Loyal to the Land
Fred Corte keeps busy farming these days, despite saying once that he had plans to retire. The Corte family legacy spurs this Baldwin County man to continue his work. His dad loved farming, as did his father before him, more than 100 years ago.
A poignant poem hangs in the family barn, and the last line sums up the Corte philosophy: “Keep the land, and the land will keep you.”
Angelo Arthur Corte immigrated to America from the mountains of northern Italy. After making it through New York’s Ellis Island, he worked in the mines in Michigan. He wed Madalena Bertolla in about 1889.
The newly married man decided to travel south on one of the L&N Railroad’s Homeseeker Excursions to scope out the area. Angelo came, looked, and fell in love with coastal Alabama. He returned with his wife and son, bought 40 acres and built a house. When cash was tight, he would have to leave his wife at home on the farm and go back to Michigan for work.
They farmed small garden crops, sold what they could, and put every penny into land expansion. At the turn of the 20th century, Angelo, Madalena and their seven children worked in the gardens, growing cucumbers and a sweet corn that became popular throughout Mobile. Soon potatoes became a major cash crop, and the Cortes built processing sheds to prepare the produce for shipping.
Their seven children were reared to farm, and they continued the family tradition. The Corte name is well-known throughout Baldwin County’s agriculture community. A.A. Corte and Sons is one of the longest continually run operations in the state.
Third-generation Corte farmers Fred and Julio Jr. man the company today. Also standing at the helm is Jay, the son of Julio Jr. The results of the four generations are evident on either side of County Road 13: beautiful fields of cotton, soybeans, peanuts, and now “Field Grown Trees, ” the newest of the Fred Corte ventures.
Despite Fred’s tentative thoughts of retirement, he couldn’t shake his lifelong drive to cultivate his property. So he planted some ornamental trees, and like everything he does, he did it wholeheartedly. His intention to beautify and enhance the land soon grew to a thriving tree business. He provides gracious arbors for the new subdivisions springing up all over Baldwin County. Today he loves walking the rows of painstakingly cared-for trees.
The Corte name is a tribute to family pride, hard work and faith. They have taken care of the land, and the land has taken care of them.
gift for compassion
Dr. Howard S.J. Walker Sr. spent many years as a general practitioner in Mobile. He also served as coroner for two decades. Erik Overbey Collection / USA Archives
When Dr. Willis Roberts accepted the job as first superintendent of City Hospital in 1831, he initiated a distinguished family legacy that would include four generations. Roberts and his descendants have been instrumental in securing Mobile’s leaps in health care.
Roberts has been credited with establishing nursing training in the city. His letter to the mayor and aldermen in 1831 requesting “organized women nursing” demonstrates his compassion for female patients, who were rarely admitted. When they were, male attendants cared for them. His plea was finally answered in 1841, when Mrs. Sarah Dubois was named first matron of the facility. She managed the female wards, trained female nurses and oversaw the laundry for the entire hospital.
Roberts was also instrumental in securing the Medical College of Alabama, which was built near City Hospital in 1860. City Hospital became the clinical teaching facility for physicians-in-training.
Roberts’ grandson would be the next family member to take up the medical mantle. Dr. Howard S.J. Walker Sr. became a general practitioner in Mobile, with an office in the Van Antwerp building downtown. In the 1950s he was elected coroner and served in that capacity for 20 years. In their midtown home on Julia Street, he and his wife, Mary Motte Walker, reared sons Howard Jr. and Rhett, both of whom realized they shared their father’s passion for the field of medicine.
Dr. Rhett Walker was director of medical education at Mobile General Hospital from 1956 until 1959. He was a member of the teaching staff for internal medicine at the University of South Alabama School of Medicine for about 10 years, and he also established a private practice. He is retired and lives on the Eastern Shore.
The younger Dr. Howard Walker served in the Medical Corps of the U.S. Army during World War II. He spent 1942 to 1946 in Europe, including a stint in Gen. George Patton’s unit. After the war, he shipped back to the states and completed his general surgical residency training. When he finally came home to Mobile in 1950, he settled into life as a general surgeon.
His practice focused on oncological surgery, a groundbreaking field for the region. He also worked as chief of surgery at Mobile General Hospital from 1967 to 1972, before the hospital became part of the University of South Alabama.
Howard Walker III and his brother, Gaylord Tenold Walker, both decided to follow in their father’s footsteps. They had grown up in a family where being on call was a way of life, and they knew what it meant to be ready to answer the phone, waking in 5 seconds to full capacity.
Gaylord entered private practice in Mobile as a cancer surgeon and served on the faculty of USA for 19 years. He died in 2007.
Howard III practices vascular surgery at Springhill Medical Center and Mobile Infirmary. So far none of his four children has been compelled to enter the family business. But perhaps their predecessors’ long-standing love of the profession will inspire his grandchildren to pursue a career in medicine.
Tony Naman, Alec Naman, Thomas Naman and Richard Naman in front of Alec Naman Catering.
hungry for success
When the first Namans immigrated to the United States from Lebanon, they brought with them old family recipes and a love for preparing delicious meals.
