Carrying On After “Hootie”

By Daniel Colunga (OC Community Intern)

Mike Juarez on the job ready to go!

Mike Juarez was an amazing human being and a hero in our community (Silverton, TX). As the head of the school maintenance crew, he was always hard working and completing every job in the best way possible–the true definition of being a fighting Silverton Owl (our school mascot). Shortly after beginning his job at the school, he was given the nickname “Hootie”, and it stuck forever. If anything was broken or not working properly at the school, we turned to Hootie for help. He could fix anything that was thrown his way…he was our superman. Working under his supervision as I worked at the school for a summer job, Hootie opened my eyes as I learned many different things: from how to move desks and chairs the efficient way, to how to change the lights of a school bus.
I also learned life lessons I will hold onto forever. At times, working at the school would become frustrating. Having my toes smashed by a teacher’s desk was aggravating, as well as spending all afternoon mowing and weed eating in the dreadful summer heat. During these times I would think to myself, “Why stay here and work, maybe I should go look for a different job.”

Daniel painting a wall in the Silverton School.

Then I would look back towards Hootie. He had been working at the school for 33 years. So that led me to ask him a very personal question. “Hootie, when you’re having a bad day at work, do you ever think you could be doing something different?” He answered, “I believe everyone has those thoughts here and there.” I continued, “Well then–why not? Why not leave this place behind, I mean, you have been working here for 33 years, by now you could have applied to a better paying job where you wouldn’t have to be in the heat all day, right? You’re a smart, hardworking man Hootie…I think you could get a good job anywhere.” He then told me, “Well thank you for your kind words, Daniel, but what is a good job to you?” I answered quickly, “To me a good job is one that pays well, and one where you do not have to kill yourself doing.” He then told me something I will never forget. “Well, that is only part of it. Daniel, a good job is one that brings you a sense of happiness, and pride when you do it. Something that you can look back on and be proud of.” I thought long and hard after that and said, “Wow, I never really thought about it that way before.” He replied, “I prefer people over money. Working at the school has always made me proud of myself. It makes me happy to see how helpful I can be to students and teachers. Seeing the excitement and reaction from them after I help them with something, it is a great feeling. Nothing could replace that for me.”
That was only one of the many life lessons I learned from Hootie that I have held onto. Sadly, when COVID-19 hit earlier this year, he became extremely sick. Being the strong fighter he was, it was a long hard battle for him, and he was not going to give up. Unfortunately, God called Hootie to become an angel in everlasting paradise. When he passed away, it was hard for everyone in the school and community, knowing that his joyful personality was no longer there. Gladly, through fundraisers, an honorary Mike Juarez scholarship, and his SISD gym dedication, his legacy will live on forever.

Silverton ISD administration and the community gather with members of the Mike Juarez family at the Dedication Ceremony.

This summer, I chose to work at the school again. I want to help keep his legacy alive. I want to show respect towards him as he watches over me while I work.
I am extremely thankful to have worked with Mike Hootie Juarez for as long as I did. A lot of his lessons and wise words got me through struggling times in my first year of college.

Daniel standing next to the Mike Juarez Memorial plaque at Silverton ISD Gym

Daniel Colunga is an Exercise and Sport Sciences major at West Texas A&M University, and is currently carrying out his second OC Community Internship as a researcher for the Red River Headwaters Foodshed Project.

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