By Mallory Schlabach, Editor in Chief
After 20 years of dedicated service to the Abilene community and surrounding counties through his volunteer work and work in the Texas Legislature, friends and supporters are paying tribute to Bob Hunter and his wife Shirley.
Every two years since Bob Hunter began his political career in 1986, supporters and constituents from Taylor and Nolan counties have organized a community-wide dinner the summer after Hunter’s legislative session to raise funds for his re-election and to thank his colleagues for their work in the Legislature as well, said Sherri Statler, director of Christian Homes in Abilene and a longtime campaign manager for Hunter.
“I met Dr. Hunter in 1976 while a student at ACU,” Statler said in an e-mail. “I was asked to volunteer on his first campaign in 1986 and I’ve coordinated his campaigns, fundraising and other political activities ever since.”
For this last tribute, at least 750 friends and supporters are expected to attend the Big Country Tribute Dinner at 7 p.m. Aug. 29 at the Abilene Civic Center. Tickets are sold out.
“Since Bob is retiring in January, this was just a good opportunity for his friends to say thanks for your 20 years of service,” said Dr. John Tyson, vice president for development. “I know the dinner will be well-attended. Bob and Shirley have had a huge influence in the community. There is so much and so many that Bob has helped.”
Statler said ever since Hunter announced his retirement plans, people immediately began mentioning the need to thank him for his selfless dedication to his constituents.
“He wouldn’t hear of it and immediately dismissed the idea,” she said. “Only when someone suggested that proceeds from the event might benefit his beloved alma mater, ACU, did he acquiesce and agree to the event. The response from Abilene and the Big Country has been overwhelming and is greatly deserved.”
All proceeds from the tribute dinner will be donated to the ACU Welcome Center, which was named after the Hunters by the Board of Trustees in February.
Construction for the Welcome Center, which will be located adjacent to University Park apartments, is expected to begin sometime in 2007, Tyson said.
He said the date is approximate and depends upon finances. The Welcome Center, which will include a large, multi-purpose lobby, conference center, theatre, hall of honor and meeting rooms, will cost close to $14 million to build, $8 million which has already been committed, Tyson said.
While many will honor the Hunters with donations to the Welcome Center, others will honor them at the tribute dinner.
Statler said after the buffet dinner, the Abilene Community Band will perform and Dr. Delores Washburn will make a tribute to Shirley Hunter. Mayor Norm Archibold; Republican Congressman Randy Neugebauer; Howard Payne University president Dr. Lanner Hall; and State Reps. Jim Keffer and James E. “Pete” Laney will make presentations, in addition to a video tribute and response from Hunter.
In Hunter’s 20 years of service, he has created and contributed to many events, organizations and legislature that benefit Texans.
As a Texas state representative, Hunter created the Texas Equalization Grant, which has distributed more than $1 billion to students that attend private universities in Texas.
“That is a significant amount of money to go towards students,” Tyson said. “Think of the hundreds of thousands of students that have benefited from this program.”
Hunter has served on numerous boards in the Abilene community in the 50 years he and Shirley have lived in Abilene, including the board of directors for Meals on Wheels, Day Nursery in Abilene and the West Texas Rehabilitation Center. Hunter, who serves as vice president emeritus of ACU, was also the creator of Sing Song.
An additional reception for the Hunters is planned for Oct. 26 at 7 p.m. in Dallas.