Dr. Robert ‘Bob’ D. Hunter died Feb, 11, 2023 at the age of 94. He spent his life in service to Abilene Christian University, the greater Abilene community, the state of Texas and Texas higher education through his multiple roles. And while Bob is remembered for his nearly half century of service to the university and roles as a representative in the Texas state legislature, those who knew Bob remembered him for his character: a truly positive, enthusiastic and personal individual.
Sing Song, a campus wide a cappella production was spearheaded by at the time director of special events Bob Hunter.
Hunter had heard wind that Abilene Christian College was being called “the singing college” and decided to lean into the nickname.
“He came up with [the name Sing Song] because when the football team went to some competition, they were flagged as the singing college,” said Courtney McGhaha, director of student production and promotions. “[Hunter] said, ‘Well, why don’t we lean into that?’ and so he was the first director of the show.”
The first production of Sing Song took place in the spring of 1957.
Hunter became the university’s director of alumni relations in 1957 and though it was not his primary job, Hunter continued to be heavily involved in the annual production of Sing Song, bringing in students as co-chairs and directors to help put it all together.
“He just took it upon himself to run the show,” McGaha said. “That’s why, I think, there were co-chairs and [positions] like that is because he needed help doing it but also just to empower students, which is what we always want to do.”
Despite the show’s success, Hunter did not participate in the production of Sing Song for many years.
“He didn’t do it for very long before it passed on to somebody else but, just by the nature of he started it and he did do it for a few years, enough time for it to become a thing that everybody wanted to participate in,” McGaha said. “He has been around it for this whole time, he never really left it.”
To McGaha when Sing Song becomes a part of you, it never lets go and she attributes this to Hunter.
“Having been in this position, I can attest to when Sing Song takes you, takes your soul, and it doesn’t let go because it’s just such a special thing,” McGaha said. “ I think that was the thing for [Hunter]. He made it this special thing.”
Hunter is also is credited with creating nearly two dozen ACU traditions. These traditions all focus around one thing: enriching the student experience at ACU.
“He cared so much about the students, the student experience that he poured into it and made it such a fun experience even 66 years ago,” McGaha said. “It still is living and thriving to this day…He was such an innovative creative force for so long that even after he wasn’t doing it anymore, it didn’t go away because he was still around, still smiling and happy and loving it.”
In 2022, the newly renovated Sing Song stage in Moody Coliseum was named the Bob Hunter Sing Song Stage in his honor.
All Cows go West
Bob Hunter enrolled for courses at ACC in the fall of 1948 and found himself as a member of social club, now fraternity, Frater Sodalis.
Going on to become Frats president, Hunter stayed invested in the club and in the young men joining the brotherhood long past his presidency and graduation.
One of those men, Larry ‘Satch’ Sanders (‘75), met Hunter in the fall of 1971 as a new student. Later on the two were reintroduced when Sanders was pledging Frater Sodalis.
“I introduced myself and [Hunter] asked where I was from and we had, just right outside of Moody Coliseum, this introductory conversation. That was the fall of 1971 and I did not see Dr. Hunter again until the following fall,” Sanders said. “Dr. Hunter walked up to me and called me by name, said, ‘Brat Sanders, how are you doing and how are your folks in Fairlawn, New Jersey? … ACC was not as large as ACU is today, but nonetheless… just with an absolute short-term introduction after Chapel one morning almost a year later, Dr. Hunter recalls all these details about me personally.”
Hunter was said to never miss a Frater Sodalis Homecoming Breakfast and would, on occasion, attend Sing Song rehearsals to give comments on his expectations for the club.
“He would come into some of our rehearsals and give us kind of a cheerful, uplifting comment about how he expected Frats to do excellent this year,” Sanders said. “Just obviously communicated a deep engagement, not only to the university and to students in general, but that relationship he had with Frats. That was emphasized every year at the Homecoming Breakfast. And he never missed one of those breakfasts.”
To current members of Frater Sodalis, Bob Hunter was still heavily involved in the club. Every Wednesday at University Retirement Place, Frater Sodalis members host Frat church, and Hunter took that time to get to know the members of his club. Hunter was on the front row every week, providing feedback and reaching out to the new members.
