GEORGE M. HESS
May 15, 1953 – July 19, 2018
Dad’s Gift: A memoir of George M. Hess
If I were asked to write a paper on who was my hero, it would be my dad. He was the quiet rock that grounded me and my family and later in life became my friend.
My dad grew up on a farm with a hardscrabble childhood during the height of the Great Depression. Because of that and the lessons of his parents, he became determined to do well for himself. He relayed to us his childhood responsibilities of digging potatoes in the hot sun, cutting trees by hand in mid-summer, and growing and harvesting tomatoes to sell for income. I think much of this is what inspired him to do well in school and succeed in life. It was also the topic of many inspirational stories and motivation for college and obtaining a career to work inside.
He attended a small community school, Live Oak High School, in Watson, LA. One of his high school activities that also helped him attend college was basketball. He received a basketball scholarship to Southeastern Louisiana College (SLU), and was on the SLU team that participated in the school’s first post-season tournament (1954 NAIA). He graduated Southeastern in 1955. He always asked me if I wanted to sit inside and read a book and get a college degree or go dig potatoes – that was his inspiration.
Dad decided to go into the ministry and by his own admission, he was surprised to receive a scholarship to Southern Methodist University (SMU). He made some good lifelong friends at SMU and graduated with a degree in Theology and Divinity. A few years ago, my husband and I took him back to SMU to visit. We were able to retrace his steps and located his dormitory room and many of the classrooms he sat in. We could tell that he enjoyed those memories. We stopped at the university bookstore in an attempt to purchase him a t-shirt or something he could display. We came across a shirt that seemed to embody many things about SMU, but NOTHING about my father….the shirt said “SMU – we’re not snobs, we’re just better than you.” My dad laughed and laughed over that shirt. Considering his youth and the heights that he had climbed as an adult, that shirt was the antithesis of my dad. He was so humble and kind.
After SMU he became a minister in Angie, LA and met his future wife/my mom, Johanna Mizell Hess. They hit it off and enjoyed 52 years of love and marriage. Going through mom and dad’s belongings, I have seen some lively and interesting pictures of plays and local fellowship gatherings during that time in Angie. My dad and mom married Feb. 1, 1958. My brother, Stephen M. Hess soon followed in 1961, and I followed him in 1963.
Dad decided he enjoyed the college experience and wanted to continue to give back to both the university and pastoral experiences, by pursuing a doctoral degree. He was offered an opportunity to attend Mississippi State University for a PhD in Sociology. He packed up the family and moved to Starkville, MS where he earned his doctorate in 1970, becoming Dr. George M. Hess. Dad often relayed an anecdotal story of a time when his home phone would ring, and the caller would ask for Dr. Hess – the medical doctor in Hammond, LA. It was always a source of laughter. After graduation he took a position as an instructor of Sociology at Southeastern Louisiana University. Since his service, I’ve come across a number of people who were students in my dad’s class – and they all had wonderful things to say about him. This brings me such comfort and pride. Later in his career there he served as the Department Head for Sociology, Social Welfare, and Criminology. Throughout his time in Hammond – he never forgot his roots….gardening. He was a prolific producer of garden vegetables to friends and family. His corn, tomatoes and cabbage were local legend to many in Watson and Hammond. His efforts for production will carry on long past his time on this Earth as we see now the buds of spring on his planted pecan trees, blueberry bushes, citrus trees and other plants around the house.
My parents both retired in 2000 and went on some glorious trips to see parts of the world with many of their friends from the First United Methodist Church in Hammond. They called themselves the “Tangi Travelers” and had so many wonderful experiences. After retirement, he taught off-campus for a few years and continued with his hobbies. He drove cars for delivery to dealerships, volunteered at the church, and met with his buds at local eating establishments quite regularly. His main “job” was as a volunteer at North Oaks Medical Center – 10 years! He was always proud to help serve in any way he could.
I feel fortunate to have been able to have had so many memorable trips with my dad – vacationing at the Grand Canyon, skiing on the local waterways, a trip to Hawaii, and later in life to Glacier National Park (where he worked as a summer employee through the church) and to Crater Lake National Park. We were planning another vacation with him in Aug. 2018; however, God had other plans for my dad. Since he worked so hard all his life and powered through many things, it does not surprise me he did not realize how ill he was. He passed away peacefully on July 19, 2018. He was a quiet, great, tower of strength – one that could always be counted on and was a humble gracious soul. I thank the Lord he allowed him to be my dad and I am glad he is there with the Lord and my mom now. I will always miss him and will always love him – and as I look out at our garden, I will be reminded of him. I guess the Good Lord desired for some good tomatoes.