The Barbers Hill Distinguished Alumni and Honorary Eagle program was begun in 2009 to recognize former students and individuals who have made a lasting contribution to the district, the community, and society as a whole.
Each year, a Distinguished Alumnus and an Honorary Eagle are selected based upon character traits of leadership and service, with the nominee’s personal and professional successes being an additional factor considered. Examples include:
- Active participation in community, state, or national activities
- Evidence of a lasting contribution to an organization, business, or society in general
- Exhibited leadership ability
- Distinction in personal and professional life
- Distinguished Alumni candidates must be a graduate from Barbers Hill Classes 1929 - 1990.
An Honorary Eagle is someone who is not a Barbers Hill graduate but who has had a lasting and profound effect on Barbers Hill, its students, and its community through involvement, leadership and support.
- 2019 Distinguished Alumnus - Paul Williams
- 2019 Honorary Eagle - Nathan Watkins
- 2018 Distinguished Alumnus - Dennis "Jabo" Leonard
- 2018 Honorary Eagle - Benny May
- 2017 Distinguished Alumnus - Joe Crumpler
- 2017 Honorary Eagle - Marilyn Kingman
- 2016 Distinguished Alumnus - Tony Sims
- 2016 Honorary Eagle - Henry Adair
- 2015 Distinguished Alumnus - Curt Ball
- 2015 Honorary Eagle - J. Justin Jenson
Paul Williams, Distinguished Alumnus 2019
Class of 1955
One of Paul Williams’ earliest memories of Barbers Hill is of riding his tricycle almost a mile to visit a friendly neighbor named Winfree, who taught young Paul to fish.
Today, nearly 80 years later, a choke still rises in Williams’ throat as he describes the community he has called home all these years.
“They gave me the blue shot a long time ago,” he said. “And it still runs in my veins.”
Born in 1936 to a descendant of Amos Barber, Williams attended Barbers Hill all twelve of his public school years.
His family owned a feed store in Mont Belvieu, though they lived in the town called Mobey, near Cedar Bayou, when he was born. Barbers Hill Superintendent J. Justin Jensen welcomed Paul as a first-grade student, though, and by mid-term that year, their family had moved back to their roots in Barbers Hill. It was the first home Paul lived in that had hot water and electricity.
Some of his fondest school memories include teacher J.B. Gill, who taught math at Barbers Hill (and later became the first mayor of Mont Belvieu). Another favorite was Mrs. Green, who taught Geography so well that Paul could draw a world map and correctly place more than 200 points by the time he completed her class.
But Paul’s favorite memories were played out in the small, grassy football field at Eagle Stadium, where he earned All-District football titles for 3 years, served as Team Captain, and played on the very first Regional Champion team in 1954 under Coach Lloyd Kelley.
“We were taught that losing wasn’t an option,” said Williams. “We had to hang in there until we won!”
Paul also participated in the early days of Barbers Hill Theatre, and he was elected both Junior Class and Senior Class President, as well as being named Best All-Around Senior for the Class of 1955.
He later earned an Associate’s Degree at Lee Junior College and served his country in the National Guard.
“Our work habits, school training, and sports were a big plus in army training,” Williams said.
He later became one of the youngest Justices of the Peace to serve Chambers County, a role he held for more than 30 years. In that role, Williams was a major contributor to the first-ever Justice of the Peace Handbook in Texas in the mid-20th century..
Besides his public service, Williams was instrumental in the incorporation of the City of Mont Belvieu, and he was a participant in business ventures that included the development of Cherry Point and Fisher’s Landing subdivisions, as well as McLeod Park.
Paul married Susie Krigar Williams in 1977, and the couple made their home on the Hill for 40 years before her passing. Their children, Allen Ueckert and Susan Williams Fregia, are Barbers Hill Eagles, and many of their grandchildren and great-grandchildren currently attend, are employed at, or graduated from the Hill.