Alec Naman remembers that when his mother cooked, she would take a pinch of a dish and pass it around for sampling. “Is good? Is good enough?” she would ask. “What else does it need?” Everyone was usually already full by the time
dinner was served.
Alec’s grandmother made prospective brides spend time in her kitchen until they proved that they could cook well enough to satisfy her sons. Then and only then did she give the marriages her blessing. Today each special family event is preceded by days in the kitchen, where stuffed squash, lamb, kibbeh, tabbouleh, spinach pie and other mouthwatering delicacies are prepared.
“All we’ve known is food for more than 100 years, ” Alec says.
In 1899, Alec’s grandfather George moved from Lebanon to Brewton. From there, he set up a peddling business and sent home for his childhood sweetheart, Helen Zoghby. The 1908 flood drove them to Mobile, where they opened a produce market.
All six of their sons served in the military during World War II and miraculously returned home safe. One son opened a dry goods store on Dauphin Street in downtown Mobile, and one became a dentist, but four of them continued in the food business, opening Naman’s Food Markets all across town. In 1954, Tony Naman partnered with his brother Alex to open the largest of the markets, on the corner of Broad and New Jersey streets. Their store spanned 10, 000 square feet; the era of supermarkets had arrived.
The new, widespread prevalence of refrigeration and automobiles, combined with a population influx from the booming Brookley Field, contributed to the resounding popularity of Naman’s Supermarket. Alec worked there from the 1960s till the 1990s, when the family sold the store and he ventured into the catering business.
Kids in the Kitchen
Alec was well-primed to launch into the culinary realm. His mother started teaching him to cook as soon as he was old enough to climb a stool. Each person in Alec’s family could prepare his own meal by the tender age of 7. By age 10, every child took a turn once a week to have dinner ready for the entire family by the time Alec’s parents got home.
The family supermarket was also a training ground. As the store’s produce manager, Alec would go to the farmers’ market every morning to personally select what was sold. Cutting meat was another art he learned while watching the old butchers in the market.
When the family would go out to eat together, Alec would frequently comment, “If I had a restaurant, I would do such and such.” Eventually he followed his dream of cooking for a living. His brother Thomas now joins him every day at the family business, Alec Naman Catering.
What makes his business such a success? “Passion, ” he says, “a servant’s heart, and joy in feeding people.”
In 1968, Frank Jr. sold cameras like the Rolleiflex, Sputnik and the Retinette, as well as darkroom equipment.
vision of the future
The Calagaz company has thrived, even in the rapidly changing landscape of the industry. Owners Leo and Frank Calagaz Jr. say the company has held steady because of its agile response to the technological advancements of the past half-century, from Instamatics to Polaroids, all the way to the digital revolution.
“Obviously photography has evolved, ” Leo says. “We have tried, in essence, to reinvent ourselves as that evolution has taken place.”
The man at the root of this Mobile establishment is Frank Calagaz Sr. After a stint with the Merchant Marines during World War II, Frank came home to Mobile to open Doody’s Jewelry Store with his sister, Nell Doody. The store was located on Dauphin Street, next to the OK Bicycle Shop. Frank worked nights at Doody’s after getting off from his day job at Waterman Steamship Co. He convinced Nell to carry camera equipment in the store.
After a couple of years, Nell fell ill, and Doody’s closed. However, Frank continued with his camera hobby, providing photography service out of his garage, on Cedar Street. His clients included prominent Mobile photographers Erik Overbey and Roy Thigpen. Frank’s wife, Beatrice Mattei, ran the shop while Frank went to work at Waterman. The steamship company’s owner, E.A. Roberts, encouraged Frank to pursue his business full time. So, in 1955, Frank opened his first camera store, Calagaz Photo Supply, at 417 Holcombe Ave. in the Loop.
Frank Jr. began officially working at the family store when he was a sophomore at McGill Institute. Unofficially, the Calagaz kids have pitched in practically from the cradle. Frank Jr.’s brother, Leo, began his career sweeping floors there. Most of the trash consisted of cigarette butts, which people would extinguish by grinding them into the linoleum floor (a common practice in the 1950s).
In 1967, the family also opened Calagaz Camera. It was located at the entrance to Bel Air Mall between Dipper Dan’s and the Commercial Guaranty Bank, across from Paul Brown’s Toys and Gerhardt’s Luggage. While the store at the Loop focused on professional and wholesale business, as well as darkroom services, the mall site was geared toward over-the-counter retail.
In November 1982, the company again leaped ahead: They became the first Bay-area camera shop to offer one-hour printing. At the height of the boom, eight Calagaz stores had sprung up across Mobile and coastal Mississippi.
Meanwhile, the third generation of Calagazes entered the business. Pauline McKean, Leo’s daughter, started working in the company lab in the ’80s, around the time she wrapped up high school and started college. She’s now vice president of the photo division.
Leo’s son, Joe, joined full time in 1991, the same year Calagaz purchased a color copier and began its foray into the printing business. The printing division officially launched in ’94, and Joe heads the commercial printing department today.
In 1998, the family consolidated many of the smaller stores into one new building. Today the Springdale Boulevard shop is the sole location, but between the retail, printing and photo services, it is a hub of activity. Calagaz celebrated its 55th year of business in 2010.