South Louisiana Convention Center

The Sanitarium Dream

Elder J. Lee Neil and his wife (Record, 1957).

It was a lifelong dream of Elder J. Lee Neil and his wife to combine health work and ministry in some way. Other Adventists in the conference shared his dream and in 1940 the Southern Sanitarium and Medical Missionary Corporation was formed by individuals who felt a real need to help others. A board was established which included members from the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference and the Southwestern Union Conference. The Southern Sanitarium Board had a charter drawn up to begin an Adventist medical ministry and health sanitarium. In 1942, Elder Neil and his mother, along with Rex E. Callicott, purchased what was known as the Lacombe property near Mandeville on which to build the sanitarium. Two individuals especially, Rex E. Callicott and John Speyer, gave countless hours of their time and also supported financially their desire to see the Southern Sanitarium become a reality to serve their fellow man (Bendall, 1998).

Purchase of Land in Hammond

Many things happened over the years, delaying the work, and finally in 1963, Elder Neil expressed the desire of he and his mother to sell the property near Mandeville and donate at least $25,000 for the boys’ dormitory at Ozark Academy (Minutes, 1963). Nearly forty years later, in June 1982, two hundred acres of land known as the Living Oaks property, was purchased on S. Coburn Road in Hammond, Louisiana, using the money from the sale of the Lacombe property and a loan from the Southwestern Union Conference (Bendall, 1998). It was the plan to erect the health-care center immediately. On August 2 and 3, 1982, the Southern Sanitarium Board met in Shreveport with the Adventist Ministries Board to establish the philosophy and objectives of the new institution. The Sanitarium was to be named the Callicott Health and Education Center. Elder Neil was asked to assist in soliciting funds so the construction could begin (Bendall, 1982). However, it was not to be.

The Grainary Health Food Store

Grand Opening of Grainary

As a small part of his dream, in 1983 Elder Neil opened a health food store in New Orleans called The Grainary, with the grand opening taking place March 6 – 11. The Grainary carried most products other health stores have plus vegetarian meat substitutes. There were twenty bins for whole grain and seventy-five help-yourself bulk herb bins, in addition to Dr. John Christopher’s and Orion’s formula herbs. The location was 2620 Metairie Road, Metairie, Louisiana, at the corner of Labarre Road (Kopko, 1983).

The Dream Dissolves

In April 1987, twenty acres of the property on Coburn Road were sold, and in December 1990, an additional forty acres were sold. However, the dream of the Southern Sanitarium Board to establish a health institution in southern Louisiana was not realized. They just were not able to raise the funds needed. And so it was, that on April 29, 1998, the Southern Sanitarium and Medical Association voted to sell the land in Hammond and dissolve the Southern Sanitarium Board and organization (Bendall, 1998).

The Camp Meeting Dream

For years people in Louisiana dreamed of having a camp meeting that wasn’t a day’s drive away and at last, in April 1998, that dream came true. The idea was proposed at a New Orleans area study commission and the area pastors and lay members worked together in planning the first South Louisiana Camp Meeting. They expected to have 400-500 in attendance that first year, but instead almost 1,000 of the area members showed up on Sabbath. Instead of the 60 juniors that had been planned for, they had 180 (Gilley, 1998).

The camp meeting was held at Yogi Bear Jellystone Park near Robert, Louisiana, north of New Orleans and Lake Pontchartrain. The adult English meetings were held in a large covered open air pavilion, and a large tent housed the Spanish meetings (Gilley, 1998). The annual South Louisiana camp meetings continued to be held at Jellystone Park open air pavilion through 2001, but in the evenings the mosquitoes would come out in droves (Phillips, 2019), so in 2002, the location was changed to Punkin Park in Hammond, Louisiana, which had an enclosed auditorium. In 2006, the camp meeting venue was changed to the Lamar-Dixon Convention Center in Gonzales (Record, 2006).

Left: Camp meeting-goers at Jellystone Park respond to an appeal by evangelist Kenneth Cox for personal spiritual renewal. Photo: Michael Cullia. Top Right: Auditorium at Punkin Park. Bottom Right: Lamar-Dixon Convention Center.

(Newsletter, 2001)

A New Dream

On October 26, 1999, a contract for the sale of the remaining one hundred-forty acres of land in Hammond was signed, however on April 18, 2000, the buyer terminated his purchase agreement and the act of sale was not finalized. The conference decided not to sell the property but to develop it, so a South Louisiana Property Committee was formed. In February 2001, the committee submitted a building proposal for an 80′ by 160′ building to be erected on the property. This would be a multi-purpose building to be used for camp meetings, church retreats and outings, Pathfinder camping and camporees, campsites for travelers and retirees, and as a warehouse for distributing supplies (Taylor, 2007). It was also planned to use it for an evacuation center but the structure is not considered safe to sustain hurricane winds as it was not built for the purpose to be used as a shelter facility. The structure also does not have adequate ventilation, bathroom, showers, and water supplies to shelter people in need during a major storm (Castellano, 2019). On May 16, 2002, the Conference executive committee voted to raise the needed money (Minutes, 2002). On May 15, 2003, the operating board of the Louisiana Conference Association authorized Paul Clark to obtain building permits needed to proceed with the building project, and on April 18, 2004, the constituents approved the development of the property, which included the multi-purpose building (Downs, 2004).

Proposed multi-purpose building and proposed site plan (These drawings do not necessarily reflect what has been done and are not the current master plan.)

Development of the Hammond Property

Students constructing bathrooms at the convention center in March 2007.

