Spurs Up! Giving Southwestern Scholarships
June 08, 2018
- John McCaine 2014
When alumnus Jack A. Lyons ’75 stepped down from his three-year position as Chairman of the Board of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in 2017, the Rodeo honored his service by giving him the opportunity to direct a $100,000 scholarship gift to a Texas school of his choice. Jack and his late wife, Nina (Nelms) Lyons ’75 knew immediately where the gift would go—to their alma mater, Southwestern University. Jack says the decision wasn’t hard, given their love for Southwestern, where the couple first met on a blind date.
Growing up in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley in Mercedes, TX, Jack originally became interested in Southwestern through a family friend, William (Buddy) Ross, III ’57. Jack attended Southwestern on a basketball and golf scholarship and had been offered scholarships from other colleges across the state. But when Jack received a scholarship from Southwestern, his dad told him, “That’s where you’re going to go” because he’d heard so much about the academic quality and the educational model at Southwestern from the Rosses. So, as Jack says, his dad “helped” him make that decision but he’s always been happy about it, significantly crediting Southwestern for his successes. “We had a lot of fun, and fond memories while attending Southwestern,” Lyons says, “but the template of the liberal arts education really gave me the ability to lead.” Jack also realized early on that in everything he got involved with, he wanted to give back as much as he could, a commitment, he explains, that often leads to leadership roles as well.
Jack Lyons describes he might not have fully understood the mission statement of the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo when his in-laws introduced him to the organization in the early eighties, but he knew he wanted to be actively involved with a charity that he saw doing a lot of good and Jack gravitated to the Rodeo specifically because of its educational commitment. After that, he says, “I was just hooked, seeing the results of what our organization was doing for so many young adults across our great state of Texas.”
Since its inception in 1932, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo has awarded more than 20,000 scholarships and contributed more than $450 million to support Texas youth. Almost half of this has been given away by the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo in scholarship awards while the balance has supported educational grants, junior exhibitors, calf scramble participants, 4-H and FFA programs. According to Lyons, the Rodeo has a far-reaching community commitment, impacting 252 of Texas’ 254 counties through their philanthropy. At an annual banquet this past year, Lyon said the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo awarded over 400 scholarships. More than 20% of the recipients were the first in their family to attend college, and 18% were the first in the family to graduate from high school. In total, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo will give scholarships, in a dozen different categories, to Texas students this year totalling more than $14 million.
Jack says that it is “truly an honor” for him to be involved with the Rodeo, and to be able to support Southwestern as a result. He also stresses that Rodeo involvement is very much a family affair, often incorporating generations of volunteers. Of his own three children and their spouses, all but one are involved with the Rodeo, serving on one of the many committees that help keep the Rodeo such a success. This past March, the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo opened and closed their show with performances by Garth Brooks, showcased a brand new stage, and over 2.4 million people came through the gates. Jack is firmly convinced that “the reason the Rodeo is so successful today is because of tradition—the tradition of all the families involved, certainly, but even more importantly, it’s a tradition of our community.”
Jack Lyons recognizes a connection between the successful traditions of the Rodeo and that of his Southwestern Experience as well as the experience he sees current students thriving in. Although Jack acknowledges that “there are a lot of charities of choice for individuals out there in the world today,” this simple correlation affirmed his decision to make Southwestern the recipient of the honorary scholarship gift. Jack explains that “at the Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, we do things well because we do it for all the right reasons, and I really feel that’s what the students at Southwestern accomplish also—they do things really well, because they do it for all the right reasons.”