Want to live to be 108 years old?
The secret, said LaPlace centenarian Felix Simoneaux Jr., is to chew food well before swallowing, eat what agrees with you, and don’t overeat, smoke or drink hard liquor.
Simoneaux, who turned 108 on May 24, has had two special events to mark his recent milestone – a blessing May 25 by Father John-Nhan Tran, pastor of St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace, and a Mass and blessing celebrated by his relative, Father Randy Roux, on Aug. 8.
“I never thought I’d live to be 100 years old,” Simoneaux said. “Now, I’m thinking about how I’m going to live longer.”
A close-knit family
During Mass, Father Roux correlated the readings to his Uncle Felix’s life. One reading spoke about the beauty of God’s creation, while another had Jesus proclaiming Peter as the rock on which he built his church.
“(Uncle Felix) prided himself in his garden and his citrus trees, and everybody knew it,” Father Roux said.
He called Uncle Felix’s marriage a “great foundation stone that was unbreakable. He was blessed by God, and, just like the prophets, was wise beyond his years. He reminds us that God’s love is never exhausted.”
Father Roux’s grandmother May Champagne was Felix’s late wife Myrtle’s sister, and he fondly remembers spending summers at the Simoneaux home picking fruit from an orchard and eating delicious meals.
Love of a good wife
“I really believe he is here today with his sharp mind because my mom is praying for him,” his daughter, Myra Simoneaux, said. His wife, Myrtle, was a faithful Catholic who decorated her home with religious images, statues, plaques and even a cross-stitched rendition of the Last Supper.
The two met at a dance in Luling, and Simoneaux instantly knew they were meant for each other.
“I couldn’t have picked a better wife,” he said. “She was a good cook.”
The couple had six children (Myrtle Simoneaux Robichaux, now 78; Audrey Simoneaux Terrio, 76; Loretta, who died at 13 months old; Myra Simoneaux, 68; Carey Simoneaux, 65; and Perry “Maurice” Simoneaux, 63); 13 grandchildren; 26 great-grandchildren and two great-great grandchildren. They sent five children to St. Peter School in Reserve.
“I believed in the religion and believed it was the right thing to do,” Simoneaux said.
The Simoneauxes were examples of faith – praying the rosary nightly with the family.
“They used to pray it at 8 p.m.,” Myra Simoneaux said. “We used to kneel around their bed. As we got older, if we had a date, we would pray it earlier together. Simoneaux still prays the rosary, though without Myrtle. His wife of 70 years died in 2004 at age 90, when he was 99.
During Mass, Father Roux blessed Simoneaux with a relic of Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos, and anointed his head, hands and legs. He also used a special chalice given to him by the Immaculate Conception sisters to bind them closer as a family.
Carpenter like Jesus
Felix Simoneaux was born in Montz, La., but his family moved near the Bonnet Carre Spillway when he was a boy. Mass was celebrated at a Catholic chapel in Montz. He said his father had a farm, and he often helped, causing him to miss school. As a result, he only has a third-grade education.
“My daddy needed me,” he said. “That’s why I didn’t have too much schooling. When they wouldn’t promote me, I quit (school) at 13.”
Simoneaux was self-taught in carpentry – reading books by candlelight. His career included building sugar towers for the nearby Godchaux Refinery and working for other sugar plants and major contractors such as Boh Brothers and Union Carbide. He retired from carpentry at age 75.
He also recalled building Higgins landing boats in New Orleans for World War II. He took the discarded lumber from the boats to build his current home in 1941. It took a year to build, during which time he lived in a two-room house on his father’s property nearby until it was finished. Three of his children were born there.
His carpentry talent also was used to build his daughter’s house and the expansion of the original St. Joan of Arc Church in LaPlace. His son Carey remembered him arriving home from work and going directly to work on the church. He also had a hand in building the LSU hospital, he said.
He had a green thumb and grew carrots, spinach, greens (collard, mustard and turnip), mush melons, mirlitons, eggplants and other produce on three of his four acres of land. He also raised cows, chickens and fruit trees. He would sell his produce in the French Quarter.
“I would get up at 4:30 a.m. and go to the market, then come home and make a load for the next day,” he recalled. “I put in a lot of hours in my farming.”
A sciatic nerve problem recently forced him to quit farming, he said. He suffers from a few other ailments but is doing well for 108.
“I am always amazed in his faith and his strength,” Father Tran said. “It is amazing how cognitive he is and is able to live on his own. ... He always talks about his love of the Lord and how the Lord has always blessed him.”
Christine Bordelon can be reached at cbordelon@clarion herald.org.