Longtime PSJA board member dies; remembered as ‘a beautiful soul’

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Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr.

Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr., a name synonymous in PSJA for his lifelong dedication to the community, died Sunday.

But will continue to live through the morals and integrity he bestowed upon the people around him.

Vela, 76, served the PSJA ISD community over a span of 40 years in different capacities from a teacher, coach, migrant program director to the president of the school board.

Born and raised in Pharr, Vela is a PSJA High School graduate of 1966. He received his Bachelor’s degree at legacy institution Pan American College and then a Masters of Education degree from Pan American University.

Dedicating over 10 years to the PSJA school board, he served as president, vice president, secretary, treasurer and most recently, assistant secretary.

Vela also was the president of the PSJA Education Foundation, with the foundation raising and distributing millions of dollars in scholarships and grants to students and staff within the district.

His dedication and experience led him to be selected as the school board delegate to the Texas Association of School Boards state convention twice and he contributed his expertise to advisory committees for the Education Commission of the States, the Texas Education Agency Migrant Program and the U.S Department of Education.

In November of last year, Vela was honored with a renaming of a PSJA middle school to Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr. Middle School.

Attended by his family, PSJA High classmates of 1966 and school and community officials, Vela said never in his wildest dreams did he think that a school would be named after him.

Closing the ceremony with a speech, Vela said, “Pay it forward. Whatever you have, help people. If it’s advice, help give advice … whether it’s through your treasure or your service … that’s what really transforms communities.”

Jesus “Jesse” Vela Jr. Middle School on Friday, Nov. 10, 2023, in Alamo. (Joel Martinez | [email protected])

School board president Carlos Villegas, Jr. has known Vela since kindergarten and graduated a year before Vela from PSJA High said he is feeling sad for the loss of his lifelong colleague.

“He had a beautiful soul,” Villegas said. “Jesse was a friend to everybody. He would take the shirt off his back to help you. He was always even keeled, jovial, very respectful of all of the community and had a lot of integrity. I can’t say enough about Jesse Vela but he was a prime example of what a human being should be and a prime example of what a board member is supposed to be.”

Forming a bond throughout childhood and through high school, Villegas said he remembers the countless days and nights that Vela and he would spend at each other’s home.

Villegas added that Vela brought stability to the board and always focused on what was right for the thousands of students and staff in the district and community.

“Jesse will always be watching over us,” he said. “And somehow or some way he’ll send us subtle messages about how to behave on the board and let us know in some form or fashion, ‘Hey guys, keep the focus.’”

Asked at the renaming ceremony what his favorite moments were from his decades at PSJA ISD, Vela replied, “When students cross the stage to get their diplomas and you see the looks on their faces, that to me is the reason I’m on the board. That to me is the most significant thing.”

Vela is survived by his wife of 53 years, Idolina Gorena Vela; his three sons, Ariel Jesus, Omar Joel, Hiram Jose; his five grandchildren, Vanessa Marie, Issac Ariel, Vivian Alyss, Nydia Concepcion, Noah Christoper, Sophia Rose; his brother, Carlos Vela; and two sisters-in-law, Irma Trevino and Anadelia Willingham.

Visitation begins Wednesday at 5 p.m. at Memorial Funeral Home in San Juan with a 7 p.m. rosary. Funeral service takes place at 10 a.m. the following day at Resurrection Catholic Church in Alamo followed by interment at Palm Valley Memorial Gardens in Pharr.