Economic depressions such as the one we are experiencing now have a tendency to cause mental and emotional depression as well. The depression of the 1930s was a real whopper.  

Big businesses tended to find ways to help destitute people in strange ways. Enid Justin, owner of Justin Boot Company in Nocona, Texas, organized a horse race that was not like the usual ones. Miss Justin raised a considerable amount of money for a horse race that ran from Nocona, Texas, to San Francisco, California. My uncle saw one leg of the race at Archer City, where his parents lived. He said it was absolutely one of the best events ever in Archer City.

Nightclubs in large cities such as New York, Chicago, sponsored Danceathons. Couples danced for hours and hours. It was more of a physical triumph than a ballroom soirée. In each case, a large sum of cash went to the winners, making it so important to win.

At that time the Texaco Company was the prominent oil producer in Texas and one of the leaders in the world. To entertain the public and take their minds off financial troubles, Texaco came up with a unique event.

For 4,000 miles from San Diego to New York, Jefferson D. (Duke) Jernigin Jr., of Commerce flew a Waco ASO “Texaco 7” while towing the Franklin Glider Corp P-S-2 “Texaco 7” maneuvered by Frank Hawks.

The voyage took 36 hours and 45 minutes. They made three stops for fuel in Texas, in El Paso, Midland and Wichita Falls. Newspaper reporters and radio announcers kept the public well informed. It set a record for such a feat.

Hawks was one of the most famous pilots at the time as well as a stunt pilot in numerous Hollywood movies. He was Duke’s boss at the Aviation Division of Texaco. When Hawks was killed in a plane crash, Duke got his job as head of Texaco’s Division and got a corner in Texaco’s suite of offices in the Chrysler Building in New York.  

Duke and his siblings were all successful. Their grandfather William was one of the founders of Commerce. Their parents, Jefferson Davis (J.D.) Jernigin and his wife, Zona Carr, raised their five children in a large home on Bonham Street facing Bois d’Arc Street. All the children, with the exception of Duke who ran away from home at the age of 15, received exceptional educations.  Duke became a pioneer of aviation.

His brothers, Dudley and Russell, entered the Army. All three men served in World Wars I and II.  Russell also served in the Korean War.

The two sisters who were just as outstanding as the boys. Mary Jernigin, the second child of J.D. and Zona, lived to be 105 years old. During this long life, she attended the Chicago Art Institute. Soon after, she ended up as a fashion illustrator for Neiman Marcus in Dallas and Sanger Harris in Fort Worth for their advertising departments during the 1920s. Later Mary moved back to Commerce, achieved a degree in Art from East Texas Teachers College before teaching elementary art. During World War II, with a shortage of men to teach mechanical drawing, Mary began to teach the class at Tyler Junior College until she retired in 1962.

The youngest daughter, Janice, attended East Texas Teachers College where she must have been the most beautiful girl on campus. After graduation, Janice went to Columbia Teachers College in New York where she married Charles Kiker, a musician. When the couple divorced, Janice and the children came back to Commerce to live with her mother, her sister Mary, and her Aunt Ernestine Carr.

After a long teaching career, Janice became assistant librarian at the Commerce Library gathering historical materials for an outstanding collection.

The Jernigin home has been nominated as a candidate for Recorded Texas Historical Landmark from the Texas Historical Commission. The formal announcement will be announced in August. Let’s keep our fingers crossed for this historic home and its exceptional family members.

Taylor is chairman of  the Hunt County Historical Commission.She can be contacted at carol@carolctaylor.com.

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