Local man bobsleds into history

Published 12:01 am Saturday, January 7, 2017

To friends around town Joseph Earl LeBouef was known as a respected photographer, but to those closest to him he held a secret talent.

The former longtime resident of the Miss-Lou, who died on Monday at the age of 83, discovered bobsledding more than six decades ago. During his four years in the Air Force, LeBouef used his skills as a metals craftsman to build his own sled and compete across the world becoming one of the best in the sport.

“The first time he rode the course, a colonel came up to him and wanted him to pull the brake,” Joseph’s son Martin said. “He told the colonel ‘No, I want to drive this thing.’ He wasn’t sure if he was going to be able to be the brake and told him, ‘I’m a boy from Baton Rouge. I don’t know what snow is.’”

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After that initial run in 1953, Joseph went on to pilot the two-man and four-man bobsled teams for the Air Force while he was stationed in Wiesbaden, Germany.

Included in his achievements, Joseph traveled to St. Mortiz, Switzerland in 1955 to compete in the World Bobsled Championships, in which LeBouef received recognition in a Sports Illustrated article.

During that same week, he won the European Junior Bobsled Championship alongside partner and fellow airman, William William. News of the championship was featured in newspapers across the country.

“He was a meticulous professional,” Martin said. “He took those skills with him, and he did things like help me build a soap box derby car when I was 9 or 10. It actually helped me pursue a goal of becoming an aerospace engineer.”

After competition in 1955, Joseph qualified for the 1956 Winter Olympic trials in Lake Placid, N.Y. His bobsled career ended, however, after an accident during the trials where he broke his ankle.

Joseph then left the Air Force and found his way to Natchez where he owned a photography business on Main Street. He was known for the contracts he held with local schools taking senior portraits, as well as photographing weddings around the area with his wife, Catherine.

“He was a good man and an honorable one,” longtime friend Anita Souderes said. “He was great with his business, and he was extremely hardworking.”

A memorial for LeBouef will take place at 10 a.m. today at Our Lady of Lourdes church in Vidalia, with a recitation of the rosary at 9:30 a.m.