“The thing to me that always stood out though is he would try to be your friend,” said Frater Sodalis president and senior journalism major from Abilene, Kauy Ostlien. “He would take down note cards with your name on them, your position, where you’re from. Sometimes he would ask where you went to church and then he would ask your phone number.”
To current and new Frats, Hunter is and will continue to be “the guy” for his many stories.
“He’s someone that we’re going to miss because to us he was an icon,” Ostlien said. “He’s one of those pillars of your group that everyone knows about.”
Texas Education and the State Legislature
Bob Hunter’s tenure at ACU spanned nearly half a century until his official retirement in 1993. However, those outside of ACU may know Hunter for the 20 years spent in Austin as the 71 district representative. Hunter was elected to the Texas House of Representatives in 1986 in a special election by a narrow margin. In the 10 following elections, Hunter ran unopposed eight times.
During his service in Austin, Hunter worked to prioritize Texas Higher Education specifically through the Texas Tuition Equalization Grant which was passed in 1971: The TEG program was created to help equalize the cost of public and private institutions in the state of Texas and aligned with Hunter’s passion for making Christian higher ed more available for all students.
“He had a vision and a passion for Christian private higher education and certainly 98% of that passion was focused on ACU because this was what he loved,” said Dr. Phil Schubert, president of the university. “In his role as a state representative, he brought forward the vision to establish a fund at the state level that would provide, not commensurate, but some fraction of funding that would be state-supported or state-provided to private institutions that students attend that would help equalize the cost of it.”
Rep. Stan Lambert, who was elected to represent the 71 district in 2016, knew Hunter well before his time in the legislature. Lambert, an Abilene native, knew the Hunter family throughout his childhood and even worked with Hunter for a time at ACU. From there, Lambert watched Hunter build a legacy of friendliness in the state capital and said that Hunter left some big shoes to fill.
“He was always smiling, and it was always a friendly greeting, a hello friend or hello neighbor; He just was such a vibrant and just an outgoing person that everyone that still works in the Capitol that remembers when Bob served just speaks eloquently about his service,” Lambert said. “I know I can never fill those shoes, but he’s a great example for a lot of legislators to try to follow in that everyone’s a friend.”
Dr. Bob Hunter held many titles in his lifetime, vice president of the university, state representative and founder of Sing Song to name a few, but the most important and most remembered to many will be that of friend.
Hunter is described by those who knew him as someone who had connections with just about everybody and could not wait to introduce you to his other friends.
“It was part of his brand, he reached out to everyone and everyone became his friend,” Sanders said. “He was always anxious to introduce his friends to his other friends and you have this matrix in every area that Dr. Hunter was a part of of relationships and friendships. And he was the common denominator. He would connect people.”
The Hunter Welcome Center on campus was named in honor of Bob and Shirley Hunter in February 2006 and has since welcomed countless students, alumni and visitors to the campus, something Sanders said is incredibly fitting.
“That’s why Abilene Christian University could not have any better welcoming center name on it than Dr. Bob Hunter because that was the nature of the man,” Sanders said. “He was a welcomer and a lover of relationships.”
Hunter had prominent influence throughout both the ACU and greater Abilene community, but consistently remained humble with humility that was off the charts, Schubert said.
“I just can’t begin to say enough about the positive influence he’s been on me, on the university, on so many people that have been part of this community,” Schubert said. “A great man and an incredible leader. A true servant leader whose humility was just off the chart, but his drive came through a small stature and a big smile and a joyful heart all the time.”
To others, Hunter is remembered for his enthusiasm and joy even during bleak times.
“He was so kind and sweet and enthusiastic, not just about Sing Song, but about everything and he just always had a smile on his face,” McGaha said. “You could just feel that he was still a joyful person even in the hard things.”
To Lambert, Hunter is remembered by one phrase encompassing his joy, servitude and welcoming nature.
“Smilin’ Bob,” Lambert said. “Smilin’ Bob.”
Hunter is survived by sons Kent Hunter (‘79) and Les Hunter (‘86), daughter Carole (Hunter ‘81) Phillips and five grandchildren, including Emily (Phillips ‘13) Danesi.
Visitation will take place April 28 with a memorial service to be held at 2 p.m. the following day.
Leave a Comment:
You must be logged in to post a comment.