This commentary is taken from a eulogy delivered by Somerset Superintendent Saul Hinojosa in memory of John Hayes, president of oil and gas company Activa Resources, who died in a car accident on Jan. 17 at the age of 63.
As I sat reflecting on my friendship with John Hayes and writing my thoughts, the most appropriate Bible verse that came to mind to describe John was Mark 9:35: “Anyone who wants to be first must be the very last, and the servant of all.”
John was indeed a servant to God, his family and his community. He was humble and was always thinking about how he could help others.
I first met John shortly after he developed Savannah Heights, a beautiful neighborhood in Somerset, where I serve as the superintendent of schools. At the time, Somerset schools were not performing well. In fact, they were failing. But John, being the brilliant man he was, knew that in order to sell homes, you had to have good schools. So, John donated funds to the school district for an after-school tutoring program and purchased a marquee for Barrera Elementary.
Over time, what started as a business venture turns into this beautiful story that speaks to John’s passion and generosity. As he became more involved, he witnessed the struggles of a student population where 90% lived in poverty and where many are deprived of basic resources we all take for granted.
John fell in love with the students and the community. He made it his personal goal to be a conduit of change.
He became a founding board member of the Somerset Education Foundation and shared his business acumen and knowledge of philanthropy to provide college scholarships for students and grants for teachers. Every year, the foundation hosts a banquet for the top-tier graduates, and year after year, John and his wife Amy sponsor the event. Just this past June, as we sat listening to each graduate highlight an educator that influenced them, John sat beaming at each and every story.
There are countless more stories I can share. He was constantly seeking partnerships with CEOs and other business leaders that could benefit our schools and our community, such as partnering with Lionel Sosa and adopting his curriculum to introduce more students to college at an early grade level and acquiring a grant to treat our most needy families to holiday meals and Walmart shopping sprees.
Through John and the August Heart foundation, countless Somerset athletes were able to have heart exams so they could be cleared to play sports. A few years ago, John was the keynote speaker at our high school graduation, where he inspired over 5,000 people at the Alamodome.
John was so proud of the district that he even had his daughter Hayden come out and attend staff development and observe classes so she could see first-hand the great work being done as she started her career in education. (I know this was John’s way of trying to recruit her for us, and I told Hayden the door is still open.)
As our schools started to improve, the pandemic hit, and class construction came to a halt. Of course, John was not sitting at home waiting for it to be over, he was moving into action. In a partnership with Community Labs, Somerset became one of the first schools in the entire nation to test students and staff weekly. This would not have happened without John’s care, compassion and business expertise.
With testing, we were able to get back in the classroom and teach in person. This put Somerset on the local, state, and national news and changed the trajectory of our district.
When many students in the surrounding area were at home, Somerset was able to have 87% of their students in class, which propelled the district to an “A” rating, a National Blue Ribbon School, and a visit by the commissioner of the Texas Education Agency, which is a really big deal. We accomplished what many thought was an unmanageable feat. Imagine this, Somerset outperformed Alamo Heights in a few subject areas, ranking us right behind Alamo Heights among traditional public schools in Bexar County.
We recently celebrated the 100-year anniversary of Somerset ISD and as I was addressing the crowd, John sat with my wife beaming with pride. All of the hard work, the investments, and the partnerships have paid off. He has provided us with a roadmap and foundation that will impact generations to come. This small, impoverished community is now sending children to top-tier universities and Ivy League schools.
Last week, as we received the devastating news, I remembered I still had a voicemail from John on my phone. This was classic John, calling just to let me know how grateful he was to me and to our staff and how happy he was about all the great stuff going on in the schools. He went on to say that in all of his life, all the nonprofit and for-profit work that he had been involved in did not compare to the satisfaction he had for a district like Somerset to achieve given all the obstacles and for the gratitude and the love people had for him.
In closing, my most sincere gratitude goes out to Amy and Hayden for allowing me the opportunity to share what an impact John made on the lives of so many people, I can only thank God for giving me the opportunity to have John as my friend and mentor. He definitely has left this world a better place.