Every fall Atlanta-based Delta Airlines returns here to its roots for its annual shareholders meeting, an event that seems to embody the company's conservatism and attachment to tradition, and where a "family" atmosphere prevails.
It was in Monroe that Delta began life in 1925 as a crop-dusting outfit called Huff Daland Dusters, headed by C. E. Woolman, the man who led Delta until his death in 1966.
In 1929, the company began flying its first passengers -- from Dallas to Jackson, Miss., with stops in Shreveport and Monroe -- and became Delta Air Service, for the Mississippi Delta region it served.
Despite its entry into the passenger business, Delta continued to operate the crop-dusting division until 1966. The operation was headed for years by B. R. Coad, who was hired as chief entomologist in 1931.
The annual meeting is held in the second-floor boardroom of Monroe's Central Bank where the dusting venture got started. Pictures of early Delta officials and paintings depicting Delta's early planes -- the first Huff Daland Duster and its first single-engine, six-passenger Travel Air -- adorn the walls. A model of a Boeing 747--a plane Delta no longer operates -- rests atop a large breakfront.
The meeting, with directors sitting around a long table, is short--just a half an hour -- with hardly a discordant word from the few shareholders who show up. "They're satisfied with the way things are going" says J. Grayson Guthrie, the former president of Central Bank.
Some of Delta's directors are members of families that financed the initial venture. Director B. W. Biedenharn, 75, remembers that his family put up money for Delta three times--first to start the duster, then more for the passenger operation, and then again when Delta won a mail contract in 1934. "We never sold any of our stock," says Biedenharn, who now holds, personally and through his realty company, 551,909 shares of Delta's common stock, worth more than $20.4 million.
Biedenharn also is chairman of the Quachita Coca-Cola Bottling Co. -- Quachita is the name of the river that runs through Monroe and the parish in which it's located -- and provides cold Cokes in old fashioned green-glass bottles for the shareholders' meeting each year. The wife of another director makes cheese rings for the occasion.
The only shareholder question this year concerned discount fares from Shreveport to the West that are causing some of Monroe's citizens to drive to Shreveport to take advantage of them. "I'm worried about whether we'll have an airport in five years," the shareholder said.
"I can assure you," Delta President David C. Garrett replied, "Delta will still be here in five years."