Bill Haisten: ‘And Sam is always next door’ – the story of Tulsa legend Henry Primeaux | TU Sports Extra

When Henry and Jane Primeaux arrived in Tulsa 31 years ago, Henry shared a prediction with friends and associates: “In two years, everyone in town will know who we are.

Due to Primeaux’s expertise in the car sales industry, his TV commercials, his big personality, and his and Jane’s immediate generosity to local charities, it only took a few months for Primeaux’s fingerprints to be all over this town.

Also, there was Henry’s drive to be a connected figure in the Tulsa sports world. When the University of Tulsa football team in 1991 played home games, they did so on new ground. Primeaux assisted the university in this purchase. The “Crown Buick” logo was branded on the turf.

As Primeaux eventually acquired a greater share of dealership ownership, Crown Buick eventually became Crown Auto World and its television commercials were successful.

Everyone in town knew about the slogan. His Cajun New Orleans accent on full display, Primeaux would end each of his Crown Auto World spots with this: “4444 S. Sheridan, and Sam’s is always next door.”

People also read…

“Sam’s” was a retail outlet store of Sam’s Club. The line “Sam is always next door” was frowned upon by an advertising consultant. During the 60s and 70s, Primeaux worked for a New Orleans advertising agency. He liked Sam’s reference, so it became a staple in his commercials.

Sam’s Club is owned by Walmart. One day, Primeaux received a call from Walmart founder Sam Walton, who expressed his appreciation for the mentions “Sam’s is still next door.”

During the Crown Auto World years, while Henry and Jane were passengers on a California winery tour bus, a passenger exclaimed, “Hey, you’re Henry Primeaux!”

Yes, he was Henry Primeaux, and he still is Henry Primeaux – but today he is a frustrated, less healthy version of himself.

Born in 1941 and baptized on the morning of December 7, 1941 – the date of the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor – 80-year-old Primeaux is almost constantly connected to an oxygen machine.

Although he never smoked cigarettes, which is remarkable considering he was young when most other young people smoked, Primeaux struggled with a serious lung condition. There were hospitalizations in November and last month. He sold Crown Auto World in 2000 and then owned Primeaux Kia for several years, but is now retired from day-to-day car sales involvement.

“I’m sick, he explained, and the prognosis keeps getting worse. Jane and I used to go everywhere and do everything, but now it’s hard for me to go out.

“It’s not that I don’t want to go out. I do. I miss all of this so much.

Let the good times roll !

In the Primeaux house south of Tulsa, Let the good times roll ! is painted above an arched kitchen entrance. It’s Cajun French for “let the good times roll”.

It is the unofficial motto of New Orleans and appears to be the official motto of fun-loving Jane and Henry Primeaux.

While Henry was a multi-sport athlete at Holy Cross High School for boys, Jane Velcich attended an all-girls school, St. Mary’s Dominican. Mutual friends thought they might click as a couple. Jane and Henry had never met before a blind date at St. Mary’s Christmas Dance. They were 11th graders. They have been together ever since.

They married in July 1960 and honeymooned at the Sun-n-Sand Motel in beautiful St. Louis Bay, Mississippi. Their room rate: $15. Henry was a Navy reservist who served on the USS Batfish submarine, which is on display in Muskogee today.

Before New Orleans built the Superdome, the Saints played in the old Tulane Stadium. In the same row, Henry Primeaux and famed New Orleans trumpeter Al Hirt each had multiple seats.

At 30, Primeaux participates in the management of the career of Tom Dempsey, who despite a deformity of the right foot becomes a kicker with the right foot for the Saints. Against Detroit in 1970, Dempsey drove a league-record 63-yard field goal. This record stood for 43 years.

Henry worked in the advertising business until he and Jane moved to Arlington, Texas in the early 1980s. While in Texas, Henry became involved in the automotive business. When there was an opportunity to manage Crown Buick in Tulsa, he and Jane made the move.

Their three adult children — Joann, Lisa, and Henry Joseph — also ended up in the Tulsa area, and they’re all still here today. Jane and Henry have seven grandchildren.

While in Oklahoma, Henry and Jane attended perhaps more black-tie functions than any other couple in Tulsa. It’s impossible to calculate how much money they helped generate for the Tulsa Museums, Signature Symphony and Tulsa Ballet. The Primeaux have been advocates for the Big Brothers and Sisters program and several other organizations that cannot function without donations.

In many Crown Auto World commercials, Henry used those 30 seconds not to brag about his cars, but to promote upcoming events involving entities he supported.

“Henry and Jane have done so much good for so many people,” said Dr. Jim Higgins, a Tulsa cardiologist and one of Henry’s closest friends. “They weren’t generous because they were trying to impress people and sell cars. Jane and Henry are truly big-hearted people.

