By Amanda Sotelo
The late Jesse Villarreal is described by his family and friends as a servant leader – someone who up until his last breath, worried about everyone else.
Even now, a few months after losing his battle to colon cancer at the age of 76, his legacy of helping others lives on through a newly established endowment in his honor at South Texas College: The Jesse Villarreal STC Spirit of Leadership Scholarship.
“His goal was always to improve his community for those he served and to ensure that a higher education was accessible to everyone,” said his widow, Gladys Villarreal. “And through his work as a former STC Trustee, educator and community leader, he is remembered for this legacy.”
Jesse served 18 years as an STC Trustee, and his family found it fitting that his service at the college continue.
The fund, created and written by his family but led by his son Kristoffer Villarreal, is open to STC students who have shown strong leadership skills, have demonstrated the ability to direct and inspire others and who have proven dedication to serving their community of the Mid-Valley and Delta Region, which includes Mercedes, Weslaco, Progresso, Donna, Monte Alto, Edcouch, Elsa and La Villa.
“Looking back, there wasn’t a time that my father wasn’t involved in education,” said Kristoffer. “Education was his priority, he was the only one in his family who got one, and he always helped our community members reach a new level, so I thought a scholarship was the perfect way to honor him. It’s an extension of what he used to do, even though he never looked for credit or the attention.”
Mrs. Villarreal, who was married to Jesse for 52 years, also remembers that he was known as the neighborhood dad because in addition to reading every page in his STC trustee binder to ensure he was making the best decision possible for his constituents, he also never missed his sons’ games or school activities and always carried around boxloads of jackets, socks and blankets for underserved populations.
Jesse’s service didn’t stop at the local level though, he also served in the National Guard for six years, creating a military journey his sons would also follow.
“He loved sharing his story…see, he came from an underprivileged family also. His father was a constable and was shot in the line of duty. He was raised by a single mother and always said, if it wasn’t for people in his community that took him under their wing, he wouldn’t have been the man that everyone knows,” said Villarreal. “That was always his goal, to continue building his community, especially his hometown of Mercedes, and ensuring everyone had someone rooting for them.”
Longest serving STC Trustee Alejo Salinas, Ph.D. and Jesse’s long-time friend, recalls his work and said this is a well-deserved honor.
“Mr. V served on our board for 18 years, that’s a long time, and he was always present for our meetings. His greatest concern was preparing our students for the workforce,” said Salinas. “His family started this scholarship and they invited many of their family and friends to help…the fund has a strong start. This is a well-deserved honor for such a dedicated educator.”
Since Jesse’s passing, Villarreal said she has received an outpouring of love and support from the communities that he served for so long.
“I never could have imagined everything that has been done to honor my husband; he was so humble, I don’t think he would have believed it either,” she said. “Because of his supporters, his decades of work will continue to touch lives. This scholarship is going to make an impact for years to come.”
STC Vice President of Advancement and Economic Development Rodney Rodriguez, Ph.D., said it’s been an honor working with the Villarreal family in making this scholarship possible and that it embodies STC’s collective commitment to nurture and support the dreams of students.
“The Jesse Villarreal Scholarship is more than just financial assistance; it is a beacon of hope, a testament to the strength of community and a tribute to a legacy that will inspire generations,” said Rodriguez. “In conversations with the Villarreal family, it became abundantly clear how much Jessie’s spirit of perseverance and dedication has touched us all. It’s an honor to be part of this endeavor, ensuring that Jesse’s legacy continues to enlighten the path for many. Together, we are not just honoring a memory, but we investing in the future, fueled by the values Jesse lived by.”
In honor of Mr. Villarreal, his family is making higher education possible for so many,” he said. “We are so grateful they chose to work with STC in creating this endowment, an endowment that will continue to grow and help deserving students. On behalf of STC administration and the board of trustees, thank you.”
To qualify for The Jesse Villarreal STC Spirit of Leadership Scholarship, students must complete a minimum of 100 hours of community volunteerism by high school graduation and upon submission of an STC application. This is to ensure that the work Jesse began, continues.
Student must also have a grade-point average of at least 3.5, completed the Free Application for Federal Student Aid (FAFSA) to demonstrate financial need, be enrolled at least 12 credit hours to be considered a full-time student and must declare a major in one of STC’s associate or bachelor’s degree programs.
For more information on STC scholarship opportunities or how to donate, call the STC Office of Advancement and Economic Development at 956-872-2048.