Leon Hess - Class of 1931
A builder, a dreamer, a driven and determined leader. A self-made man with incredible vision, tireless energy and great wisdom. A true patriot, with a strong sense of the American dream. A religious man. Above all a family man.
When he was young his mother taught him that a good name was the greatest asset a man could have. He lived by that important lesson. Of all the praise he received, perhaps that which best characterized Leon Hess was that, "His word was his bond." A handshake was all that was necessary with Leon Hess.
Leon Hess was born in Asbury Park, New Jersey, on March 14, 1914. His family was of modest means. He grew up during the Depression and his family could not afford to send him to college. After his graduation from Asbury Park High School in 1931, he started a fuel oil business, often working seven days a week delivering fuel oil in five gallon cans to homes in New Jersey from a second hand 615 gallon delivery truck.
From 1942 to 1945, he served as head of transportation logistics for General Patton. He fueled Patton's "Red Ball Express" as the Third Army raced across Europe. For this he was promoted to Lieutenant Colonel.
After his return from World War II, he married Norma Wilentz, daughter of prominent lawyer and former New Jersey Attorney General, David Wilentz.
In 1958, Leon Hess built a refinery in Port Reading, New Jersey. In 1960 he built his first HESS gasoline station and in 1964 began the legendary HESS toy truck holiday tradition. In 1965 he began his proudest achievement in business " the building of one of the world's largest refineries in St. Croix, US Virgin Islands." He was proud, not only of its enormous size, but also of the economic benefits it provided people in the Virgin Islands.
Leon Hess had a special love for his football team, the New York Jets. A proud moment in his life was the team's 1969 Super Bowl victory.
He was a major contributor to educational institutions, medical schools, hospitals and cultural institutions. Throughout his life he modestly and quietly contributed to his community.
Leon Hess' greatest single love in life was Norma, his wife of 51 years. No two people were more devoted and loving. His greatest joy was his family, his three children and seven grandchildren.
His son John, now Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Amerada Hess, gave this tribute to his father at his memorial service on May 10, 1999, "No one had higher standards of ethics and values, nor was more modest, or had more goodness to share than my father. Leon Hess was an angel in our midst. While his journey on earth has come to an end, his proud legacy will long live on through our family and the memory of all he stood for will endure."