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Oral Histories

The SFA oral history program documents life stories from the American South. Collecting these stories, we honor the people whose labor defines the region. If you would like to contribute to SFA’s oral history collections, please send your ideas for oral history along with your CV or Resume and a portfolio of prior oral history work to

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Wayne and Donna Estay

Donna and Wayne Estay met at South Lafourche High School, a dock-owner’s son and an oilman’s daughter. Their union is a microcosm of the longstanding intermarriage of the oil and fishing industries along Bayou Lafourche and in Grand Isle. Wayne, who worked for his father during high shrimp season his entire youth, stepped squarely into his shoes when the elder Estay died suddenly in 1975. Wayne didn’t even finish college until later, so necessary was he on the dock in Grand Isle, on Bayou Rigaud, where he and Donna worked side-by-side unloading shrimp boats (and, for a short period, fishing boats) for thirty-six years.

In the month of May, says Wayne, they never unloaded less than two million pounds of shrimp. It was a true family business from beginning to end: Donna’s parents worked with them after retirement, and her brother and sister-in-law became business partners. Wayne and Donna’s son, John Michael, loved Grand Isle and worked the dock with them until his untimely death in 2003.

Hurricane Katrina essentially washed away the Estays’ entire enterprise—dock, warehouse, ice plant, rental houses—which spanned seven and a half acres of Grand Isle’s land and waters. They rebuilt swiftly and grandly, but the dock just didn’t feel the same. They retired in 2008, closing the business and selling their land to the Port Commission, which turned it into a public dock for commercial and recreational fishermen.

Wayne and Donna still have interest in a company that operates crew boats from Grand Isle, but they’ve moved their life up Bayou Lafourche, to Lockport, where Wayne transformed their garage into an LSU Tigers den, and where Donna had a pool built in the backyard for entertaining their grandson.

Date of interview:

Sara Roahen

Sara Roahen

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The Southern Foodways Alliance drives a more progressive future by leading conversations that challenge existing constructs, shape perspectives, and foster meaningful discussions. We reconsider the past with research, scrutiny, and documentation.


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