BCHC Citizen of Note: James Leslie Luther Sr.

 
The Burnet County Historical Commission will honor seven individuals for their contributions to Burnet County, at a Citizens of Note reception Tuesday, July 2 at 11 a.m. at the Burnet County AgriLife Extension Office, 607 North Vandeveer, Burnet. 
The community is invited to this special event and encouraged to read each of the seven biographies in The Highlander and at highlandernews.com!

Burnet County Historical Commission

Citizen of Note

James Leslie Luther Sr.

by Cheryl Henderson and Judy Lively

*Direct quotes and facts in this biography are based on a primary source interview recorded by Judy Lively and Cheryl Henderson on Nov. 17, 2017 at the Luther Ranch.

James Leslie Luther Sr. was an optimist whose life exemplified service to others. Jim willingly accepted challenges throughout his lifetime and did so with an uncanny sense of humor. Jim Luther Sr. is without doubt a Citizen of Note.

Responding to challenge began early for Jim Luther. He was born in 1928 during the Depression and the son of a postal clerk. He grew up in the 1930's in Fort Worth, Texas where as a young man, he delivered newspapers, won a city-wide yo-yo contest, and was named Texas Middleweight Golden Glove boxing champion.

When Jim was 17, he enlisted in the U.S. Navy. Because of his experience as a lifeguard, Jim volunteered to be trained as a Navy Frogman, which later became known as the Navy Seals. According to Jim, training consisted of five miles of running before breakfast and swimming thirty to forty yards after breakfast.

Jim could hold his breath three to four minutes underwater, and he recalled that he often would lie on the bottom of the ocean because "if you were four or five feet deep, the bullets wouldn't kill ya!" *

The challenges for Jim Luther kept coming. He told of a storm that cut off the main engine of their ship, the USS Mt. McKinley, and caused loss of fuel. Jim and another fellow Frogman made several successful dives with shafts of broken wood to plug up the holes in the fuel tank.

After the Navy, Jim Luther Sr. accepted more challenges and began a long line of projects modernizing his Burnet community through political friendships and government grants during the next five decades. Working first as a lineman for Southwestern Bell Telephone Company, Jim eventually became a communications engineer.

He later became head of sales of the NW division of SW Bell in Fort Worth. In 1954, Jim and another engineer accepted the challenge of buying the telephone company in Burnet. He went on to expand and modernize the telephone system in central Texas, and at one time owned between fifteen and twenty telephone companies. With this successful expansion, Jim became friends with politicians like Congressman Jake Pickle, Governor John Connally, and President Lyndon Johnson.

The telephone expansion led into the late 1960's and early 70's when Luther began to shape Burnet by buying the Chevrolet/Oldsmobile dealership in 1969. Jim Luther served as the chairman of the Board of Directors of the Shepperd Hospital. He was able to obtain government funding for a new annex to the original hospital.

He helped sell stock and obtained a matching government grant to build the Highlander Inn during the mid 60's. He produced a movie for Highland Lakes Tourism Association which was distributed all over the United States to advertise the Highland Lakes in Texas.

Still looking for new challenges, Luther bought the local theater and leased and managed Longhorn Caverns. To add to his many accomplishments, Jim Luther was named to the Aeronautics Board and later as chairman, and in 1970 issued the first permit to Southwest Airlines.

In 1993 Jim received a letter from Herb Kelleher, the Southwest Airlines CEO, which said, "Southwest has come a long way since 1971, but I will never forget that you gave us our start." Later, Luther obtained government funding to build Kate Craddock Field which would open as Burnet Municipal Airport in 1985. Many other ventures benefitting Burnet County included the Delaware Springs Golf Course, the Burnet County Fairgrounds, and the Burnet County Industrial Complex.

In 1980, his ranch property north of Burnet presented another challenge for him. There was profit to be made in raising ostriches and emus, so naturally he had to "give it a go." To round off his many accomplishments, Jim started Stitch America, an embroidery company (now known as Stitch America Plus). To top it off, Luther became director of the Hill Country Crime Stoppers.

James Luther Sr. continued to accept challenges throughout his lifetime in his pursuit of service to his community. Through it all, he maintained his sense of humor.

Jim was once asked, "How many people work at your place?"

Mr. Luther answered, "About half of 'em!"

When sharing stories of the devastation of the 1973 tornado, Jim remembered losing his body shop and the storm spreading his clothes all through the town to which he responded, "If you find them and they fit, wear 'em!"

On another occasion while announcing the exciting news regarding the modernization of the telephone company in Burnet and no more party lines, a woman stood up at the telephone meeting and emphatically lamented, "I want you to know, Mr. Luther, that you have ruined my social life!" *

Yes, a sense of humor was always part of Luther's outlook on life. But perhaps Jim Luther Sr.'s most profound contribution to his community was his optimistic way of looking at the future. Even at age 89 while concluding the 2017 interview and asked for final thoughts, his words were, "Keep working together!" *

As a community of citizens always seeking to solve problems, we would be wise to follow that advice from James Leslie Luther Sr. – a true Citizen of Note.

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