COLUMBIA — In 1952, Jerry Hunter dropped out of high school to enlist in the Army, serving in Korea during its reconstruction.
“He loved the Army,” his wife, Mary Hunter, said. “He loved the fact that it was disciplined.”
He later served three tours in Vietnam. In his first tour, he was an adviser. He finished his third tour as a first sergeant in the Green Berets, helping to identify bodies and send letters of condolence to parents.
One day, Mr. Hunter was riding in a jeep with three other servicemen when they ran over a mine. When he woke up, he was lying in a rice paddy. The radio operator he had been riding with was killed.
“When he got back, he said, ‘I can’t do that again’, so he retired,” his wife said.
Jerry Winston Hunter Sr., of Harrisburg, died Wednesday, Aug. 15, 2012, of lung cancer. He was 77.
It was not the first time he had faced cancer. In 1991, he was diagnosed with prostate cancer, which took 37 radiation treatments to beat.
Mr. Hunter was born on Nov. 2, 1934, in Damsel, a town that was submerged a few years later when a dam was built nearby. His father was a construction worker, and his mother took in ironing and washing, heating her iron on a wood-burning stove because their house had no electricity.
“The Army was a chance to get out of what was not a comfortable childhood,” his wife said.
Mr. Hunter developed a love of structure and discipline while in the Army. In the raising of his children, he was careful to teach them the principles of “structure, love and respect,” Mary Hunter said.
In 1980, Mr. Hunter began a career in the Boone County Sheriff’s Department, where the disciplined environment appealed to him. He retired in 1997.
After a day’s work as deputy sheriff, Mr. Hunter would change into bib overalls and boots to work on his farm, which he bought in 1983. He loved running a farm — his lifelong dream — but the one he got wasn’t as big as he wished. Covering only 10 acres, it was too small to support cattle. But Mr. Hunter found room for rabbits, chickens, ducks, geese, guineas, pygmy goats and four-horned sheep. He was a “fanatic” about breeding his animals so that their coats were a variety of colors, Mary Hunter said.
Mr. Hunter met his wife on a blind date. Before the date, he called to tell her that he worked for the sheriff and that he was a Southern Baptist and offered to give her references.
“I didn’t go on blind dates, but I was never offered references before,” she said. She and Mr. Hunter married in 1982.
Mr. Hunter wasn’t very religious as a young man, but he became a passionate Christian after his experience in Vietnam. One of his favorite sayings was, “there’s nothing today that the Lord and I can’t get through together.”
“He tried to do everything in a way that would please God,” Mary Hunter said.
After his daughter, Dianna, died of cancer in 2006, Mr. Hunter began volunteering for the International Order of Rainbow Girls in Columbia. As a “dad adviser,” he supported young women by helping them with their problems and attending their sports activities.
“They were the daughter he lost. He just blossomed,” Mary Hunter said.
Mr. Hunter is survived by his wife, Mary Paula Hunter; two sons, Rob Kent of Columbia and J.D. Hunter and his wife, Melanie, of Osage Beach; three grandsons, Tyler and Zachary Hunter, both of Osage Beach, and Jacob Hunter of Fort Worth, Texas; three brothers-in-law, Chuck Boone and his wife, Corky, Jim Boone and his wife, Peggy, and Bob Boone; and several nieces and nephews.
His daughter, Dianna Downing, and three brothers, J. Bill, Bobby Joe and Johnnie Hunter, died earlier.
Visitation will be held from 4 to 6 p.m. Sunday at Memorial Funeral Home, 1217 Business Loop 70 W.. Services will be held at 10 a.m. Monday at the funeral home. Interment will follow in Memorial Park Cemetery, 1217 Business Loop W.
Memorial contributions can be made to Columbia Assembly #18 IORG, c/o Mother Advisor, Lynn Klotz, 6761 Southfield Drive, Columbia MO 65201 or Welcome Home, 1206 Range Line St., Columbia MO 65201.
Tributes can be posted at memorialfuneralhomeandcemetery.com.