Williams is a founding member of the Outreach Church of Christ in Mont Belvieu, a lifetime member of the Texas Justices of the Peace and Constables Association, and the West Chambers County Chamber of Commerce, and he has also served on the Barbers Hill Sports Hall of Honor and the Barbers Hill Scholarship Association.
Paul still attends athletic events at Barbers Hill throughout the year, and “every now and then,” he smiled and said, “I still have lunch with my high school English teacher, Mrs.Gill.”
Honorary Eagle 2019
Mont Belvieu City Manager Nathan Watkins, 36, spent half his public school career at Barbers Hill ISD, and those years made a strong impact on the Navy veteran.
Born in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, Watkins moved to Barbers Hill as a sixth-grader and attended through his junior year, earning recognition in football, baseball, and track. When his dad’s work required that they move again his senior year, he maintained friendships he had made on the Hill.
“Even after I moved away, if someone asked me where I was from, I’d say Mont Belvieu,” said Watkins. “I always knew I’d make my way back here.”
After high school graduation, Watkins entered the U.S. Navy where he served six years, attaining the rank of Captain and serving on a Special Boat Team. But even that achievement had roots in Barbers Hill, he said.
“I remember writing a report in Coach Jamey Horn’s class about naval special warfare,” he said. “And I eventually became part of a Navy Specialist team.
“I believe the values and rigorous academic and athletic training I received at Barbers Hill helped prepare me to be successful in the Navy.”
Watkins later earned a Bachelor’s degree with honors in Political Science from University of Houston, a Master’s degree in Public Administration, and a Certificate of Public Leadership from Harvard.
He returned to the Barbers Hill area with his wife Jessica (McKeown), a Barbers Hill alum, and they have two daughters, Hadley and Harlow, who are current Barbers Hill students.
Watkins has worked at the City of Mont Belvieu since 2010. He now serves as City Manager and recently was named a Baytown Sun “Top 20 Under 40.” With Watkins’ leadership, the city is rising to meet the many challenges posed by exponential growth and development, and he stands as an important liaison between the city and school district.
“Mont Belvieu and Barbers Hill have a great partnership,” said Watkins. “We are very strong together, and when we operate as a team, the residents benefit.”
With more than 150 homes constructed annually in the area, the city is welcoming on average more than 500 new residents each year. Some of the developments Watkins is coordinating along with other city leaders include a state-of-the-art internet service for city residents known as MB Link, multiple road expansions, and improvements to water and sewer services.
The city also works diligently to attract and encourage new businesses to build locally, including the HEB grocery store, popular restaurants, and additional consumer and medical services.
“My goal is to continue the culture and traditions we’ve built as a smaller town,” said Watkins. “Our focus on family and community really set us apart, and I want to continue building on the excellent brand that is Barbers Hill and Mont Belvieu.”
Dennis “Jabo” Leonard was born appropriately on a Friday night, while a home football game unfolded at Barbers Hill’s Eagle Stadium. So like the true BH Eagle his dad was, he announced Jabo’s birth over the stadium intercom. And the crowd applauded.
It was the first time Jabo’s name was heard in Eagle Stadium, and the forerunner of many more.
Eighteen years later, Jabo graduated in the Barbers Hill Class of 1972 as president of his senior class, a member of the National Honor Society, starting Quarterback and Placekicker titles for 3 years, a national record-holder for 8 touchdown passes in one football game, All-District and All-State titles in football, and district and state titles in basketball, tennis, and golf.
His four-year career at Lamar University was equally as storied, with titles of NCAA National Leader for Field Goal percentage in 1974, All-Southland Conference team, Most Field Goals in a Year and in a Career, and “Best Team Player.”
Today, Jabo is best known and loved as a retired science teacher from Middle School North, and a Cross Country Track coach who brought district and state titles to Barbers Hill during his tenure.
“Athletics is an opportunity for the town to come together,” said Leonard. “We’re not Methodist or Catholic or Baptist when we’re cheering for our kids. We’re all Eagles, and we’re all singing from the same page.”
