Howard E. Butt Sr.
Induction Year: 1982
Howard Edward Butt Sr. (1895–1991) was born April 9, 1895 in Memphis, Tennessee. He is best known for founding the HEB supermarkets located throughout Texas.
Butt’s father was a pharmacist, who because he suffered from tuberculosis and wanted a drier climate, moved the family to from Tennessee to Kerrville, Texas in 1905. In order to support the family, Butt’s mother, Florence, borrowed $60 to open a small grocery store. It was called Mrs. C.C. Butt’s Staple and Fancy Grocery.
From the time he was a young boy, Butt loved to play outdoors. Since there were no tennis courts in his hometown, he and a friend cleared a vacant lot to make a court. They used salt to kill the grass and hung a net from two posts. By age sixteen Butt, the youngest of three boys, began to manage the store. He graduated valedictorian of Tivy High School in 1914.
Butt joined the army during World War I. When he returned in 1919, he went to work expanding the grocery business. Although some of the early stores failed, his stores survived the Great Depression and grew by offering low-priced goods. In 1929 Butt moved the headquarters of his developing grocery business to Harlingen. During the 1930s, Howard’s business, HEB Grocery, grew to more than 28 stores in the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas. When Butt died in 1991, there were 175 stores.
Throughout his life, Butt felt that the things that contributed so much to his own well-being, such as tennis, should be shared with others. Butt established the HEB Foundation in 1933, one of the earliest philanthropic foundations in Texas. It provided libraries and recreational facilities–swimming pools and tennis courts–to many South Texas communities, particularly in low-income areas. He also began developing the HEB Foundation Camp in 1954.
Butt supported the building of public tennis courts in Corpus Christi, Harlingen, Donna, Edinburgh, Mission, Mercedes, Laredo, Victoria, Kerrville, Fredericksburg and New Braunfels, often donating land or money. Butt also promoted and supported collegiate tennis at the University of Corpus Christi. In 1975 his company became the major sponsor of one of the largest college tournaments in the country, the HEB Collegiate Team Tennis Tournament.
On March 30, 1972 the Texas Senate gave Butt a special commendation for his contributions to the state. He died at age ninety-five on March 12, 1991.
HEB Tennis Center, Corpus Christi, 1962