Wallace Eugene "Pete" Snelson (1923 - 2014)

  • "Our deepest sympathy from the family of the late Judge and..."
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Snelson, W. E. "Pete" Over thirty years ago Texas Monthly wrote of Wallace Eugene "Pete" Snelson, "Conservative Democrat. Midland. Not flashy but a devotee of Grover Cleveland's maxim Honor lies in honest toil." Former State Senator W.E. "Pete" Snelson passed away peacefully at his home in Georgetown, Texas on the afternoon of Saturday April 26, 2014 surrounded by his family. Pete was born, the sixth of seven children, on March 28, 1923 in Ward County, Texas into the small farming and ranching community of Grandfalls. No one ever knew Pete as Wallace Eugene. The nickname, "Pete," was given to him when he was five years old when a new barber, Larkin Puckett, moved to Grandfalls. Since Wallace was a baby he had always been known as "Sweetie." When he was sent to the barber by his mother to have his hair cut, the new barber wanted to know his name. He refused to say that he was known either as Wallace Eugene, or as Sweetie. The barber took the dilemma into his own hands and christened him Pete. Since that day in 1927, Wallace Snelson was known as Pete. Pete Snelson's life is an inspiration for all who knew him. For more than seventy years Pete served his country, state, community, and family. Pete was salutatorian of his class when he graduated at the age of 15 from Grandfalls-Royalty High School. His leadership talents were apparent even then as he was elected class president for three years. After graduation, Pete worked as news editor and advertising manager for the Grandfall's Gazette. In 1940 Pete began attending Texas College of Mines in El Paso after receiving a scholarship to study journalism. He combined his college studies with a full-time job as sports editor for the El Paso Times. In May of 1943, just after his 20th birthday, Pete was called to active duty by the US Army. After basic training at Camp Maxey in Paris, Texas, Pete was sent by the Army Specialized Training Program to the University of Nebraska to study German language, history and culture. Upon completion of his studies, Pete joined the 44th Infantry Division, Company B of the 324th Infantry Regiment. The 44th Infantry arrived in Cherbourg, France near Utah and Omaha Beach. On November 13, 1944, Pete's Company attacked the German line in a forest of the Vosges Mountains during the early days of the Alsace Campaign, and he was wounded by shrapnel from a German mortar shell tree burst. He was taken to a field hospital for surgery. After three months recuperation, Pete was interviewed and selected for service as a Special Agent in the 307th Counter Intelligence Corp detachment at 7th Army Headquarters. As a CIC Special Agent, Pete wore his uniform without insignia or rank in order to promote free and open communication with military and civilian personnel. Pete remembered one of the most gruesome days of his life was when he was sent to Dachau Concentration Camp just days after its liberation by Allied forces on April 29, 1945. Pete entered the concentration camp and saw such evidence of man's inhumanity to man. He assisted with the prosecution of one of the camp physicians, Claus Schilling. Dr. Shilling believed that his experiments on over 1,000 human beings offered "real" scientific advancements toward the cure of malaria. Pete traveled to Dr. Shilling's office at Dachau and to his home to collect Dr. Shilling's documentation of the experiments. Dr. Shilling was subsequently convicted of war crimes by the tribunals at Nuremburg for his malaria experiments. Prior to Pete's discharge from the US Army as a Technical Sergeant, he received a Purple Heart, Bronze Star and Combat Infantryman Badge. He chose to remain in the US Army Reserve and was commissioned a Lieutenant. His reserve assignment was as a commander of a Counter Intelligence Corps unit at Fort Bliss, Texas. After the War, Pete returned to West Texas where he graduated from Texas College of Mines and accepted a position as a faculty member. During the summer of 1948, Pete began his Masters of Journalism at Northwestern University. After graduation from Northwestern University in 1950, Pete returned to West Texas where he was named a vice-president of Odessa College. During the 1950s Pete was elected President of the Texas Jaycees and was named outstanding president by the US Jaycees. He chose to leave higher education in 1955 at which time he opened an advertising agency in Midland which he operated for thirty-five years. On May 31, 1959, Pete married Susan Sutton of Denver, Colorado. In 1960, Pete defeated a three-time incumbent and was elected as a State Representative to the Texas Legislature. In 1964, Pete was elected to the Texas Senate. He served the 25th District until his retirement in 1983. During his long tenure as an elected official, he served as President of the Senate Education Committee. During his two decades of service, he served as Chairman of the Oil & Gas Committee, Texas Intergovernmental Committee, and Education Committee. He also served on the Legislative Budget Board and Finance Committee. In 1971 he was elected as President Pro-Tempore of the Texas Senate and served as Governor for a day on December 4, 1971. In January 1979 when the 66th Legislature convened, Pete ranked 5th in seniority and served as chairman of the Texas Intergovernmental Relations Committee. He also served on the Sunset Commission and the Legislative Council. In reflecting back upon his long and illustrious career, the legislation that stood out most for him was his sponsorship of the Early Childhood Intervention Program that became the model nationally for early intervention for developmentally delayed children ages 0-3. In 1983 Pete Snelson left the Senate and devoted himself to his various family businesses. In January of 1989, Pete began a new career as a legislative consultant for public and higher education. Pete continued to work as a consultant until he retired in 2008. Pete's life continues to be an inspiration to his family. Pete is survived by the love of his life Susan Snelson; son Gene, grandsons Dylan and Lance and their mother Kara Salmonson; daughter Sandy Yaklin, and husband Lynn and grandchildren Marshall, Shepherd and Hanna Yaklin; son Steven and wife Teresa Guerra Snelson and grandchildren Casey and Skylar; son Shane and wife Antonieta and grandchildren Ana, Luke and Eva, as well as his brother Bill Snelson, niece Maggie Meline and countless friends and kin. Services will be held on Saturday May 3rd at 1:00 at Central Presbyterian Church, 200 E. 8th Street, Austin, followed by a burial service at the Texas State Cemetery, 909 Navasota Street, Austin.


Published in Dallas Morning News on May 2, 2014
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