He has also served as a Councilman for the City of Mont Belvieu, and on multiple planning committees for the city.
“BHISD is family, and no other district has that.” -Jabo Leonard
In the mid-1990s, Barbers Hill High School was outgrowing its 1967 campus. The district’s school board wanted to keep any new schools along Eagle Drive, but the adjacent landowners had told BH officials no.
Benny May, a new, young Board member, had worked for the ranching family years before, though, and felt he may be able to help. He and then-finance director John Koonce visited the Benes family, sitting at their kitchen table and listening to the couple’s desire to keep agriculture as an important part of the district’s future. Benny assured them that focus would not be forgotten, and a deal was struck.
The current BHHS and its surrounding 100 acres now sit on the Benes property, with state of the art Agriculture facilities, arena, and barn, in addition to baseball and softball fields,tennis courts, an indoor practice facility, and the Goss Library.
The land purchase was just one of the ways Benny May helped shape Barbers Hill ISD during his 22 years of service on the board of trustees, and 10 years on the statewide TASB Board.
Although he grew up in Baytown, it took only one day of substitute teaching as a young adult in Barbers Hill to make a lifelong impression.
“This district was like none I had ever seen,” said Benny. “I knew then that I wanted to become part of this community and school district.”
In his 22 years of board service, the McNeese graduate and ExxonMobil first line supervisor has also helped coordinate the Gulf Coast Classic basketball tournament for as many years, helped establish the “BH 100 Club” for Youth Project Show, offered his own barn for Ag students to house animals, and mentored for 8 years.
“There’s only one Barbers Hill.” -Benny May
Barbers Hill Class of 1955 graduate Joe Crumpler was born on the Hill in 1937, in a small house at the corner of Sun Oil Road and Hwy 146. It’s not the only residence he’s held in his almost 80 years, but the Hill is the place he will always call home.
As a young boy, Joe’s walk to school with his sister, Jane (BHHS Class of 1952), was almost two miles. Even though Joe received a new pair of shoes every Christmas, he most often chose to go to school barefoot, like most of his friends.
“I remember that long walk to school in the 1940s,” said Crumpler. “There was a German concentration camp nearby, and we would see trucks driving the prisoners in the mornings to the rice fields to work.
“My sister would tell me, ‘Don’t look at them, Joe, just keep walking.’ But I had to take a peek. And they would give me a little wave, and I would wave back.”
In high school, Crumpler played on the Undefeated Regional Champion football team of 1954, led by then-new head coach Lloyd Kelley. Kelley taught the boys to reach for excellence, and in many ways set the tradition of winning that continues today.
“We never lost,” Crumpler recalled. “We just ran out of time.”
As a high school student, Crumpler also ran a 15-mile paper route through Mont Belvieu that began as soon as he was finished football practice and ended after dark. He learned what the community was like during those long hours on his bicycle.
“It was hot outside, and people would leave me cold drinks on their porch,” Crumpler said. “And sometimes, on a long road of deliveries, a resident would meet me at the beginning of the road, take a handful of papers, and make that street’s deliveries for me, so I could get home sooner and start doing my homework,” he said.
In many ways, Barbers Hill is much the same as it was in those days, only better, he said.
“The churches and schools and community would work together to build good character in the young people, and I believe it’s the same experience today. In any endeavor, Barbers Hill is expected to succeed. We Can, We Will, We Did. Okay, Mrs. Gill?” Crumpler chuckled.
Elizabeth Gill, the creator of Barbers Hill’s enduring “We Can, We Will” slogan, was Crumpler’s English teacher, and one of his favorites from his 12 years of education on the Hill.
“She was kind, and tried to teach us about Macbeth. And she was pretty!” he laughed.
Crumpler graduated in 1955 and attended Lee College before enlisting in the National Guard for six years, where he rose to the rank of Platoon Sergeant. After discharge, a blind date with a pretty girl from Baytown led to the marriage of Joe and Joann Crumpler in July of 1967. The two celebrated their 60th wedding anniversary this summer.
