BAYOU ICONS | LOVING DEVOTION
article by GEORGIANN POTTS
photography by KELLY MOORE CLARK
Some scoff at the idea of love at first sight, but not Jeff Guerriero. He remembers clearly the first time he saw Elizabeth Johnston when they attended River Oaks Academy. He went home and told his mother that he had met the girl he was going to marry. It took a few years, but Jeff finally won Elizabeth over and they started dating when she was a high school junior. The two had been great friends for several years, and that friendship grew quickly into a love that has lasted a lifetime. Today they are partners in every way – in marriage, parenting, business, and volunteerism. In spite of incredibly busy lives, they have always found time to give back to their community. Because of their loving example as a couple and of their devotion to this region, Jeff and Elizabeth Guerriero are our February BayouIcons.
Jeff Guerriero came by his love for the law honestly. Most of his family are attorneys, and his grandfather (Joseph S. Guerriero) and his uncle (Robert Guerriero) were the original partners in the law firm of Guerriero and Guerriero. Jeff’s father (Joseph Dowling Guerriero) graduated Tulane Law School. After earning a B.A. (History) and M.A. (Criminal Justice) from Northeast Louisiana University (now the University of Louisiana at Monroe), Jeff followed the family tradition and graduated from Tulane Law School.
Elizabeth also comes from a family in which the practice of law has been an influencing factor. Her great-grandfather (Murray Hudson) was a founding partner in Hudson, Potts & Bernstein. Her uncle (Murray Biedenharn) also went to law school but did not practice law. That law gene skipped several generations until it bloomed in Elizabeth. She graduated Tulane Law School just like Jeff.
Family Has Always Meant Everything
Both Jeff and Elizabeth had wonderful childhoods filled with lots of family and fun. Jeff’s mother (Jackie Devore Hopkins) was born in Mound City, Illinois, and lived there until her family moved to New Orleans. She met Jeff’s dad there while he was attending Tulane. He was a New Orleans native. The two married and had three sons, Jeff, Justin, and Jaime. All three are very successful businessmen.
Elizabeth’s father (Bishop Johnston) was from Sterlington and her mother (Jody Biedenharn) was from Monroe. They both attended Neville High School. Her dad was a farmer, car salesman, and an oil and gas and real estate investor. Her mom was a full-time homemaker, rearing Elizabeth and her three sisters – Doll Vines, Kathy Patrick, and Jodi B. Lyle. All three – like Elizabeth — are also very successful businesswomen.
Both Jeff and Elizabeth are grateful to have lived with so many of their relatives close by. Even now the families get together for every major holiday. When Elizabeth was a young girl, Easter was her favorite holiday. The Johnston and Biedenharn families (numbering about 60) would go to church and then come to Elizabeth’s home to hunt eggs and eat lunch together. “One year my mom said we needed some more little babies because we had all grown-ups hunting eggs,” Elizabeth remembers. “The next year we christened 6 new cousins at the same time!”
Elizabeth’s childhood was one typical of the south before cable and internet. A highlight for her was the book mobile. Those books were treasures that ignited her imagination. Another of Elizabeth’s favorite memories is riding through the fields with her dad in his truck. They talked for hours. “He told me I asked so many questions and talked so much that he was going to get me a totem pole for Christmas,” Elizabeth recalls. “But he never did, until I told him how upset I was as a child because he never got me that totem pole. Just last year, he finally gave me one for Christmas!”
Two events from her childhood created stressful memories. Once when her dad was racing cars, his car flipped and caught on fire. Guards wouldn’t allow her to go out on the track to check on him. Another time the family airplane caught fire while her mother was piloting it back from Colorado. Her dad, acting as co-pilot, knocked the door off the plane to let the smoke out and pulled the wires from the dash. (He pulled the wires because he could see that the fire was electrical.) “That meant that we had to come down through the clouds with no communication with the tower,” Elizabeth remembers. “We landed in a cotton field. That was the closest I have ever felt to death.”
