J.W. Stine. (Rick Hickman / American Press)
Last Modified: Saturday, January 05, 2013 6:53 PM
It doesn’t take more than a brief jaunt through the aisles of any Stine Lumber Co. store to see that the locally owned business isn’t much different than any of the mega-hardware stores that dot the nation.
The pristine aisles are the same, as are the size of the stores and the myriad of brands offered.
Stine, though, has its beginnings here in Southwest Louisiana and maintains its headquarters in Sulphur, where it was first begun in 1952.
The company is operated by the six Stine sons, the children of J.W. Stine, who began the company with J.C. Carlin.
The boys and Sine’s daughter credit their parents for molding in them the business sense to not only run, but to grow Stine Lumber into a locally owned company that competes with the big chains.
Stine now has 11 stores across Louisiana and one in Mississippi, and employs 750 people.
Now 94, J.W. Stine still lives in the house on Bernadette Drive he has called home for 50 years, which is in the Villa Maria subdivision he helped develop. He often needs assistance in remembering the past, but a quick word from his children and old memories are revived and met with a hearty laugh.
A Sulphur native, he was a quarterback on the early Sulphur High football teams.
After graduating, J.W., short for Jackson William, attended Normal College (now Northwestern State University) for a year, spent some time shipbuilding and also married Dee Dee Drost before entering the service.
Friends from high school, J.W. and Carlin went into the Army Air Corps together.
Shipped overseas during World War II to fly B-26s, he received a telegram one day that read, “It’s a box.”
“I knew better,” he said with a laugh.
It was supposed to read, “it’s a boy,” to let him know that the first of his seven children, Dick, had been born.
Flying B-26s, J.W. had his share of scares — on a mission to drop chaff that would make enemy radar unusable, his two fellow B-26s were shot down.
J.W. returned to base to find that his roommates thought he had been shot down and had already drawn straws for an air mattress he owned.
When J.W. and Carlin returned to Sulphur following the war, they began building houses in Sulphur and developed Starlin Heights subdivision.
To supply their own needs, they opened their own lumber yard, Starlin Lumber Co. They only stayed together two years, although the company kept the name Starlin into the 1970s.
In the ‘60s, Starlin was one of nine lumber yards in Sulphur, said Dennis Stine, president of Stine.
“In the ‘60s, we only had about eight or nine or 10 employees and the first of daddy’s sons got in the business,” Dennis said. “Before it was over with, daddy had all of his boys in the business.”
Dick said he remembers when he was 18 years old, telling his father they needed to expand.
“I remember him looking at me and saying, “I’ve done mine, that expansion and that growth is for you, your brothers and your sister,’ ” Dick said.
It wasn’t until 1977, when all the brothers were in the business, that Stine opened a second store, this time in DeRidder.
“We all sat around the table and said, let’s build another store because with six of us in the business, how else will we work together and supply a living for everyone out of one small store,” Dennis said.
“The stores got larger as the economy got better and as more and more dealers went out of business,” he said. “Then, of course, (Home) Depot and Lowe’s moved into the market, which required our stores to grow even larger. Today our stores are similar in size to Lowe’s or Depot and we service the consumer and the contractor, which is a little different than Depot and Lowe’s.”
Stine gets 60 percent of its business from in-store sales and the other 40 percent from servicing contractors, Dennis said.
“It’s great for Sulphur,” said Mayor Chris Duncan, who presented J.W. with a key to the city on his 94th birthday. “It’s a hometown business that started with hometown people.
“It’s not just Sulphur, it’s the recognition that they have all over the state.”
Duncan said Stine is one of the top five employers in the city.
“Having the Stine headquarters in Sulphur is huge because it shows small, hometown businesses can grow and expand and stay headquartered in Sulphur,” said Tab Finchum, chairman of the West Calcasieu Association of Commerce’s economic development committee.
Finchum also complimented the Stines for growing the business so that even R.W.’s grandchildren have jobs within the company.
“You don’t find many businesses that can do that very well,” Finchum said.
While Dennis is the president of the company, Dick is in charge of safety and employee performance; Gary heads up real estate, insurance and new construction efforts; Jay operates the DeRidder branch; David heads up merchandising and marketing; and Tim is the company’s chief financial officer. The daughter of the family, Janie LaCroix, serves on the board while working as a sculptor.
“We all had different roles and dad mentored us through that,” David said.
All seven credit J.W. with being a hands-on dad.
“I had a great family,” R.W. said, repeatedly noting his love of Dee Dee, who died in April 2011 after 67 years of marriage.
Neither he nor Dee Dee had much of an interest in spanking the children, who would put books under their clothing when such punishment had to be rendered.
“Surely he could see it, but he went along with it anyway because his heart wasn’t in it,” Jay said.
Tim said his father taught his children to work hard, play hard and go to Mass on Sunday.
With six children born in five years, the Stine home was a “lively house,” Tim said.
“They believed in giving us a good life,” Janie said. “I can’t say enough about how encouraging and how much fun they were to be around.”
The Stines don’t tell a story about their dad without mentioning summer vacations.
In addition to the time they spent at their camp at Joe Dugas Landing, they also traveled the country in the family station wagon (which J.W. rigged with piping to get air-conditioning to the back of the vehicle).
“They’d throw us all in that big ol’ station wagon,” Dick said.
When vacationing, often traveling Highway 90, the Stines always looked for a motel with a pool.
“It had to have a swimming pool; within two minutes of being checked in we were all in that pool,” Jay said.
They spent their time at Joe Dugas Landing fishing, shrimping and skiing.
“Daddy, when we were young, he would pull us (skiing) all day long,” Dennis said.
He said his father tended to operate the boat similar to how he had B26s — “he came from that era that whenever you landed, you reversed the engines to be able to stop, so he put that same practice into stopping his outboard motor boat.”
The boat didn’t always stop in time.
“When the wharf was wrecked, they would say, that was just J.W. plowing into the wharf again,” Dennis said. “He was a rough-and-tumble dad that didn’t mind getting us to ski all day long and roughhousing with us. It was a great, great childhood having a dad like my dad.”
While it was a good life, “He prepared us for life knowing that you’ve got to work, nothing’s given to you, you’ve got to earn it,” Tim said.
While bringing them up in the family business, J.W. also encouraged other interests. Tim served on Sulphur’s city council and he and Dennis have served in the state Legislature.
Janie, the only one of the Stine children who does not work day-to-day in the family business, is a sculptor whose commissioned work includes a likeness of Dr. Michael DeBakey and a statue of Christ.
“I continued to do what dad encouraged me to and I appreciated him for that,” she said.
J.W. left the family business in 1981, when Tim was paralyzed during a diving accident.
After the injury, on July 4, 1981, J.W. spent the next year of his life working with Tim, the first four months in Houston.
When they returned to Sulphur, Tim said he was “severely depressed,” but it was his dad who showed up every day to get him out of the house.
“There was turning point where, it was very tough on me, he made the turning point, I could have gone either way,” Tim said.
It was J.W. who got Tim back behind the wheel of a car.
It was also J.W. who dropped Tim a time or two while helping him get around.
“I like to joke that he scared me into real life,” Tim said. “He was there a lot. He was there every day.”
• • •Editor’s Note: Forerunners is a monthly series of articles on Southwest Louisiana people whose lives have made a significant impact on the area, state or beyond.
Posted By: Susan Kyle--SWDNews On: 1/24/2013
Enjoyed the article Johnathan--really glad you got a chance to meet the family. I enjoyed the update.