They are the proud parents of son Joe Dwayne Crumpler, a hydro-geologist in Washington state, and daughter Jolayne Crumpler, an honors graduate from Lee College and champion of the challenges of cerebral palsy. They also have two grandchildren, Travis, a recent Eagle Scout, and Lydia, an athlete.
Crumpler worked for 35 years for CenterPoint Energy, primarily serving as an Engineering Supervisor of three service centers before his retirement in 1992.
During this time, he found many ways to serve the people of Texas, Chambers County, and Barbers Hill. Among those are leadership positions on the City of Baytown Electrical Board, the Baytown Area Community Long Range Planning Commission, the Baytown Rehabilitation Board of Directors, Junior Achievement program, and the Gulf Coast Private Industry Council, appointed by Texas Governors William Clemens, Jr., Ann Richards, and George W. Bush.
Locally, Crumpler has served as Chairman of the Chambers County Appraisal District for 33 years, was a founding member of the Barbers Hill Homecoming and Scholarship Association, and served on Barbers Hill Bond Committees, and the Barbers Hill Sports Hall of Honor.
“Rare is a Barbers Hill contest that you don’t see Joe Crumpler and his family present,” said Barbers Hill Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole. “Joe is an Eagle through and through, and I could not ask for a more staunch supporter of our students or our district.”
One of Crumpler’s favorite traditions of Barbers Hill is the song “I’m So Glad I Go to Barbers Hill.” Even today, he stays until the conclusion of every football game so that he can stand and sing with the students.
“It pulls us together,” he said, “and teaches a new generation to be proud of where they’re from.”
Retired Barbers Hill teacher Marilyn Kingman is more than a volunteer at Barbers Hill High School. She is a daily source of encouragement to students and staff, whether it is making the coffee in the teachers lounge, or helping a struggling student re-learn the principles of algebra and geometry.
To Marilyn, it is fulfilling a mission she’s known was hers since she was 10 years old.
“When I was in the fifth grade, I had a teacher who was absolutely wonderful,” she recalls. “She let every kid know that they were special, and that they could accomplish things. I decided then that I wanted to be a teacher.”
Born in 1940 to parents in Wichita, Kansas, Kingman attended Pittsburg (KS) State Teachers College, graduating in 1962 with a Bachelor’s degree in Mathematics and Physical Education. She later attended Oklahoma State University to receive her Master’s degree in Education.
Kingman married her husband of 51 years, Mike Kingman, and the two have a son, Dr. Douglas Kingman, who holds a Ph.D. from Purdue University in Agricultural Systems Management, and who currently teaches at Texas A&M University. They have four grandchildren.
Kingman taught in nearby school districts before applying for a position at Barbers Hill in 1996.
“I had the attitude that Barbers Hill was full of rich people,” Kingman laughed. “But when I was a new teacher, they loaded us all on a bus, and drove us around to see where our students live. I was shocked. There were students whose families struggle to provide lunch money. Our children have real struggles, and challenges. I learned that Barbers Hill wasn’t full of rich people. It was full of hard-working people.”
After 37 collective years in the classroom, a fight against breast cancer caused Kingman to retire in 2006. But just a few years later, she asked to return to BHHS as a tutor, and has been helping our students to pass state-mandated tests, and to graduate, ever since.
“Students who come to me already feel like a failure,” said Kingman. “So that’s my first job. I always give them something they can be successful with. That gives me an opportunity to say, ‘You see, you CAN do it. You just did it! Now let’s do another one.”
In 2015, Kingman was selected by the Texas State Board of Education as a Hero for Children, honored for her volunteer efforts benefitting the students of the greater Houston area.
“Marilyn gives our profession of education a good name with her tireless passion and commitment to meeting the needs of our students,” said Barbers Hill Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole. “Marilyn retired after nine years with our district, but her efforts and dedication to our school and students has never ceased, and is unwavering.”