“You have to go through Henry”

After arriving in Tulsa, Henry Primeaux’s first mission was to become a prominent figure in supporting the University of Tulsa’s sports. His introductory message was basically, “How can I help?”

There were relationships with Mike Case and Rick Dickson (who was the college athletic director in the early 90s and is again). There were relationships with Tubby Smith and Bill Self.

Hurricane head coaches and administrators drove courtesy vehicles provided by Primeaux. In 1991, Dickson drove around town in a Buick Regal.

“Before coming to Tulsa,” Primeaux says, “the only connection I had with TU was that I bet on a lot of TU football games when Jerry Rhome was the quarterback in the ’60s.”

In 1994, two nights before the Golden Hurricane basketball team faced eventual national champion Arkansas in a Sweet Sixteen game in Dallas, Primeaux offered players, coaches, support staff and TU administrators an extremely expensive steakhouse feast in Del Frisco.

“Henry Primeaux is the perfect example of TU and the importance of its connection to the greater Tulsa community,” Dickson said. “Henry kissed me and YOU without any prior connection. I am eternally indebted to him. »

The second floor of the Primeaux house is essentially a museum. An impressive collection of objects such as baseballs signed Babe Ruth and Mickey Mantle, as well as a dress worn by Muhammad Ali are displayed.

As someone who loves boxing and was a member of the Oklahoma Boxing Commission, Henry Primeaux was instrumental in bringing Ali and rival Joe Frazier together for a Tulsa Charity Fight Night show.

In 1978, while attending an Ali tribute event at the Forum in Los Angeles, Primeaux met and spoke with the boxing superstar. A few years later, Ali and Primeaux crossed paths at the Salt Lake City airport.

Ali pointed to Primeaux, gave him one of those “I think I know you” looks and asked, “Henry? Is it correct? Is your name Henry?

Primeaux now says, “I still can’t believe Ali remembers my name. It was one of the great joys of my life that I got to know him a little.

Among Primeaux’s most prized possessions are two championship rings given to him by Ali’s executives. Each is a Super Bowl-style ring, commemorating Ali’s lifetime achievement. The inscription anchors on each ring: ALI. In smaller characters all in capitals, there is a PRIMEAUX engraving.

For six years, Primeaux was part of the group owning the Tulsa Talons arena football team. The 2007 Talons were champions of the arenafootball2 (better known as af2) league. During road-game broadcasts, Henry would serve as an analyst with play-by-play voice Rick Couri.

“Henry is the ultimate travel partner and a fantastic host on the road,” Couri said. “He was as competitive as anyone. You better believe it — officials across this league heard his voice behind the Tulsa bench.

Couri recalls “one fantastic team dinner in Spokane, when Henry ordered a whole slice of smoked salmon brought back to the players at the hotel.”

Tulsa boxing promoter Tony Holden wanted to use the Tulsa Convention Center for a Tommy Morrison title fight that would be televised on HBO. The Tulsa Oilers hockey team had a home game scheduled for this date: October 29, 1993.

Holden received this advice: “You have to go through Henry Primeaux. He can shake things up. »

“Henry was amazing behind the scenes and everything just fell into place,” Holden recalled. “We paid the Oilers a handsome sum to get the arena that night, and we had a huge event.”

This huge event had a shocking result: Morrison’s first-round knockout loss. For the rest of Morrison’s career, Primeaux was an insider on Team Tommy.

Twenty years ago, Tony and Tina Holden’s Tulsa home was destroyed by fire. They and their two children moved into the Primeaux house for three months.

“Yeah, it was a terrible time. Henry insisted we stay with them,” Holden said. “He’s one of the all-time great guys, but he’s always been a great guy too. At the Fight Night shows, Henry was treated like a celebrity. People had their picture taken with Henry as they watched him. did with Ali.

“I never dreamed” of leaving Tulsa

Jane and Henry Primeaux had the means and the flexibility to live wherever they wanted, but, says Jane, “with all our children and grandchildren near Tulsa, we never dreamed of returning to our hometown of New Orleans.

“Over the years, each member of our family has established roots, made friends and hopefully made a difference. It’s at my house.

Among those friends are Bill and Daryl Eaton, who arrived in Tulsa around the same time as the Primeaux. Bill made his career at Amoco. He and Daryl were transferred to Tulsa from Calgary, BC.

Of Bill Eaton, Henry says, “He’s my drinking buddy.

“My wife and Jane became friends before Henry and I met,” recalls Bill Eaton. “Henry is a great storyteller and a great, great friend.”

Have the Eatons ever bought a Primeaux car?

“A lot,” Bill replied.

Every Tulsan of a certain age remembers Henry Primeaux, his car commercials, and the “Sam’s is still next door” hook. What they may not have known was the extent of Henry and Jane’s impact on Tulsa. It was substantial.

Henry now has three identities: he’s a Cajun from New Orleans, he was an automotive rock star, and he’s a legend from Tulsa.

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