Dr. Jesse Conrad Fletcher
HSU President Emeritus, Community Leader, Church Historian, and Author
Jesse Conrad Fletcher was born on April 9, 1931, in San Antonio, Texas, to insurance executive Jesse N. Fletcher and Ruby Arnold Fletcher. After attending public schools in San Antonio, Jesse graduated from Thomas Jefferson High School in 1948 where he had been senior class vice president, managing editor of the school newspaper, a member of the National Honor Society, and played on the golf team.
Following high school graduation, Jesse enrolled in Texas A & M University, majoring in business administration. Before receiving a bachelor of business administration degree in 1952, he distinguished himself as a leader, a lieutenant colonel in the Corps of Cadets, an honor student and a two-year letterman in golf. In his senior year of undergraduate study at A & M, he was licensed to preach and ordained to the ministry by Manor Baptist Church of San Antonio.
After receiving a commission as a second lieutenant in the U.S. Army Reserve in 1952, Jesse enrolled in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he earned both a master of divinity degree and a doctor of philosophy degree. His post-graduate studies include terms at the Chaplain’s School at Fort Slocum, New York, the Institute of Religion at the Texas Medical Center in Houston, and the University of Richmond.
In August of 1953, he was introduced to Dorothy Jordan, and after one blind date, he proposed. They were married the following February.
During his seminary years, he served as pastor of Wellborn Baptist Church from 1953 to 1955, and Kopperl Baptist Church from 1955 to 1957. He held teaching posts at Southwestern Seminary and the University of Texas from 1957-1960, where he held the Townes Chair of Bible.
In 1960, Dr. Fletcher began his career with the Foreign Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention. During his 15 years on the board, he occupied several important administrative positions before his resignation in 1975 as the director of the mission support division. During his tenure at the board, he traveled extensively through many of the countries where Southern Baptist foreign missionaries serve to gain insight into personnel needs and a greater understanding of mission work and missionaries.
From 1975 to 1977, Jesse served as senior pastor of First Baptist Church of Knoxville, Tennessee. It was from this pastorate that Jesse came to HSU to assume office as the 12th president of Hardin-Simmons University.
He served as president of Hardin-Simmons from 1977 to 1991, as chancellor from 1991 to 2001, and since 2001 has been president emeritus.
Fletcher has served as president of the Southwestern Seminary national alumni organization, as a trustee of Golden Gate Baptist Seminary, and was elected to the General Council of the Baptist World Alliance. He was named a distinguished alumnus of Southwestern Seminary, received an honorary doctor of literature from Rio Grande College of Ohio, and was elected to preach the convention sermon at the 1978 Southern Baptist Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. In August of 2002, he received the Baptist General Convention of Texas’ George W. Truett Award for Religious Freedom.
While in Richmond, Fletcher began a writing career that has produced 10 books to date. His book, Bill Wallace of China, which came out in 1963, went into 10 hardback printings plus numerous foreign editions before coming out in paperback in conjunction with a movie filmed in 1968. The book was republished in the Baptist Classic series in 1995. In 1994, Fletcher’s history, The Southern Baptist Convention, was published to mark that denomination’s sesquicentennial.
A recognized Baptist historian, Fletcher has taught church history courses at Southwestern Seminary, Hardin-Simmons University, and Bethel College. He has spoken and published for endowed lectureships and seminars at Baylor University, Oklahoma Baptist University, Golden Gate Seminary, Southwestern Seminary and Abilene Christian University. In addition, he has penned numerous articles for newsletters, newspapers, periodicals and scholarly journals.
During his fourteen years as president of Hardin-Simmons University, Fletcher led the institution to reorganize into a university academic structure and to establish and endow schools in education, theology and nursing. Other highlights include adding seven new facilities and numerous renovations, quadrupling endowments, significantly increasing faculty salaries and enrollment. He also led the institution into the NCAA’s Division Three athletic programs including football in 1989. During his 10 years as chancellor, Fletcher has held a professorship in the Logsdon School of Theology, aided development efforts, and represented the University in numerous academic and community roles.
In this same period, Jesse was chairman of the Board of Ministers Life of Minneapolis (now a subsidiary of Minnesota Mutual), was president and a key force in organizing the NCAA Division I Trans America Athletic Conference (now the Atlantic Sun Conference), and was the first president of the Abilene Intercollegiate School of Nursing.
Jesse has been president and campaign director of Abilene’s United Way; vice chairman and founding director of the Community Foundation of Abilene; co-chairman of Abilene Choosing Tomorrow Now (a city planning group); chairman of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce; vice chairman of the Military Affairs Committee; was twice interim director of the Grace Museum as well as chairman of the board of that widely respected institution and currently is immediate past president and a founding director of the Abilene Psychiatric Center.
Community honors include the Abilene United Way’s Volunteer Service Award in 1997, Fall Benefit Honoree of the Grace Museum in 1999, Volunteer Fund Raiser of the Year by the National Society of Fund Raising Executives in 2000, and the Mental Health Association’s Outstanding Service Award in 2001. In 2002, he was named Abilene’s Citizen of the Year by the Chamber of Commerce.
In 1997, Jess began painting, joining the studio of celebrated Abilene artist, Evelyn Niblo, where he has focused on landscapes in oils. His paintings have been shown in Abilene at the Grace Museums, the Center for Contemporary Art, St. John’s School, and American State Bank. His work also has been exhibited in the Breckenridge Fine Arts Museum in Breckenridge, Texas. Many of his vibrant representations of landscapes are in the hands of corporate and private collectors. In addition to being a landscape painter, Jesse is an avid golfer, amateur astronomer, and also holds a commercial pilot’s license.
Jesse and Dorothy have two children, Jordan Scott of Lubbock and Melissa Dupree of Abilene. The Fletchers have five grandchildren.
Jesse’s 14-year term as president of Hardin-Simmons University represents the second-longest presidency of HSU, surpassed only by J.D. Sandefer’s 31-year term. He has been called a visionary whose influence spans into the realms of business, education, religion, and civic duties. Jesse has said of the success of Hardin-Simmons University, “I feel God cares about the future of this endeavor, and I hold it up before Him constantly.” We are grateful for his prayers for Hardin-Simmons, his dedication to and love for this University, and most of all for his commitment to serve our Lord.
It is the high honor of Hardin-Simmons University to recognize one of her own and to formally induct Jesse Conrad Fletcher into the HSU Hall of Leaders.