Owner of popular cobbling business dies
Calvin De La Rose, an expert cobbler whose 6th Ward business served as a headquarters for discussions about politics, music and the history of New Orleans, passed away last week at his home, just across the street from his shop of more than 60 years. In a city known for hanging onto its old ways, De La Rose, 86, was a keeper of the flame.
“My dad and he were always solving the problems of the city,” said Cynthia Willard-Lewis, whose father, educator and former Orleans Parish School Board member Elliott “Doc” Willard, was a frequent sight in the chairs De La Rose kept in the front of his shop for customers. “It was so much more than just a shoe shop. It was a center for community engagement, reflection, storytelling and problem-solving.”
De La Rose Bros. Shoe Repair shop in the 1700 block of Gov. Nicholls St. was a go-to spot for many prominent New Orleanians, including the entire Willard family, former Mayor Dutch Morial, jazz educator Edward “Kidd” Jordan, St. Augustine “Marching 100” band director Edwin Hampton and jazz musician Lionel Ferbos. Before parades, social aid and pleasure club members and brass-band musicians also relied upon De La Rose to put rubber “sole savers” onto their new leather shoes, which would otherwise take a beating from dancing and marching on asphalt streets.
He often lamented that leather shoes were no longer made of leather. And he mourned the way politicians now relied upon television advertising instead of good old-fashioned neighborhood canvassing. “There was a time when Dutch Morial’s driver would drop off a pair of shoes to be fixed every week during campaigns,” he told a visitor a few years ago. “But today’s politicians, they don’t walk anymore.”
Customers knew not to be in a hurry when dropping off a pair of shoes at De La Rose’s shop. “You were going to get some history when you got your shoes repaired,” said his cousin Anthony Bennett, who leads the Original Royal Players Brass Band. “If he recognized your name, he would tell you about your family.”
He was particularly beloved by students from nearby Joseph S. Clark Senior High School, said Sabrina Mays Montana, who graduated from Clark in the 1970s but still remembers how “Mr. D” opened a candy store within his shoe-repair shop for the children, who would stop in to buy pickles, potato chips or majorette-boot taps before and after school. “He would not serve us during school time,” Mays Montana said.
Every Friday, De La Rose pitched in to help at the weekly fish fry for the Autocrat Club, where he and his wife, Sonja Foucher De La Rose, had ringside seats for every function, said Darrill Frick, a club member who knew De La Rose from his 50-year membership, 40 of it on the club’s board. “He was in the kitchen, frying. He’d bus tables, he’d do it all.”
While he was working, he’d give a little dose of history to everyone in the room, Frick said. De La Rose was also an ardent Saints fan and was active in Corpus Christi-Epiphany Catholic Church and Knights of St. Peter Claver Council No. 60.
One of 10 children and a native New Orleanian, De La Rose started his business in 1947 with his brother Walter De La Rose, who also taught shoe repair at Booker T. Washington High School. Both were skilled musicians; Walter frequently performed on the saxophone and De La Rose played gigs here and there on the clarinet. He also kept musician-friendly hours, often allowing customers to drop off and pick up at the house where he lived with his wife, who survives him, and their two children, Shayla De La Rose, of Lake Charles, and Calvin De La Rose, Jr. of New Orleans.
De La Rose, who died Aug. 21, is also survived by three sisters, Juanita Francis, Melvina Herbert and Euranie Williams. A memorial service will be held at 9 a.m. Friday with Mass following at 10 a.m. at Corpus Christi-Epiphany Church, 2022 St. Bernard Ave., in New Orleans.