Built to Last: Bayou Icons, Sarah and Alex Hayward
SARAH AND ALEX HAYWARD HAVE BUILT A LIFE OF MAKING BEAUTIFUL HOMES, WONDERFUL FRIENDS AND A LOVING MARRIAGE.
article by Kay Rector | photography by Brad Arender
Alex Hayward is, he believes, a very simple man. He is unassuming and reserved as he talks about his career, spanning 40 years, as a homebuilder in Northeast Louisiana. “In 1976, I took my life savings of $200.00 and jumped in,” recalls Hayward of starting the construction business that would become his life’s work. After graduating from what was then Northeast Louisiana University with a degree in construction, Hayward went to work as an employee for a commercial contractor. He was young and ambitious and, a few years later, decided to leave his job to become his own boss. “Ben Marshall at Ouachita National Bank took a chance on me and loaned me the money to build my first ‘spec house,’” he remembers. Since that time, Hayward Construction Company has built hundreds of houses, from speculative projects to custom-built homes. Although licensed for commercial construction, residential building has been the focus of Hayward Construction since its beginning.
Hayward and Sarah, his wife of 45 years, met on a blind date while they were both students at NLU. She recently retired from her job as showroom manager at Irby Lighting in West Monroe, where she worked for over 44 years. While they never worked together directly, they collaborated almost daily, as Sarah helped choose lighting for the homes that Alex was building. “He would send the clients to me, with a budget, and we would pick out what they wanted,” she says. “His budget always needed adjusting a little bit, before we were done,” jokes Sarah.
Like everyone in this business, the husband and wife team have seen home styles change over the years. “Back when I started,” Hayward remembers, a home was typically “an eight-foot tall box.” Now, he builds homes with varying external features, sharply pitched rooflines, natural materials and finishes and open interior floor plans.
The client’s wishes and demands differ drastically now from what people wanted and expected when he first began constructing homes. However, as Hayward observes, not much has changed in terms of what a new home means to his clients. A home is still, for most people, the most expensive and emotionally charged purchase they will ever make. Hayward recognizes this and keeps that in mind as he works hard for his clients. “I try to be fair with everyone,” Hayward says. “I try to build each home like it is my own, as if I were going to live in it myself.”
House by house, Hayward has built a devoted following among homeowners. He says that almost all of his business comes from referrals, rather than from formal advertising. Word of mouth is his advertisement, and reputation his calling card. “We have clients that we’ve built all of their homes,” says Hayward, who prides himself on gaining repeat business from satisfied clients. “I’ve been fortunate over the years to have had great clients to work for,” says Hayward. “My favorite part of what I do is seeing a client move into their new house and the excitement they have about it.”
When he builds a house, he tries to make sure that he is personally on the job site, overseeing the work being done by his subcontractors. “Most of my subcontractors have been working with me for years and years. I know what I want, and I know what they can deliver. We work as a team,” Hayward says. He also works closely with several area residential architects, including Larry James, who designs many of the homes Hayward builds.
Hayward has been an active member and officer of the Home Builders Association of Northeast Louisiana. He served as the Association’s President four times and is currently acting as Treasurer of that organization. Hayward is also distinguished as a “Life Member” by that group for dedicated service on its board of directors for more than 10 consecutive years. Hayward has been named “Builder of the Year” by the State of Louisiana Home Builders Association. He also served on the Monroe City Board of Adjustments for seven years, hearing claims from property owners requesting building code variances and other administrative action.
For many years, Hayward participated in various fundraising projects, most notably the St. Jude Dream Home Giveaway which provides financial support for the St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee. Hayward Construction Company was one of the early builders of the St. Jude Dream Home, serving as general contractor for the project in 2003, 2004 and 2005. Hayward donated all of his time, effort and overhead to the project that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars to benefit the children’s hospital. “That was a rewarding experience,” he says. Twice during those years, Alex and Sarah Hayward traveled to Memphis, along with some of their subcontractors, to tour St. Jude and learn more about the hospital and how their efforts help patients and families dealing with life-threatening childhood illnesses.
While his own children were growing up, Hayward spent time coaching youth baseball, football, soccer and softball teams, and occasionally refereeing, while Sarah chauffeured the kids to and from games and practices. Even though building houses is their vocation, the couple has built only two homes for their family. “We built our first house in 1979 and lived there for over twenty years, and then our current home that we’ve lived in for almost 18 years,” says Sarah, noting that this is rather unusual for contractors.
Hayward quips that he is boring, but some would call him stable, stalwart even. He and Sarah have done what fewer and fewer people seem to do these days. They married, went into business, had children and put down roots in the community where they raised their family. They stayed the course that they chose for themselves. They worked hard day in and day out and built a life that they can be proud of and enjoy.
“We’re starting to slow down some,” says Sarah. Hayward agrees. “We are enjoying our grandchildren. ”He is still building homes, though, and not quite ready to hang up his tool belt. “I like what I do and don’t really want to fully retire,” says Hayward.
An avid deer and duck hunter, Hayward spends most of his leisure time outdoors. Hunting trophies line the walls of his office and fill up his study at home. He does get away from time to time, to deer hunt in Texas, to fish in Canada or to travel with Sarah to watch their grandchildren play sports. He also enjoys golf, but spends way less time on the golf course now than he once did. He continues to build houses, because building, he says, is just what he does. It is what he hopes to keep doing for as long as he can. “When I was a kid,” he recalls, “I would build tree houses with my friends. Our lumber source was whatever floated up on Bayou DeSiard.” Hayward laughs and acknowledges that he has come a long way since those childhood days.
Hayward derives a sense of satisfaction and pride as he looks back over what he has created over the years. Examples of his work are evident throughout the Twin Cities. “We built a lot of houses in River Oaks subdivision, both custom and spec homes, and in Louisianne, Frenchman’s Bend and other subdivisions all over this area.”
Next on the horizon for Hayward Construction are projects in Bayou Trace, one of Northeast Louisiana’s most progressive new subdivisions. Hayward will soon be building homes on four lots in that development located just off Highway 165 in Sterlington. In accordance with subdivision requirements, these homes will feature French architectural design with high-pitched roofs and at least 2,800 heated square feet. There will be green spaces and parks in the residential part of the subdivision, with nearby retail shops and restaurants. “It’s a great development, and we are committed to it,” says Hayward. Hayward Construction Company hopes to leave its mark on Bayou Trace in the same way that it has influenced other premier developments, one house at a time, built to last.