By Roberto Hugo Gonzalez,
As Originally Published by Texas Border Business newsprint edition August 2016
This 2016 so far has been a good year, well, let me rephrase that, it has been a formidable year and one to be remembered for years to come. Barely starting the year on January 12, the announcement was made that Robert C. Vackar, CEO of the Bert Ogden Auto Group had donated $2 million. The recipient, The University of Texas Rio Grande Valley labeled the donation as the largest scholarship gift received in the institution’s history.
University officials were elated, the community was surprised, and Dr. Guy Bailey, president of the University couldn’t even contain the joy felt by the generosity of the “Kings of the Auto Dealerships in the Rio Grande Valley.”
The gift, presented at the Performing Arts Center on the Edinburg Campus was strategically designated for two scholarship endowments; The Robert C. Vackar Endowed Scholarship for Aspiring Entrepreneurs that supports students pursuing a degree in the College of Business and Entrepreneurship, and The Janet Ogden Vackar Spirit of Philanthropy Endowed Scholarship that provides financial assistance to students pursuing a mass communications degree in the College of Liberal Arts.
There was more; the Vackars also announced an additional $80,000 for the Susan Lewis Vackar Clark Endowed Memorial Scholarship previously established at the University. The scholarship was named after Bob Vackar’s late sister, a 1963 graduate of then Pan American College and an elementary school teacher. Mr. Vackar said, “Susan was a wonderful person, she graduated from the school here, and was Bronco Queen, a cheerleader, and an honors student.”
No arguments from anyone, there was only praise and admiration for the Vackars, because they have done what many would like to do and many are dreaming of doing.
Just a few months later, on May 18, 2016, they did it again, this time they gifted the University $15 million, which became the largest single donation in the history of higher education in the region. These funds are firmly designated for the College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
How can you top the generosity of Mr. Vackar? Yes, it’s true, he has received appreciative comments from multiple people in the community, but officials at the university felt that the gift was extraordinary so now the university official named the college, the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
“To say that this is a historic moment in the history of our university is a dramatic understatement,” Guy Bailey, founding the president of the University of Texas RGV stated. He continued, “This is a game-changer for us. I cannot … words don’t express our gratitude as an institution. As an organization, our gratitude will be represented in the success of our students for generations and generations to come.”
He also stated that the naming would exist in perpetuity, “We cannot wait until the day Bob, and Janet’s grandchildren and great grandchildren are Vackar graduates.” He said, “Think about that. I cannot tell you what a gift of this magnitude means to UTRGV and the Rio Grande Valley as a whole.”
He pointed out that most great universities have their colleges of business named, and today this university join those ranks. “This gift allows us to recruit and hire the best and brightest faculty. It’ll enable us to recruit the best and brightest students, and to put the best and brightest students with the best and most brilliant faculty.” He continued, “Think about this. Hopefully one day those students will graduate, and work for the Bert Ogden Auto Group.”
With words of appreciation, Dr. Bailey thanked Mr. Vackar for the trust placed in them. He also thanked Janet for supporting Bob in this endeavor, and for being a steadfast cheerleader as the university moves forward.
Bob and Janet Vackar are the owners and principal dealers of the Bert Ogden Auto Group, which includes 19 dealership locations housing 21 brands across the Valley.
For UT Chancellor Admiral William McRaven, it was an easy thing to make friends with the Vackars. He said, “Having a chance to meet Bob and Janet Vackar has been fun.”
He stated that it took him about 15 minutes to make a connection. “As you know, Bob spent time in the military, and my time in the military, and you can make that connection instantaneously.” He said, “They are passionate about the Valley.”
He mentioned that the remarkable thing about the Valley is that the people are so gracious, friendly and warm. “This is emblematic of the two of you,” Chancellor McRaven said.
He pointed out that this gift will transform the university in ways that nothing has done in the past. He spoke of how future generations will be able to graduate through the Robert C. Vackar College of Business and Entrepreneurship.
“You realize that today is, again, the start of something special.” He continued, “You’ll look back 5 years from now, 10 years from now, 15 years from now, 100 years from now, and you will have influenced thousands and thousands and thousands of young men and women that will have changed and shaped the Valley forever. That’s a hell of a legacy, and it starts today.”
Before becoming chancellor, McRaven was the commander of U.S. Special Operations Command during which time he led a force of 69,000 men and women. Today, the proud retired U.S. Navy four-star admiral as the University of Texas System Chancellor is overseeing fourteen institutions that educate 221,000 students, and employ 20,000 faculty, and more than 80,000 healthcare professionals, researchers and staff.
Chancellor McRaven said, “Really, Bob, I can tell you, you have my word as one old sailor to one old soldier thank you very much for this gift. Thanks for what you’ve done not only for the Valley but I know you have a particular interest in the veterans here in the Valley. How do you say thank you to a gift like this that will change an entire generation of people? There aren’t any words. I’ll just have to say thank you, and thank you, and thank you again.”
