Saltwater Portrait

Jack Hudson: A Miltonian through and through

A judge, fire company president and past mayor
March 27, 2012
Jack Hudson, 65, has lived in Milton his entire life. He is a judge at Justice of the Peace Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach, the president of the Milton Volunteer Fire Company and was the youngest mayor in the town's history. BY NICK ROTH

Jack Hudson is the guy you don't want to see. As a judge at the Justice of the Peace Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach and the president of the Milton Volunteer Fire Company, chances are if you see him while he's working you've got a problem.

Born and raised in Milton, the 65-year-old Hudson left town only to attend college and serve in the military. He worked with his parents at a hardware store on Union Street – now Antiques in Milton – across from the Milton Theatre.

“We worked together well,” he said. “We had good people who worked for us, and I didn't have any desire to go anywhere else.”

He eventually became a co-owner of the business, which lasted more than 50 years in the town.

Growing up, he attended Milton High School, where he met his wife, Mary Catherine Hopkins, although the two didn't get married until 1997.

“We were high school sweethearts, went all through school together, and after high school we both kind of went our own ways,” he said. “We both still lived in Milton. We never really lost touch, but we were never really that close, and it was just meant to be I guess. We have a good time together. I think we complement each other. It's a really, really good relationship.”

The two live in the former home of Hudson's great grandmother on the same street Hudson grew up on. The home is built with bricks made at the former brick yard in Milton, where Hopkins still owns some property.

Shortly after graduating from high school, Hudson was drafted by the Army in 1967, at a time when the U.S. Was fighting a war in Vietnam and dealing with the threat of Soviet Union in the Cold War. He said he received orders to Korea, then to Vietnam, but ended up in Germany, where he spent his two years of duty.

Before ever knowing his final destination or even leaving for basic training at Fort Knox in Kentucky, Hudson said his father, who served in the Air Force in World War II, gave him sage advice.

“He said you're going to think this is the worst thing that ever happened to you, but when you get finished with it, you're going to find out it was one of the best experiences in life you'll ever have, and he was definitely right. My dad was a pretty wise man,” he said.

He was a personnel specialist and served as the company clerk for the first sergeant. He said it was the perfect job because he enjoyed people, and it prepared him for the future.

Four years after returning home from Germany, at the age of about 26, Hudson became the youngest councilman in Milton's history.

“The gentleman who used to be partners with my father in the hardware store – he sort of encouraged me to run,” he said.

He served on council from 1973 until he was elected mayor in 1986, a position he held until 1994. During his tenure, the town really began its transformation into what it is today. The town installed water meters on homes, put sidewalks along the entire length of Union and Federal streets, built the two water towers and upgraded the wastewater plant. He said he also opened the government and encouraged residents to attend, a major obstacle to overcome in his early days on council.

“The town hall at that time was in the building that says Jailhouse Antiques beside the theatre,” he said. “The council met in a little room upstairs. People were really not encouraged to go to the council meetings, which kind of irked me as a businessman. I thought people ought to know what was going on in the town. It was kind of an uphill battle with the old-time council back then.”

He eventually had the meetings moved to the fire hall, making it more accessible for the townspeople.

In 1994, his last year as mayor, then-Gov. Tom Carper appointed him as judge at the Justice of the Peace Court 2 in Rehoboth Beach. He said his whole career has been a natural progression: always jobs that deal with people. As a judge, he said, he tries steer people down a better path.

“Any good judge is someone who has to like to deal with people because, probably contrary to what many people think, we're not just here to put people in jail,” he said. “I like to think in this job sometimes you do make a difference in someone's life.”

Hudson is one of 19 justices of the peace in Sussex County. He is one of four who work at the Rehoboth Beach location, which is the third busiest court in the state, he said. Justice of the Peace Court 2 is the only court left in the state that has a 16-hour, 5-day-a-week courtroom, and it's equipped to handle typical in-person cases as well as video proceedings. The court receives about 2,500 video phone requests a month, 90 percent of which are from New Castle County, he said.

Hudson's primary responsibility is working the video phone, but he will occasionally step into the courtroom on the other side of the building.

“It's a fast-paced atmosphere,” he said. “We're pretty much always on the phone.”

But when he hangs up the judge's robe at the end of the day, he puts on a fireman's hat. For at least the last 25 years, he's served as the Milton Volunteer Fire Company's president.

“I guess the guys either like what I'm doing or no one else wants to do it,” he joked.

Like many other members in the firehouse, he joined because his father was a member before him. His desire to stay involved is similar to that of his goal as a judge – he has an opportunity to help people in his community.

In his 65 years in Milton, he has seen the community develop into what it is today. He believes the town has attracted a nice array of people from all over the region and continues to be a great place for people to live.

“When I was mayor I welcomed people with open arms,” he said. “I remember talking to a man … who said, 'I've lived here for two weeks, and it seems like I've lived here my whole life.' I thought that was a pretty good comment for the town.”

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