Hamilton Oliver legacy honored through endowment
by Rosanne FohnScholarships will prepare next generation of physicians for rural regions
If you drive a country road this time of year it wonít be long before you witness spring in all its glory. Bluebonnets, Indian paintbrushes and little yellow daisies splash their color along the roadsides and sweep through the ranchland of South Texas. You may end up in the town of Cuero, the Wildflower Capital of Texas, located about an hour and a half southeast of San Antonio on U.S. Highway 183.
Cuero is the seat of DeWitt County, which has a history in the cattle and mercantile business.
The town was one of the origination points of the legendary Chisholm Trail cattle drive and provided supplies for new immigrants heading west to occupy Texas homesteads in the 1800s. Now Cuero is beginning to boom again as part of the Eagle Ford oil and gas development.
Despite its rich history, however, DeWitt County is designated by the federal government as a Health Professional Shortage Area (HPSA) and Medically Underserved Area (MUA). There are not enough health professionals to serve the needs of the population there.
Frances Hamilton Oliver is shown on a trip to California with her youngest son, Robert, in 1971. Robert Oliver shares many of his motherís interests including regional and family history. Robertís great-grandfather, Alexander Hamilton, a Texas settler from Kentucky, began a thriving mercantile business in Cuero in 1873. He later opened the First National Bank in his store, founded and managed a cottonseed oil company, and brought some of the first registered Hereford cattle into DeWitt County.
The UT Health Science Center serves primarily 38 counties south and west of San Antonio, most of which have an HPSA or MUA designation. The university actively recruits students from underserved areas not only into the School of Medicine, but also the Dental School, School of Nursing, Graduate School of Biomedical Sciences and School of Health Professions to address the shortage of health providers in the region.
Oliver said education and health care were important to his mother, who was the great-granddaughter of an early Victoria physician, Dr. William Thornton. Frances Hamilton graduated from The University of Texas at Austin and was a schoolteacher in Refugio until she married Gale Oliver Jr. While she occasionally was a substitute teacher, Frances Hamilton focused on being a full-time mother to their four boys, steering them all toward a college degree.
"My mother was really strong on history, family tradition and education," Oliver said. "My brothers and I were all raised in Refugio, but every summer we spent a week in Cuero visiting my grandmother and cousins. I spent a lot of time at our familyís ranch. I listened to my mother and grandmother talk about family history, and thatís important to me, too.
"It used to be that young people left home, got an education and then came back to the small towns to raise their families. Now that isnít necessarily the case. This gift honors my motherís love of education and brings health care providers to rural areas to improve our quality of life," Oliver said.
Oliver spent some years away from home, too, as a property manager in Vail, Colo., but returned to Cuero in 1995. In retirement, he has dedicated his time to founding the Chisholm Trail Heritage Museum. The museum will open later this year and will house UT Austinís Horseman of the Americas - Tinker Collection, with more than 900 ranching and horse-related artifacts. "It is generally regarded as one of the finest international collections of cowboy objects in the world," Oliver said.
Once the museum is open, Oliver plans to host in its meeting rooms continuing education sessions for regional health care providers, as well as community health education speakers from the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
Through his support of health care, history and education, Oliver is helping improve the lives of residents of Cuero, DeWitt County and all of South Texas, while honoring his beloved motherís legacy.
Young Frances Hamilton of Cuero was crowned queen of the Turkey Trot festival in 1934, an event similar to San Antonioís Fiesta.
As "Sultana Oreuc" (Cuero spelled backwards) young Frances Hamilton and the townís "Sultan Yekrut" (turkey spelled backwards), Dan Peavy, D.D.S., M.S.D., reigned over the community celebration that helped promote the townís main agricultural industry at that time - turkeys. In those days, thousands of turkeys were herded through downtown Cuero from outlying farms to a processing plant and then shipped by rail for Thanksgiving dinners across America.
Dr. Peavy was an orthodontist, practicing in Cuero and San Antonio from the mid-1930s until his death in 1962. His son, also an orthodontist and named Dan Peavy, D.D.S., M.S.D., was raised in San Antonio. He is an adjunct faculty member in the Dental School at the UT Health Science Center San Antonio.
Hamilton married Gale Oliver and lived in Refugio. She was a schoolteacher and the mother of four sons, including Robert Oliver, who generously established The Frances Hamilton Oliver Endowed Scholarship for first-year medical students who want to practice in rural areas.
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