Jess (as she was known) was the eldest of five children born to Augustus “Gus” Wilder and Freddie Leigh Jenning and was descended from Revolutionary War soldier William Wilder. She was born in Brooksville, Florida on April 20, 1914 but the family soon moved to Clearwater.
After high school in Clearwater, she received her A.B. in Economics at Florida State College for Women and taught commercial subjects at Largo High School. Jess attended graduate school at the University of Michigan, receiving an M.A. in Guidance and Education.
During World War II, as an employee for the FBI in Washington DC, Jess worked in the war plant investigation section. She later became administrative assistant to Congressman J. Hardin Peterson and Clerk of the Public Lands Committee, US Congress.
Summer months were spent touring Europe, Mexico, Alaska, Cuba, Canada and forty-seven of the US states. After making the decision to become a lawyer, Jess attended the University of Florida Law School, where she met Clarence Thacker, her future husband. They graduated in June of 1947 and married at Clearwater in September.
Kissimmee was their home until Clarence, a decorated Air Force Veteran of World War II and liaison officer between Congress and the Air Force during the Korean conflict was recalled to the Pentagon from 1950-1953. Jess was employed as legislative assistant to Congressman Chester B. McMullen during those years.
Upon their return to Kissimmee in 1954, both Jess and Clarence went into practice with his brother and father. Clarence, a sitting Kissimmee City Commissioner died suddenly of a heart attack in 1958, leaving Jess with three children, ages 10, 8 and 6. In a special City election, she was chosen to fill the vacancy left with the passing of her husband. Jess continued with her law practice and was an active member of numerous civic organizations in Kissimmee.
Elected in 1960 as Kissimmee’s first female mayor, Jess won by a margin of 822 to 367 votes and served a one-year term. In 1964 Jess moved back to Clearwater, was a professor at St. Petersburg Junior College and created the paralegal program. She practiced law in Florida for more than fifty years.
Jess passed away on October 10, 2003 in Clearwater.
Sources: Ancestry.com; “The Orlando Sentinel” articles 1956-1960; “Kissimmee Gazette” March 31, 1960; “Tampa Bay Times” October 12, 2003
Image source: “Orlando Sentinel” April 15, 1959