Jeff’s early years were also spent with family, but his work ethic was evident early on. When he was in high school, Jeff had a lawn service and a janitorial service. Because of these, he was able to purchase his first home when he was 17. Jeff’s parents would fly to Las Vegas frequently, and they always took their children with them. “In fact, they took us everywhere, all over the country and the world,” Jeff remembers. “I try to take my family everywhere we can because I think it helps them learn firsthand how other cultures live, and it allows us to grow and bond as a family.”
A Wedding Day to Remember
Almost everyone has something amusing happen on their wedding day, but Jeff and Elizabeth may very well have the best story of them all. And the humor began even earlier when Jeff proposed. He was 19 and Elizabeth was 17. Elizabeth said “yes” but added that Jeff must get her father’s approval. Jeff made several appointments to meet Elizabeth’s father, but her dad didn’t keep them. Finally, when they did meet, Jeff’s future father-in-law arrived with a shotgun. After a good chuckle, Elizabeth’s dad gave his blessing on the marriage.
The actual wedding day has been variously described (Jeff: “It was like a sitcom.”) (Elizabeth: “Our wedding could be a movie.”) but always with a hearty laugh. It was, indeed, a sequence of “interesting” adventures. A flash flood storm knocked out the electricity at Elizabeth’s home just as she was getting out of the shower to get ready for pictures. Workmen putting up a tent in the driveway hit a water main. Jeff had a wreck on the way to the church and was late. Jeff’s friends picked up the wrong car at the church to decorate for the couple’s “get away” so Elizabeth’s grandparents called the police and reported their car stolen. The wedding ring was locked in a car at the repair shop. Neighbors called to complain to the police during the reception and they shut down the band.
“Jeff left his driver’s license in his tuxedo, so we couldn’t get into the hotel bar after the reception even though all my sisters and cousins were in there with their fake ID’s,” Elizabeth says. “To top things off, Jeff got sun poisoning on our honeymoon.” Elizabeth didn’t let any of this diminish her joy at being married to Jeff. “I have told many brides, including our daughter Lauren on her wedding day, that it doesn’t matter if everything that could possibly go wrong does. At the end of the day, you will be married and that is what is important.”
Finding Career Paths That “Fit”
During college, Jeff continued operating the land and janitorial services and when he started dating Elizabeth, he added buying and selling homes (today called “flipping houses”). Together they bought, remodeled, and sold numerous homes. They also opened an ice cream store (Arctic Scoop and Café Beignet on N18th).
In high school, Elizabeth’s career goal was either to be an international spy or work internationally in governmental affairs. “I don’t know where that came from because I had never even traveled internationally. I guess from books,” Elizabeth says with a laugh. “I had planned to leave Monroe and travel the world. I really never envisioned myself settling down with a family.”
After their marriage, Jeff and Elizabeth waited 8 years before starting their family. They finished college and law school first. “That gave us a strong foundation to build on,” Elizabeth says. “Looking back, I would not change a thing.”
Neither Jeff nor Elizabeth has ever shied away from either a new challenge or hard work. As a result, their careers have had many interesting twists and turns. Elizabeth began working at 13 for the credit bureau. Later while in high school, she worked at the Ouachita Coca-Cola Bottling Company in billing during the summers. She earned a degree from ULM in Computer Information Systems (a rapidly growing field that merged computers with business) but realized that she was a “people person.” She graduated from college in 3 years and then enrolled at Tulane as the youngest entering freshman in the law class that year.
Following graduation, Elizabeth practiced tax law and estate planning with John Luffey, Jr. until she decided to pursue teaching full-time at ULM. She worked there for 20 years as an Associate Professor of Business Law before the couple’s businesses grew to the point that she was needed there.
During their years together, the couple has maintained a busy law practice, started a semi-professional football team, started a professional sports agency representing NFL and CFL football players, and became part owners of Bare Knuckle Fighting Championships, the fastest growing combat sport in the world. And they have found time to be on television! Jeff starred on the television show Super Agent, a reality series on Spike TV. Both Jeff and Elizabeth were featured as agents on The Agent, an NBC network series. From connections made from these “adventures” the couple created an entertainment production company with shows on Spike TV and the Food Network.
