Ira James Holton
August 16, 1919 – April 11, 2012
Ira James “Jim” Holton was born in Cedar Rapids, IA, in 1919. He spent his childhood in Cedar Rapids and graduated from Roosevelt High School in 1937, having been inducted into the National Honor Society and serving as senior class president, president of the student council, business manager of the yearbook, winner of the school’s Latin prize, and participating in the debate and cross-country teams.
After high school Jim attended the University of Iowa, where he earned a BA (cum laude) in June 1941. He continued to demonstrate both leadership potential and civic involvement during his college years, as indicated by his induction into the Alpha Chapter of Phi Beta Kappa and his work as president of the university’s Association of Cooperative Dormitories.
Shortly after his graduation from the University of Iowa, Jim enlisted in the U.S. Army as an infantryman. After completing his basic training, he applied for an officer’s commission through Officer Candidate School (OCS). He graduated from OCS in February 1942, and was commissioned a Second Lieutenant, infantry branch. By March 1944, when he arrived in England with the Third Army during the train-up period for the invasion of Europe, he was promoted to Captain and was assigned to the division headquarters staff.
In June 1944, Jim took part in the D-Day invasion of Normandy, going ashore at Utah Beach with elements of VII Corps. A month later he was promoted to Major. When the war ended he returned to the U.S. in July 1945 and was discharged from the army after VJ Day. In the course of his military service, Jim was awarded the Bronze Star Medal, the European-African-Middle Eastern Campaign Medal with five campaign stars and an invasion arrowhead, the World War Two Victory Medal, and the French Croix de Guerre (War Cross), with a Vermillion Star, for his service in the liberation of France.
After the war, Jim returned to the University of Iowa to pursue a law degree, which he received in 1947. As a young attorney he served on the editorial board of the Iowa Law Review. The year 1947 also marked the beginning of his career with Hormel Foods Corporation, an association that was to last for the rest of his life. Jim was first hired by George A. Hormel and Company (as the company was known at the time) as a legal assistant. Over the next 36 years he held positions of increasing responsibility and ever-greater importance with the company, moving up the line from attorney to head of the corporate law department, then corporate secretary, to director, then executive vice president, next as the company’s sixth president, and finally the board chairmanship, before his retirement in 1983. His tenure at the helm of the Hormel Co. was noteworthy for his leadership in guiding the company through one of its biggest physical transformations, when a new, modern 1,000,000 square-foot plant was built in Austin, insuring the company’s growth and its continuing relationship with this city.
Even after his retirement, Jim continued to play an integral role in Hormel Corporation’s relationship with its community in Austin. He had served on the board of the Hormel foundation since 1969, and remained with it until 1995, holding the chairman’s position from 1984-1995. He served on the board of the American Meat Institute for some years, including three years as its chairman.
Jim and his wife Adelaide had a son and two daughters, and his family were part of Austin’s social fabric throughout his professional career. “Austin is my home,” he said at the time of his official retirement; “This is where I belong.” He was the only one of Hormel’s first ten corporate presidents to remain in Austin for rest of his life. He continued to play an active and vital role in the city’s growth and cultural development, being deeply involved with the Austin Community Scholarship Committee and the Austin Public Library, and was a generous contributor to the Austin YMCA, the Hormel Institute, the Austin Medical Center, Austin Public Schools, and Pacelli Catholic Schools. He also supported the Austin Area Foundation when it was created. In his will, he left the bulk of his estate to the betterment of Austin, his adopted hometown.
Jim passed away on April 11, 2012, at the age of 91. Later that year, the new school for 5th and 6th grade students was named the Ira J. Holton Intermediate School in his honor.