Jesse Coleman Hunter Jr.
Mayor of Abilene, Oilman, Rancher, Ex 1934
Jesse Coleman Hunter Jr., petroleum engineer, rancher, and two-term mayor of Abilene, was born July 31, 1914, in Van Horn, Texas, to J. C. and Eloise Hunter. He moved with his parents to Abilene as a freshman in high school in 1928. After graduating with honors from Abilene High School in 1932, he attended Hardin-Simmons University for two years and then completed both Bachelor of Science and Master of Science degrees in petroleum engineering in 1937 at the University of Texas.
Fresh out of college, he returned to Abilene to go into a partnership with his father in the oil exploration and production firm of Hunter and Hunter. The company’s oil interests were located principally in the West Central Texas area, and he ranched in far West Texas on land his father had purchased in 1924.
In 1938, Hunter married Mary Balch, a 1935 graduate of Hardin-Simmons. The couple had two children, Robert and Carolyn.
After his father’s death in 1945, Hunter, at the age of 31, became head of the company he had shared with his father. As an independent oil operator, Hunter was a member of the American Association of Petroleum Geologists and the American Institute of Mining Engineers. He was director of the Texas Mid-Continent Oil and Gas Association, and served as their district vice president for the West Central Texas region.
Throughout his career, he served on numerous boards, including the Chisholm Trail Boy Scout Council, the Baptist Foundation of Texas, the Independent Petroleum Association, Citizens National Bank, and West Texas Utilities Company. In 1961, he served as vice chairman of the HSU Board of Directors, and was chairman of the building committee when the new student union building (now Moody Center) was planned and built.
Hunter was active in civic affairs, serving as president of the Abilene Chamber of Commerce, the Rotary Club, Abilene Community Chest (now United Way), and the YMCA Board of Directors. He served as a member of the 1967 Citizens Advisory Committee on capital improvements and was three-time chairman of the Board of Education’s advisory committees on scholastic population and projected growth.
In 1969, Hunter was elected mayor of Abilene. He served two three-year terms, aggressively leading the council through the early 1970s, and was especially concerned about the water needs of the dry West Texas city. Hunter served several terms on the board of the West Central Texas Municipal Water district, supporting the Hubbard Creek project to bring water to the city, and urging others to look forward with him to make additional, long-range development plans for the city’s water supply. Over the years, water resources took up much of his time and energy. He was said to be among the most insightful in the area of future water needs.
Applauded for his civic contributions, he received the Abilene Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Citizens Award in 1953, making him the youngest person (at age 39) to win that distinction. In 1957, Hardin-Simmons University bestowed upon him its highest alumni honor, the Keeter Alumni Service Award. He was named the VFW Citizen of the Year in 1959, and also received the Abilene Junior Chamber of Commerce Man of the Year Award.
He served his church as a deacon for many years at First Baptist Church of Abilene and was vice chairman of the finance committee.
Hunter’s ranching interests in far West Texas were on the Guadalupe Mountain Ranch, purchased in 1924 by his father, who had produced mohair from Angora goats there. To replace the native Merriam’s elk that had been hunted out of the Guadalupes by the 1880s, the elder Hunter had 47 elk shipped in 1928 from a refuge in South Dakota to the land. Roaming the park now are more than 500 descendants of those elk.
Hunter, who shared his father’s concern for the preservation of the natural resources of the land, arranged for the land to be sold to the federal government to establish what is now the Guadalupe Mountains National Park. Encompassing 76,293 acres, the park includes the four highest peaks in Texas, and serves to protect numerous animals, plants, fossils, and natural and historical objects.
Hunter and his wife, Mary, spent their retirement years traveling and visiting with their children and grandchildren. He built toys for their grandchildren, and taught them to drive their boat, which was affectionately named MiMi in honor of Mary.
In the 1980s, they began spending about half of each year at their home in Montecito, California, to be near their daughter’s home in Santa Barbara. In October 1985 while on a visit with his daughter, Hunter became ill and was hospitalized, dying a month later after two surgeries for cancer.
Hunter left behind a legacy that has blessed the citizens of Abilene, the family of Hardin-Simmons University, and the inhabitants of the great state of Texas.
It is the high honor of Hardin-Simmons University to recognize one of her own and to formally induct Jesse Coleman Hunter Jr. into the HSU Hall of Leaders.