One of their newest business ventures has involved CBD production. CBD is a non-hallucinogenic extract from the cannabis plant that has many health benefits. To help get it legalized in Louisiana, Jeff spoke at Senate meetings on the benefits and potential economic impact of CBD. Jeff’s testimony was first-hand because he has used the extract with significant success as part of his own medical treatments. The CBD business opened the door to another company, ArtisIQ, that developed a new point of sale software platform for dispensaries that will allow contactless purchases and government-approved banking, eliminating the banking and cash issues dispensaries have been plagued with. ArtisIQ is already contracted with the largest dispensary footprint in the country and is currently in the onboarding process in California.
Their latest foray into the business world concerns sports trading cards for collegiate athletes – University All-Stars. “We create one-of-a-kind cards designed by artists from all over the world who create limited edition trading cards for athletes,” Jeff explains. “When athletes participate in the card creation process, our platform allows them to engage with fans on a deeper level and earn money through Name/Image/Likeness opportunities provided by University All-Stars.” This company recently produced cards for both Tulane and USC for the Cotton Bowl and are also producing cards for the East-West Shrine All-Star game.
In spite of incredibly busy lives, the Guerriero’s still find time to mentor promising young entrepreneurs. “We are also mentoring a brilliant young man who has the ability to make world changing innovations that will affect all of us in our lifetimes,” Elizabeth adds. “His company, Vocapsul, clones voices using Artificial Intelligence.”
Loving Life Together
“No matter what our future holds, I love doing life with Jeff and working side by side in all we do,” Elizabeth says. He is the motivation, and I am the voice of reason. He is the people person and I work behind the scenes. We balance each other out.”
Jeff couldn’t agree more. Added to their pleasure is the fact that their daughters (Lauren Creekmore and Madison Guerriero) have decided to make their “adult” homes in Monroe, too. Lauren and her husband, Bryan, have made Jeff and Elizabeth doting grandparents with the births of their daughter, Emorie, and son, Camden. Both of Jeff and Elizabeth’s daughters are successful business women in their own right. Lauren is a successful realtor – a career where her people skills and attention to detail are showcased. Madison opened a boutique, The Nude Nomad, on West Monroe’s Antique Alley 6 years ago. “She has an eye for style and always seems ahead of major trends,” Elizabeth says.
A key part of this Guerriero partnership is their joint commitment to their community. “Elizabeth and I – along with our family – have always felt that it is important to give back to the area that has given so much to us,” Jeff explains. “Giving back and volunteering is incredibly important. We can get caught up in our daily lives and the ins and outs of what we have going on in our little world and forget that there are other people who need help. There are unique needs that people have and God has blessed each of us with gifts. We shouldn’t keep those blessings to ourselves but share them with others. Throughout the years we have been blessed to be part of several community organizations that distribute food, warm clothes and coats, and toys. It is a blessing to be able to help others stay safe and warm and to ensure that their children have something special during the holidays.”
Among the many volunteer activities that the Guerriero’s sponsor is a fundraiser called “Jungle Bells” for the Louisiana Purchase Gardens and Zoo. It showcases the zoo and the people who work there. The public gets to attend free of charge. “We know that during the holidays, money is tight and people are spending so much on presents and travel along with ordinary expenses,” Jeff explains. “This is a great event where people can come and just enjoy our wonderful zoo.”
“It is really rewarding and truly so much better to give than to receive,” Elizabeth adds. “To know that you can be a part of changing someone’s life for the better. To know that you can brighten a child’s day, or ease the burden for a family, and help improve our community – these are truly rewarding. I think we all want to impact the world in a positive way, and starting with home and community makes sense. We feel so blessed to live in a community where so many people volunteer their time and generously give back!”
And central in all of this activity is a very successful law practice. Both Jeff and Elizabeth have an abiding love for the law. They use their legal degrees for good nearly every day, although not always within a courtroom or in judge’s chambers. Many people have been blessed by their expertise and generous spirits – and many more will be in years to come.