polo lounge menu Fortier’s former ‘frats’ and ‘cats’ remember
If you were a student at Alcee Fortier High School in Uptown New Orleans in 1965, you pretty much knew where you stood in life.
You wore the badges of the caste system with pride. If you were a guy and parted your hair on the left, wore Bass Weejuns, drove your daddy’s Volvo, wore Madras shirts with button down collars and spent your Saturday nights dancing to music by John Fred and the Playboys at the Valencia Club, you were a “frat.”
If you were a guy and your hair was held down by something gooey out of a jar, and you wore black slip on shoes (white lightning bolts along the side were optional) and colorful polo shirts and parked your ’57 Chevy Bel Air on the Nashville Avenue side of the building, you were a “cat.”
Cats seemed to always be talking about spending the weekend shooting pool at Grit’s Bar and Pool Hall or sitting under a blazing sun at the LaPlace Drag Strip.
Female cats were simple to spot: Tons of teased hair held aloft by hairspray from an ever ready can that could be whipped from a purse in a nanosecond. They wore pointy toed Capezio shoes and skin tight skirts, the hemlines of which seemed to rise as the year wore on.
For the seniors graduating in 1965, Fortier High School was the place to be.
A changing worldOutside, the world was more complicated. A president had been murdered a couple of years earlier, there was talk of going to the moon and guys from Fortier were being shipped off to some place called Vietnam.
Under Layne Romagosa’s senior photo in the “The Tarpon,” his activities are listed as Drill Team and “A Company Commander.” First Lt. Romagosa was killed in combat in Vietnam in 1970. Lane Anderson Carson (voted “Most Likely to Succeed”) married his Fortier High School sweetheart, Laura, fought in Vietnam, was wounded and came home to build a sterling political career that included six years in the Louisiana House of Representatives and a long stint as assistant district attorney in St. Tammany Parish.
Carson now operates Lane Carson Associates, LLC, a busy law firm in Covington. He and Laura live on the north shore.
Lenny Fontana, a 1965 Fortier graduate, spent his service years in Seoul, South Korea. Fontana, who designs costumes for parties and the long running MOMS Ball and operates a one chair beauty salon from his living room near the school, may have been an exception to the rule: He found the high school caste system a little confusing.
“I never knew if I was a frat or a cat,” he admits. “I wavered between the two. I got along with everybody. I dressed in a way that let me walk the line.”
Fontana talks nonstop about his beauty shop being wiped out by Hurricane Katrina and re establishing his business in his living room. He also is a painter, applying his art to fan blades, coffee cans and fence boards.
“But Fortier,” he says, “man, what a great place to be. I loved it.”
Classmate L. Ron Forman spent his Fortier years tying up the “Swan Boat” to the dock in the Audubon Park lagoon. He famously took over a rag tag zoo in the early 1970s and built it into the internationally renowned Audubon Nature Institute. Today, Forman is president and CEO of the Audubon Institute.
Larry Juster’s prowess in football, baseball, basketball and track showed early. When he was just a big kid at Live Oak Junior High in the Irish Channel, Juster was recruited by high school coaches the way college coaches rabidly recruit high school athletes today.
While every school Warren Easton, Nicholls, Jesuit, Holy Cross wanted Juster, the kid was only in the eighth grade, and back then high schools were comprised of 10th, 11th and 12th grades. Most of the coaches resigned themselves to waiting a year. Tournillon had a better idea. Tournillon brought Juster to Fortier a year early. Juster became the only ninth grader attending Fortier. A class of one.
Tournillon saw to it that Juster took all ninth grade subjects and played football on the high school level. The following year, Juster moved up as a “freshman.” You could almost hear other high school coaches around New Orleans say in unison: “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Friday night heroesJuster retired as a major after 30 years on the Jefferson Parish Sheriff’s Department. He now works in management for the global Wackenhut Security firm.
Along the way, Juster founded and played on the Blue Knights, a semi pro football team made up of police and firemen. Today, Juster and his wife live the good life in a home with a pool atop a rolling hill in Bush.
The 6 foot 4 Juster smiles as he recalls Tourillion and coach Milton “Mook” Clavier.
“God, I loved those men,” he beams. “What a time that was in my life. Great, great days!
“I remember the week we beat St. Aloysius. No public school had ever done that. I was named Player of the Week and went on the Hap Glaudi Show. Hap Glaudi himself presented me with the trophy. You don’t ever forget things like that.”
Ironically, Juster lives just down the road from Joe Candilora, a baseball player at Fortier and now the town marshal for Abita Springs.
Candilora struggled through his earlier years until he was diagnosed with severe hearing problems.
When that was corrected with hearing aids for both ears, Candilora went on to a 31 year career with the post office. But it was a 10 year successful battle to adopt two children of which he is most proud.
“My wife and I couldn’t be prouder of our children,” Candilora says. “It was a long struggle, but we decided we were not going to give up. It was a success. And that’s one thing I can say about everybody I know who went to Fortier. They’ve all been a success at what they tried to do. There are no failures from that class.”