Marilyn’s commitment has extended to the Ag department as well, where she worked so faithfully with one of their donkeys that when the jenny was bred, the foal was affectionately named Marilyn. The pair recognize her truck when she pulls up to the Ag Barn, and run braying to her for their inevitable treat.
Her word to teachers, as both a former teacher and a volunteer tutor, is this: “Know that every child is the best that the parent has. They send their very best to school. So let’s get to teaching them.”
Tony Sims, Barbers Hill’s Distinguished Alumnus 2016, is the current Chambers County Auditor, a leadership coach, and successful business owner. A graduate of the Class of 1983, Tony is also a 7th generation Texan and Barbers Hill native whose family tree includes Amos Barber. He is married to Lori Sims.
“When I think of Tony Sims, two things come immediately to mind,” said BHISD Board member George Barrera. “Strong leadership, and the great feeling that a person like him is watching out for my tax dollars. To stand out as a strong leader in a county blessed with many strong leaders is really all that needs to be said, but added to that, he bleeds BLUE!”
One of Tony’s favorite classes at BH in the 1980s was Auto Mechanics, under teacher John Butler. “He was passionate about teaching and about Auto Mechanics,” said Sims. “I drove a 1968 Mustang during my school years, and this education was priceless!” Tony’s first job (through the Distributive Education class) was at the old Hathaway’s grocery store in Baytown. He supplemented his income by driving tractors in the local rice fields, and later got his first post-high school job using his auto mechanics education working for a pipeline contractor.
Over the next 20 years, Sims worked his way up in the refinery construction industry from laborer to construction manager, before going into business with his father. In 1999 his company was recognized as the Small Business of the Year in Chambers County. Today he owns Coastal Refractory Services, Inc., a quality management consulting firm.
Sims attended Sam Houston State University and Rice University Jones Graduate School of Management, and in 2014 became a Certified Public Manager. He has served as an elected and appointed county official since 2010.
Sims’ public service includes three years as County Treasurer (elected), and his current service as County Auditor, to which he was appointed in 2013 by District Judges Randy McDonald and Chap Cain. Sims has held positions leading the Chambers County Republican Party, and has served on the WCCCC Board of Directors, as a Fall Fest volunteer, Pilot Club volunteer, Junior Achievement teacher at MSS, and graduate of the Leadership Southeast Texas program.
“Whether it be orchestrating leadership seminars, or fiscal management of county monies, Tony Sims is always striving to be part of the solution,” said BH Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole. “His leadership has allowed BHISD to receive over $5 million through the management of school resources.”
As a county official, Sims has especially served BHISD and neighboring districts through his work on the Permanent School Fund Committee, which oversees County School Land in Ozona, Texas. Revenues from this land are distributed to Chambers County school districts annually, resulting in millions of dollars in revenue benefiting students in our county.
As a certified speaker, coach and mentor with the John Maxwell Team, Sims has led leadership training courses for thousands of individuals from nearly every state and many nations, as well as for Barbers Hill students.
“Everything rises and falls on leadership,” said Sims, “and I enjoy helping develop our leaders of the future!”
BHISD’s 2016 Honorary Eagle Henry Adair has a lifelong tradition of public service to education and to the community. He was born in Hunt County, Texas, in 1940 on a 40-acre cotton farm. He moved to Baytown as a youth and graduated from Robert E. Lee High School in 1959.
As a young high school graduate, Adair hitchhiked to Sam Houston State University and walked on to the football team. He lettered three years and was named to the All-Conference team in 1961. Adair graduated from SHSU in 1963, with a B.S. degree in Physical Education and Industrial Arts.
Adair’s primary area of business has been the storage, transport, and trading of hydrocarbons. He is the co-founder of Moss Bluff Storage Facility, and a builder and owner of pipelines.
