school, failing four classes and was told I could not return to my school, Jesuit High School in New Orleans.

After some summer school makeups that allowed me to reach the acceptable standard for grade promotion in Louisiana, I asked my parents if I could transfer to St. Paul’s School in Covington, where my dad lived.

My request was granted and so I was off to live with my dad, stepmother and two half-siblings. The result was not a bed of roses, and within four months I was again asked to leave, this time sent to my grandfather and grandmother.

They raised 5 children and saw them all graduate college, yet, neither possessed a high school diploma. They were successful in providing more opportunities for their children than had been afforded them.

And their reward for such a productive life?

Welcoming a sullen teenager into their home. One who was ticked off he was being asked to leave his own home.

Yet, those two years were wonderful.

My grandmother and grandfather provided everything I needed and damn near everything I wanted — my own room, no curfews, warm meals, clean clothes and a newly installed basketball goal in the driveway.

We rarely argued, and as long as I respected the home and them, the long leash of supervision they held would never pull tight.

It was a home filled with love, one that allowed me to graduate high school on a strong note and, eventually, propel into college and career stability.

I look back and realize how lucky I was to have had such a wonderful grandmother and grandfather. They provided a great home, and there is solace to be taken in knowing it was the very same home my grandfather was in when he passed away this week.

He was an electrician by trade, rising to the ranks of superintendent on various large-scale commercial jobs in and around New Orleans. Along the way, he learned carpentry, plumbing and building skills.

This allowed him to build his own family three homes as he upgraded throughout his life. He eventually helped his sons and daughters build their own homes, something I imagine must have felt like a truly amazing accomplishment.

He was a man’s man, a builder and a provider, self-taught and self-made.

Yet, I’ll remember his nighttime routine the most, when before bed he would sit at the kitchen table with a glass of milk and drop Vanilla wafers cookies into it, only to eat them soaked up with a spoon.

And for two years in the mid- to late-90s, I had the pleasure of sitting next to him reading the newspaper while he did it.

Grandpa, you are missed.


Stephen Hemelt is the president of Port Arthur Newsmedia. He can be reached at stephen.hemelt@panews.com or 409-721-2445.