Volunteerism and Generosity Fuel The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™
Chairman Jack Lyons Has Given His Time And Effort Since 1981
By Mara Soloway
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™ will welcome visitors from March 7-26 with its well-established array of attractions, entertainment and special events – everything from horse and livestock shows to children’s learning opportunities such as AGventure, from school art displays to the Wine Garden.
The organization is a nonprofit charity that benefits youth, supports education and facilitates better agricultural practices through exhibitions and presentations. Producing the world’s largest livestock show and rodeo is a year-long endeavor for the 110-member staff, the 18 volunteer vice presidents, the 21 members of the Executive Committee and some of the chairmen of the 107 committees, some of which have more than one chairman. Helping produce this year’s Show are 33,000 volunteers, including more than 4,800 Lifetime Committeemen.
Chairman of the Board Jack Lyons is one of the volunteers who has long given his time and support to the Show. He was first introduced to it by his in-laws, Suzanne and Frank Nelms, in 1981 when he first volunteered on the Quarter Horse Committee. His wife, Nina, began volunteering two years later; she serves as a Lifetime Committeeman. Their three children grew up knowing that The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo was part of the family. Consequently, as adults they and their spouses are all involved in leadership roles on different committees, with son Allen on the board of directors.
Lyons was elected to the Show’s Board of Directors in 1995 and has been a member of the Show’s Executive Committee since 2008. He has been Chairman of the Board since June 2014. When his term is up on June 1 and chairman-elect Jim Winne takes the reins, Lyons will remain on the Executive Committee and will chair the Nominating Committee.
Lyons is also a managing director at John L. Wortham and Son and credits his partners’ support for his ability to serve the Show. He is a 1975 graduate of Southwestern University where he majored in business and minored in economics.
With a 36-year perspective on the Show, Lyons has seen the charity grow in may ways, with expanded exhibitions, events and presentations. And it continues to raise substantial funds for scholarships, research, endowments, calf scramble participants, junior show exhibitors, School Art participants and other educational programs. Since its inception in 1932, the Show has commited more than $430 million to educational programs.
“It’s truly amazing. We’ve seen such a tremendous growth and change, especially since we moved over to these facilities on the NRG campus in 2003. We had 12,500 volunteers that year, and our revenue has skyrocketed since then,” Lyons said. “I never would have thought we’d be where we are today.”
Lyons credits the hard work and creativity of the staff and volunteers for the Show’s success. Other entities also deserve to be acknowledged. “I feel that we would not be as successful as we are if it were not for the community out there supporting us. We’re able to have 2.5 million people come through the gates on an annual basis, and we aren’t able to do that unless we have their support,” he said. “And of course all our sponsors and our donors are instrumental in enabling us to have that success.”
During each Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo, Lyons explores the grounds. “I gravitate toward the educational and the agricultural parts of what we do. It’s great to go down there and watch all the young students. I think we had over 200,000 go through AGventure last year and experience something they’ve probably never seen before.”
He takes pride in how many other presentations the Show has to offer. “We have a world-class livestock show going on the entire time, whether it’s the open show or the junior show. Then you have your commercial exhibitors, which is a big part of what we do. Some have been with us 30-plus years – that commitment by them to be a part of our family is always great to see and it’s one of the unique aspects of the Show.” Additionally, he appreciates the carnival, the horse show and of course the rodeo and the concert. One of his favorite concert memories is of seeing George Strait perform.
After the Show ends on March 26, the number crunching begins to determine, among other things, how much money the Show can give to its educational initiatives that include Area Go Texan, 4-H and FFA scholarships. Since 1957 when student Ben Dickerson received the first agricultural scholarship to Texas A&M University, educational opportunities have been expanded and nearly 17,000 students have received scholarships.
Lyons has traveled to all the various award presentations in his three years as Chairman to hand out the scholarships. He thinks he has had the opportunity to shake the hands of about 75 percent of approximately 2,000 recipients during that time. The relationship often continues beyond that hand shake.
“The letters we receive from scholarship recipients are truly heartfelt. The one thing I wish that all the volunteers could enjoy at the leadership level is to sit down with our scholarship winners, because when you have an opportunity to hear those life-changing stories directly from them, we know we’re doing the right thing,” he said.
The parents are also appreciative that their child is getting such an opportunity. “One of the most heartwarming things that I’ve found out as chairman has been that about 20 percent of our scholarship recipients on an annual basis are the first in their family to graduate from high school. Now they’re getting a chance to go to college,” Lyons said.
While his efforts have greatly benefited the Show and, through it, individual lives, Lyons too has personally experienced the rewards of serving the Show.
“It’s been an honor for me to be in this position. When you spend 30-some-odd years with an organization, you think you know a lot. But you don’t know half of what you think you know till you sit in this Chairman’s seat,” Lyons said. “I never dreamed in my lifetime that I would be in this position. I started as a volunteer just to meet people.”
For those several weeks in March when the Show takes place, Houston becomes one community, celebrating its Western heritage, art and education, and its cultural diversity.
“I’m very proud to be part of an organization that has that type of impact,” Lyons said. “The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is a great charity and a great way to give back to the community.”
Visit rodeohouston.com for more information on this year’s Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo™, including how to buy tickets.