A half-century’s friendship in music, woodworking – Clarion Herald


By Christine Bordelon
Clarion Herald

Holy Cross School students almost 50 years ago. And, three decades later, friends Mark Ellias of Covington and Cliff White Jr. of Hammond reunited to preserve the architecture that makes New Orleans unique.

The God-given woodworking talent of Ellias has landed him projects for Cabrini and Jesuit high schools, Archdiocese of New Orleans’ properties, Uptown homes and hotels, including the Ritz-Carlton, where he duplicated about 900 windows through his custom, Christian millwork shop, Quality Custom Woodwork, Inc., in Mandeville.

50 Free Woodworking Plans

What gives Ellias joy is “seeing a completed project when you are done.”

“There’s a satisfaction of keeping the old new, while preserving the old look,” he said, noting that preserving history is what visitors come to New Orleans to see.

On a recent afternoon, Ellias and White were cutting strips of wood – to exact measurements – for door stops inside door casings for architecturally accurate windows at the old Circle Bar on St. Charles Avenue, now being converted into apartments.

Ellias said Spanish cedar was chosen as the predominant wood for this project so the windows would last as long as the original – over 100 years. He also works in poplar and cypress.

“It’s good quality material for exterior woodwork,” Ellias said. “All of our work is historic-related. It’s for old buildings. Not too many others do this. It’s a lot of work, a lot of hours and time.”

High school band

As teens, White played drums and Ellias played guitar in a high school band that performed at school dances, CYO dances and even Charity School of Nursing events.

White, who grew up in Metairie with five sisters who attended Mount Carmel Academy, said he remembered picking up the younger Ellias, a Gentilly resident, on the way to Holy Cross in Bywater when they attended in the 1970s.

“Holy Cross gave us a great foundation,” White said. “It was a good, Christian school.”

“I gave my life to Christ as a teenager,” Ellias said. “After I gave my life to the Lord, I wanted to dig in deep and find out what the word was about.”

While they pursued different interests after high school – Ellias earned a bachelor of arts in theology from Word of Faith Bible College while working for UPS and as a trim carpenter, and White spent 41 years working for Delta Airlines – the two kept in touch.

Ellias met his wife Cindy at Bible college, and they have three grown children. He also sang at White’s wedding at St. Francis Xavier Church in Metairie when he married in June 1992. White has two daughters.

Loved working with hands

Ellias said woodworking was an expansion of a model-building hobby he had as a youth. He started honing his skills as a helper for a friend’s family woodworking business in Bywater.

“I just felt at home,” he said about woodworking.

He’s since built a strong base of repeat customers.

“The thing I focus on is I want to give the customer a way beyond my years,” Ellias said. “I’m not focused on getting a quick product, but doing it right. It’s important, because customers come back to you.

“One of the things I’ve learned is that everything I do is for the Lord,” Ellias said. “It’s not just work you’re doing. It’s as if you were doing it for him.”

Their reunion came when Ellias needed help on the Ritz-Carlton job 20 years ago.

“It’s rewarding,” White said. “I drive three days a week from Hammond just to do this. He’s the reason I am here. It’s a Christian environment.”

White, a life-long Catholic, has attended 20 retreats at the Jesuit-run Manresa Retreat House in Convent, Louisiana. His father Cliff White Sr., has been a Manresa retreatant for 70 consecutive Manresa weekends.

“I love it. I meditate; I pray. This is good for me,” White, who attends Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, said about working alongside Ellias. “You start working with individual pieces and eventually see the future product.”

Like their work, they consider their friendship timeless.

“Fifty years later, we are together in the workshop putting New Orleans back together,” White said.

cbordelon@clarionherald.org

 

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