“Henry Adair may be a Gander, but we claim him all the same!” said BHISD Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole. “Henry has served this community and school district through more than a dozen boards and elected positions. There are few folks that I can call on at any time, regardless of the situation, and know that help will be there. But Henry is one of those people.”
Henry moved his family to Barbers Hill in 1981 so his youngest daughter Alison could attend and graduate from Barbers Hill schools. She is a BH Eagle of the Class of 1993. Adair’s wife is Cynthia, and together they have 4 daughters, Jill, Alison, Heidi, and Angela.
A member of the BHISD School Board for 9 years, from 1987-1995 (five of those years as Board President), Adair served our district through the turbulent financial times when “Robin Hood” laws were initiated. In spite of the fact that millions of taxpayer revenues were suddenly removed from Barbers Hill by the state, under Adair’s skillful leadership, Barbers Hill remained strong.
Former Superintendent Al Dennis said of Adair in 2007, “The most important asset a man can have is to live his life in the promotion and betterment of others. Henry Adair exemplifies this. As a Board member, he promoted students and teachers through a simple pat on the back or seeking scholarships for students in need. He sought support from business and industries for “extras” for BHISD, and spent untold hours in this endeavor. He is an unselfish and outstanding supporter and leader in Barbers Hill.”
Adair was awarded the 2004 Reed Service Award by the SHSU Alumni Association, The Person of the Year recognition by the BH Homecoming and Scholarship Association in 2007, and the Baytown Sun “Unsung Heroes” Award in 2008.
Henry’s service to our district and community includes:
Member & President, BHISD School Board 1987 - 1995
Board of Directors, Barbers Hill Sports Hall of Honor
Committee Chair, Barbers Hill Veterans Memorial of Mont Belvieu
President, Sam Houston State University Alumni Association
President, Sam Houston State University Former Letterman Association
Board of Directors, Chambers-Liberty Navigation District
Chambers County Appraisal Board (currently serving a second term)
First President of the West Chambers County Chamber of Commerce Board of Directors
Beach City Council member, 2 terms
Chairman, Trinity Valley Exposition
Vice President, Mont Belvieu State Bank
Vice President, Baytown/West Chambers County Economic Development Foundation
Barbers Hill Class of 1942 Salutatorian Henry Curtis “Curt” Ball has represented our school district with honor throughout his 90 years. Mr. Ball is a decorated veteran of World War 2, and his career as a mechanical engineer with ExxonMobil for 36 years was equally filled with state and national awards, along with educational and civic recognitions.
“It is absolutely amazing what Curt Ball has accomplished in a lifetime of service and achievement,” said Superintendent Dr. Greg Poole. “Barbers Hill ISD is so proud to claim Curt and Mary Ball as graduates, and I’m likewise proud to claim them as friends.”
Married for 68 years to fellow Barbers Hill graduate Marty Spillers, Class of 1945, Curt says that his greatest accomplishment in life by far was convincing Marty to marry him. After that, he feels that the professional awards which are most meaningful to him are the ones “received because of true accomplishments toward making life better for people.”
In the 1930s, Barbers Hill coach and science teacher Manton Ellis guided Mr. Ball as a young teen toward what would become a successful career as a mechanical engineer.
“Coach Ellis helped me to discover that it was very satisfying to find the reason for things,” said Mr. Ball. “I was very curious about how things worked. He was a good teacher, and a good coach. He taught us to play hard but honest, and to never quit.”
Being a part of the 1940 and 1941 Regional Champion football teams (the highest our district could achieve at the time) was a highlight of his high school years. Curt graduated at age 16 and wanted to join his two brothers in the military during World War 2, but his parents required a year of college first. He entered Texas A&M, completed his first year, then volunteered for the Army infantry in 1943.
“I was suited up and ready to go to Europe when a change of orders came in, and I was shipped to the Pacific theater instead,” said Mr. Ball.
He served there until he was severely injured in close combat in the Battle of Okinawa. He was honorably discharged at the rank of Sergeant, having earned a Purple Heart and Bronze Star.