One of the primary obstacles to building on the property was having the appropriate state documentation that cleared the wet-lands issue. This was finally acquired in 2005, but the ravages of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita delayed any activity or progress in developing the property (Newsletter, 2007). The work finally began and by March 2007, the ground had been cleared, the foundation poured, the walls were up and the roof was on the new multi-purpose building. March 9 to 18, 2007, Pastor John Taylor organized a spring mission trip to southern Louisiana to complete a large bathhouse for workers and campers to use (Taylor, 2007a). About thirty-three young people gave up their spring break, paid a fee, slept on the floor, had cold showers and used outhouses, so they could work. They assisted with electrical and construction needs, built offices and restrooms, and constructed a bathhouse on the grounds (Taylor, 2007b).

The New Dream Comes True

L to R: Conference president Stephen Orian, Union president Max Trevino, Bogalusa pastor Paul Clark, Bogalusa elder Nelson “Smitty” Smith.

Finally, the dream came true to have camp meeting on our own property in southern Louisiana. The first camp meeting to be held at the South Louisiana Convention Center was May 11-12, 2007 (Minutes, 2007). This camp meeting celebrated seventy-five years since the organization of the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference in 1932. On Sabbath, May 12, a ribbon-cutting ceremony officially opened the new center. Special recognition was given to those whose hard work and determination made the new center possible, especially Pastor Paul Clark, who worked tirelessly to push the building plans forward and served as the general contractor. Development continued over the next year as air conditioning was installed, the restrooms and kitchen were completed, the parking lot was paved, and RV and camping sites were finished (Thomas, 2007). There are still many improvements to make, and a lot of development that can be done on this beautiful property, but the dream has been realized at last.

Tents for children and youth meetings
South Louisiana Convention Center. Photo courtesy of Stephen Orian.
Sign at entrance to property.

Improvement in Sound

In 2019, the South Louisiana Convention Center board met and discussed several items to improve our sound, video and experience at the convention center. One of the areas that all realized must be addressed was the issue of sound. The board considered a couple of possibilities and voted to address the sound issue as quickly as possible. It was determined from experts that our closed cell insulation was creating a lot of the sound issues, since it was a hard surface and combined with concrete floors, metals walls and parallel surfaces, sound would bounce around for quite a long time.  It was recommended to add three inches of open cell foam to our building that would serve a double purpose.  Not only would this help our heating and cooling, but also, more importantly, would absorb much of the reverberating sound (Dye, 2019). This project was finished near the end of March and when the South Louisiana Camp Meeting was held in April 2019, the open cell foam had made a significant difference in the sound quality.

Photos: Before and after the open-cell foam was added.

Hurricane Laura

“When Hurricane Laura made landfall along the Texas-Louisiana border on August 27, 2020, Adventist Community Services Disaster Response (ACS DR) was ready to respond. Before the storm, the organization reached out the other partners such as FEMA (Federal Emergency Management Agency), the American Red Cross, and Salvation Army, to plan how best to help those affected by the storm.

While Texas was largely spared, Louisiana took a direct hit from the fast-moving hurricane that reportedly killed at least 14 people and caused up to $12 billion in damage.

The Southwest Region Conference has several churches available for shelter, but with COVID-19 restrictions in place, evacuees are staying in hotel rooms provided by the American Red Cross and FEMA. ‘The conference continues to offer food for those affected by the hurricane,’ said W. Derrick Lea, North American Division (NAD) ACS DR director. ‘This distribution is primarily for people who have been evacuated from their homes. This is just one of the many things that we’re doing — and will try to do — for the community.’

‘Louisiana has confirmed that they want us to operate and manage a warehouse,’ explained Lea. ‘The Arkansas-Louisiana Conference ACS DR is prepared to ensure this takes place in an efficient, professional manner. We have been able to fill the first week with a team for the first round of deployment with the assistance of the Rocky Mountain, Southwest, and Florida conferences.’ Lea said that a team of 13 should be operational by Monday, Sept. 7.

‘Fortunately, the Arkansas-Louisiana Conference has [the South Louisiana Convention Center] in Hammond, Louisiana,’ said Lea. ‘We are trying to get that particular place ready to operate a state warehouse for all of the community here in Louisiana that has been affected. Not only can this place function as a warehouse, we’re going to take those donations and actually get them out through what we call mobile distribution. We will put donated items on one of our vehicles and to take them into the affected communities’” (Maran, 2020).


Citations

(1957, Dec. 18). Southwestern Union Record, p. 3.

(1963, Apr. 14). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

(2001, Nov. 1). Newsletter, Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, p. 9.

(2002, May 16). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

(2006, Apr. 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 8.

(2007, Feb. 1). Newsletter, Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of Seventh-day Adventist, p. 1.

(2007, May 17). Executive Committee Minutes. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

Bendall, Richard. (1982, Sep. 2). Southwestern Union Record, p. 8C.

Ibid. (1998, Apr. 29). Meeting of the Southern Sanitarium Board and Medical Association. Shreveport, LA: Arkansas-Louisiana Conference of SDA.

Castellano, Dalia. (2019, Jul. 12). Email about shelter information due to hurricane watch.

Downs, Sylvia. (2004, Jun. 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 9.

Dye Sr., Richard C. (2019, Mar. 27). Monday Morning Memo, p. 2.

Gilley, James. (1998, May 1). Southwestern Union Record, pp. 8, 9.

Kopko, Thomas M. (1983, Apr. 14). Ibid., pp. 12E, 12F.

Maran, Kimberly Luste. (2020, Sep. 3). Warehouse Management and Mobile Distribution. Retrieved from https://www.nadadventist.org/news/warehouse-management-and-mobile-distribution.

Phillips, Reggie. (2019, Apr. 12). Personal interview.

Taylor, John E. (2007, Mar. 1). Southwestern Union Record, p. 18.

Ibid. (2007, May 1). pp. 20, 21.

Thomas, Jerry. (2007, Jul. 1). Ibid., pp. 22, 23.