Serving God and Coca Cola

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Editor’s note: The following article is a reprint from Oct. 8, 2003.

This is the way that he describes himself: “I was born on Coca-Cola Hill, I grew up on Coca-Cola Hill, I married while living on Coca-Cola Hill, and my wife and I lived on Coca-Cola Hill until in 1972 we moved far away — about two miles — across town to Drake Drive.” And that is where they still live.

The name “Hunter” is just so closely associated with Coca-Cola Bottling Company that you already know I am writing about Joe Hunter, who spent forty years in production at the local plant.

Joe was born to Larry and Gladys Hunter. As he tells it, someone came down to the plant and told Larry that his wife was about to give birth to Joe. Larry left, went up to the house, stayed until Joe was born, and then went back to work. That is the pattern of life for the Hunter family — the work ethic was not just taught but it was lived out before the seven children.

School and Work

His earliest recollection of school was a strong dislike of it. He had to walk behind his brother, Bill, who made straight As and did everything just as it should be done.

Joe remembered getting into trouble in the first grade and things just went downhill thereafter. He will have to tell you about what transpired in the boy’s bathroom that brought problems for Joe.

All the children began working at age six in the Coca-Cola Bottling plant. When he was 16 he took over the production at the plant.

He came in from school at about three in the afternoon and worked for about three hours and then he worked all day Saturday. He finished school in 1943, and in 1944 he joined the Navy. These were the war years when everything, including Coca-Cola Syrup was rationed.

Joe left his childhood sweetheart, Polly Moreland, when he went into boot camp.

Boot Camp

Boot Training Camp at Camp Wallace which was located between Houston and Galveston. From there he went to General Detail Camp at Camp Pendleton, Calif. He volunteered for small boats and ended up in the CinCPac boat crew. The next 21 months they were just part of Admiral Nimitz Staff at Pearl Harbor and Guam. For a while he was Stern Hook on Admiral Nimitz’s barge which was a 40 ft. motor boat.

Later he was Coxswain on one of the Captain’s gig which as a 35 ft. motor boat.

Back to Coca-Cola

In May 1946 he received his discharge from the Navy. Polly had waited faithfully (if lonely) for Joe’s return.

June 1, 1946 he and Polly were married. And then it was back to the production of Coca Colas for this area. He loved his work and continued until his retirement in 1984. In 1949 the first of their two sons, Don, was born, and in 1951 the other son, Bob, made his appearance. Now there are three grandchildren, and four great grandchildren, a wonderful family.

The pastor at the Methodist Church was Merlin Merrill, a close friend of Joe and Polly, and he started Joe on his spiritual journey

A Calling

The next years were busy and happy years for this family. However the early 1970s were not good years for Joe. Joe lost both his parents, and the business was not doing good. This was a stressful time in their life. Joe and Polly drew closer to God, and sought out His way for their life. Joe said they received the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

God spoke to Joe in a little quiet voice but it was a request. Joe said that the voice said “I want to use you.” But Joe drug his feet.

He did not immediately follow through with what God has requested of him. About that time a friend, Joe Windham, came by and said that he and Jack Maxey were going to be Methodist Pastors. Of course you must realize that Joe was reared in a strong Presbyterian home, and he married a Baptist girl, and together they joined the Methodist Church. So when Joe Windham told our Joe Hunter the news of his entering the ministry, Joe Hunter said “No way!” These men told Joe that there was a back door called “license to preach” and course of studies which led to local pastors. After a lot of prayer Joe started with them in 1978.

A Career

Joe was appointed to his first church in June 1979. It was the Clay Methodist church seven miles south of Ruston. Joe was a part-time local pastor. He pastored there for three years. He came back to be part-time associate pastor of the local First Methodist Church for three and one half years. The next five and one half years were spent at the Whitehall Methodist Church, the Methodist and Baptist church at Evergreen, and the Methodist and Baptist Church at Colquitt, and finally to the Pleasant Valley Methodist Church where he is in his 10th year.

Joe did his courses of study at St.Paul’s School of Theology in Kansas City, and finished in 1986.

In the Methodist Church when you turn 70 before conference time you must retire. So in 1996 Joe retired, but he didn’t stop preaching.

Still Serving

Officially he is retired full time local pastor, and still serving at the Pleasant Valley Methodist Church. This makes 22 years of pastoring and Joe is still going strong, serving God in a very special way.

Joe is involved in a special ministry sponsored by the Upper Room Ministries that is called “The Walk to Emmaus.” It is a spiritual retreat and a time for a renewal of faith and to help them to become better members in the church where they serve.

Joe has received many honors locally in Minden, and from his work in the Methodist faith. He said he feels most honored by the people who have requested that he be the one to conduct their funeral services

And Joe is still on the Board of Directors of the local Coca-Cola Bottling Plant, and of course, his favorite drink is Coca-Cola, did you need to ask?

These days when life is so full of stress, and people have chosen the way of the world rather than follow in the steps of Jesus, it renews my faith, and makes my heart glad to point out Joe Hunter in his role of pastor to many small Methodist churches where he is loved and appreciated. As he talks of his life and his walk with the Master there is a radiance about him that tells me he HAS been with the Master. I feel honored to know such a man.

Juanita Agan submitted a weekly column to the Press-Herald for more than 15 years until her death in 2008. She was a resident of Minden since 1935. The Press-Herald is republishing select articles from Mrs. Agan’s Cameos column every Wednesday.

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