Curt returned to Texas A&M, he and Marty married, and he completed his Bachelor’s degree in 1949. At A&M, Mr. Ball was a member of the Scholarship Honor Society and the Tau Beta Pi Engineering Scholarship Association, graduating in the top 20% of his class. He and Marty were honored by the university in August this year as Endowed Century Club donors.
Mr. Ball was employed at ExxonMobil for 36 years, where he worked in both technical and supervisory positions, retiring in 1986 as an Engineering Associate. During his time with ExxonMobil, he represented the company in national societies such as the American Petroleum Institute, the American Society of Mechanical Engineers, the American National Standards Institute, and the Board of Boiler Rules for the Texas Dept. of Labor and Standards. He earned numerous recognitions in these national and state organizations for his work in the field of piping standards and refinery equipment safety and design.
Following his retirement, Mr. Ball formed a Quality Assurance/Quality Control business with national and global clients. His work took him to regions of western Europe, Scandinavia, and Romania, as well as Asia.
In the midst of a successful career, Curt served on numerous civic boards for the City of Baytown, Goose Creek CISD, Baytown Chamber of Commerce, and Boy Scouts. He has been a member of Memorial Baptist Church for 65 years, and a deacon and Sunday School teacher for many of those years. He and Marty were privileged to be part of the vision of local Southern Baptists to acquire and develop Lake Tomahawk Baptist Encampment, serving as original signers for the note, and continuing as donors since. In 2011, they received the President’s Award from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, NC, for their outstanding service throughout the years.
Curt and Marty reside in Baytown and are the parents of two daughters: Robin Ball Tomkins (deceased) and Laurie Ball Chilelli, and a son, Joel Ball. They have five grandchildren and are awaiting their first great grandchild this year.
Barbers Hill ISD Superintendent 1932-1955
Jesse Justin Jenson served as the second and the longest-acting superintendent in the history of Barbers Hill ISD. Born in 1897 in Cranfils Gap, Texas, near Waco, Jenson was the son of a farming family of Scandinavian origin. He graduated from Clifton Academy in nearby Clifton, Texas, and joined the military to serve in World War I, but the war ended shortly after his enlistment. He returned to Texas and married Helen Rohne, and the couple had three children: Eugene, Myron, and Junelle, all eventual graduates of Barbers Hill in the Classes of 1937, 1941, and 1947, respectively.
“Daddy was an unsuccessful farmer, so to make ends meet, he taught at three small schools near our home,” said Junelle Jenson Kubik.
The field of education seemed a better fit for Jenson, so he attended Luther College in Iowa for one year, then finished his formal education on the Texas Gulf Coast, in one of the first graduating classes of the fledgling University of Houston. Following his graduation, Jenson served from 1929-31 as superintendent in the Crosby-Highlands school district.
Jenson came to Barbers Hill as superintendent in 1932, just one year after the high school had been officially classified by the State Dept. of Education. Within a few short years under Jenson’s leadership, the high school became fully accredited for the first time and graduates could enter college with a BHHS diploma.
From early in his career, Jenson strove to coordinate school and community activities, said Kubik, such as keeping Wednesday evenings free of school events to allow local church services to continue without school conflict. He was an avid photographer, and owned one of the only cameras in the region. Jenson used his hobby to photograph the students, staff, activities, and facilities of Barbers Hill ISD, providing one of the earliest, and in many cases the only, visual record of the district beginning in 1932. He also was known to mow the grass, drive the school bus, host student piano lessons at his home, and he even began a photography club for students in the 1930s.
In later years, Jenson opened the school on Saturdays for movie times for families, and during hurricane threats, the schools were opened as storm shelters. Jenson’s goal, said Kubik, was to build pride and a sense of ownership in the Barbers Hill schools, with the high school serving as the heart of the community.
Jenson’s greatest accomplishment, according to Ms. Jenson-Kubik, was obtaining state accreditation for Barbers Hill High School, which was achieved in the mid-1930s. A news article reported that through Jenson’s efforts, BHHS went from offering only 5 course credits to more than 17 course credits, with the addition of classes such as Algebra, bookkeeping, commercial arithmetic, plane geometry, and Spanish, among others. At the time, it was one of the largest jumps in credits ever achieved in one year by a high school.
To help establish this level of excellence, Jenson was reported to volunteer to drive teachers to classes at the University of Houston in order to help them achieve their certification, and he traveled to colleges such as East Texas Baptist College to recruit new graduates.
The oil boom that occurred in Barbers Hill in the late 1920s spurred very quick growth in the district during Jenson’s early years. By the time Barbers Hill was accredited in the 1930s, there were over 500 students in the district. State appropriations were uncertain each year, but Jenson assured the public that the district would operate on a nine-month schedule and was financially sound enough to fund that, with nearly $5000 in a fund balance and solid tax revenues, regardless of the state’s input. In fact, in the summers of 1933 and 1935, one news article reported, the elementary buildings were remodeled and furnished at a cost of $12,000, and in 1938, a vocational education building was constructed and furnished at a similar cost. No bond issues were necessary for any of these projects, as they were funded by cash on hand.
Jenson established an early taste for academic competition and rigor in Barbers Hill ISD. In the 1940s, students competed in the annual Chambers County Literary Meet, with 27 students earning awards.
“We have the idea of encouraging our pupils to take part in the literary contests in the Interscholastic League,” said Superintendent Jenson in a newspaper article. “This is the first year that Barbers Hill has won the literary contests over their competitors, Winnie and Anahuac.”
According to the news story, the trophies and medals for BH students winning those awards were made possible through appropriations by the then-current school board.
“Mr. Jenson was a very kind man,” said Marty Spillers Ball, whose entire school career was spent under Supt. Jenson’s leadership until her graduation in 1945. “On one hand, he and his family were ordinary people, but on the other hand, they set the standard for the whole district.”
Curt Ball, BH Class of 1942, remembered Jenson as well.
“He was a good leader,” said Ball. “He chose his principals well, and he had good requirements that teachers and students had to meet. And he went about it in a gentlemanly fashion.
“He picked good people he could rely on to take care of the details he could not personally do. And I think that’s still going on.”
Mrs. Elizabeth Gill, a long-time educator in BHISD, said, “My husband and I were seniors at ETBC in Marshall in the spring of 1949. I wrote letters to schools inquiring about employment. Mr. Jenson came to Marshall and interviewed us in my dorm the week before we got married. He hired us to come to Barbers Hill, which we had never seen.
“Mr. and Mrs. Jenson were known for their frugality and down-to-earth goodness. He was more tolerant than most people about other races. We observed San Jacinto Day as a holiday, and I remember in 1953 that we had a picnic down on County Lane Road where Mr. Jenson barbequed rabbits for the faculty. We had only about 25 faculty members in grades 1-8,” said Mrs. Gill.
J. Justin Jenson served the students and families of Barbers Hill for 23 years, from 1932 to 1955. He passed away in 1958, just 3 years after retiring from Barbers Hill.
Jenson carried the district of Barbers Hill through the Depression era, World War 2, gas and food rationing, war bond stamps, during the days of limited transportation and only one telephone to serve the entire district. In spite of the cultural odds, Supt. Jenson helped lay a foundation of educational excellence, sound facilities, and community involvement in Barbers Hill Independent School District that still continues today.
In 2015, we name J. Justin Jenson posthumously as a Barbers Hill Honorary Eagle. May we continue the rich tradition of learning and the deep value of community that he wisely shaped during the first two decades of this great district.
Class of 1959
Class of 1968
Class of 1977
Class of 1959
Class of 1974
Class of 1956
Class of 1966
Class of 1957
Class of 1965
Class of 1943
M. Q. Bradford