Many of our readers are familiar with Bob and Janet Vackar. They both grew up in the Valley; they are the children of entrepreneurs who owned Edinburg-based businesses and inspired dedication to hard work and community service.
The celebration focused on thanking Mr. Vackar, but he, in turn, thanked his team and his wife Janet, who has been a supportive pillar of the family and participant of the auto conglomerate marketing efforts.
“What changed my life is the truth of the matter,” Mr. Vackar said. “We have 100 college graduates working for us, 53 of them are graduates from the University of Texas Rio Grande Valley. We have an additional 20 employees that enrolled with the University working on their degrees now.”
He said that this is a remarkable number of people. “When I used to work for a multinational company, and I recruited all over the United States, I will tell you that I have never recruited, or interviewed or hired college graduates that were more qualified than the ones right here in the Rio Grande Valley, and that’s a great honor to each one of them.”
Mr. Vackar expressed his concern and asked, “what else can they do for the young generation?” He continued, “We just have so much responsibility, and all that we do has to be from the heart.”
He said that probably he has not done enough, and probably will never do enough but this is a start on what he wants to do. He said, “Janet’s just got a heart of gold, and I’ll tell you she’s worked on me for 38 years. I apologize. I was going to say million, but I’m not that old, but Janet’s worked on me forever.”
He said, he is proud to be at the forefront of the school of business administration and reminded everyone that the face that everyone needs to remember is not his face, but the face of those students that graduate with a degree.
During the time he was at the podium, he saw his grandson Walt playing with a cell unit and ask him to pay attention. It was easy to recognize Mr. Vackar’s joy to see his baby grandson present in an event where he was being recognized and honored,
“I think we have a lot of other plans that we want to work on for the college. We talked about the career center and placement, and as time progresses that’s what we’ll work on,” he finalized.
It is important to say that Bob met Janet by chance in Houston, after he had graduated with a degree in business from Texas A&M University, both came back to the Valley in 1982.
He served in Vietnam in the U.S. Army and worked at Shell Oil. He brought his innovative sales skills and business acumen to the Valley. After the death of both of Janet’s parents in an automobile accident, Bob assumed the role of dealership principal and operator in 1992. Since then, Bert Ogden has grown to be the largest auto dealership in South Texas, with locations Valley wide now with about 970 employees.
Texas Border Business approached several leaders of the area and asked their opinion about the Bert Ogden Auto Group and its CEO, Robert C. Vackar. The first was Jim Darling, Mayor of McAllen who said, “Bob is a great civic leader who sets the finest example by giving back to the community he lives in.”
Also, he said, “Bert Ogden Auto Group is a great company that has shown great success with hard work and entrepreneurship leaders. Bob and Janet’s leadership and “putting your money where your mouth is” is an example of philanthropy and should be a catalyst for more significant giving back to our Rio Grande Valley.”
At the time this article was being prepared, Mike Rhodes came to my mind. He is real estate developer and leader in South Texas. I wanted to have his comments in regards to Mr. Vackar. Since I was not able to get a hold of him via phone I decided to send the invitation through a text, let’s see what happens.
In the meantime, I approached Jim Collins, and he told Texas Border Business, “I admire and respect Bob Vackar. He is a great friend, businessman, partner, and more important, a great family man and community leader. This is also true of Janet.” He said, “Bob and Janet are excellent contributing their time, energy, and funding to many causes in the Valley. They have made and will continue to make a difference in many lives. Education and health in the Valley will be forever improved for what they have done,” he stated.
And what about from a woman’s perspective? Well, I was able to get two quotes, the first came from Alma Ortega Johnson, she is the South Texas Area President for Wells Fargo Bank and she said, “Mr. Vackar is a successful leader in business, he is a man of vision and a role model to emulate.” She continued, “He had created hundreds of job opportunities and took the risk of expanding when car dealers were scaling back.”
From your perspective, how would you describe Bert Ogden Auto Group? “A company who is employing over 1,000 people across the valley is a big player, paramount to our local economy.”
She also pointed out that Bob and Janet are generous people because they generously share their resources to improve our communities. “Bob contributes financially, he serves in voluntary capacities of local non-profit organizations, shares his vision with other organizations and provides brilliant guidance.”
Alma said that Bob also interacts with community leaders in business and education to help proactively address issues for the benefit of everyone.
Aside from all of that, Alma said to admire the interconnectedness between the company, their employees, and the community. “Their advertising effectively connects with individuals and businesses in the Valley.”
She also pointed out that the gift to the university will positively impact every business. “In the Valley, Wells Fargo is currently in need of fully prepared and qualified graduates,” she finalized.
From the education perspective I requested a comment from Tom Torkelson, he is the Founder and the Chief Executive Officer of IDEA Public Schools, and he said, “I hope that Robert’s gift serves as an example to his peers in the community. Each great city in our nation has become so only with the help of private citizens who have used their wealth to build and sustain local institutions. Robert has helped the RGV take a step towards joining our great cities who have a culture of philanthropy.”
As I continue to develop the story, I am alert checking for Mike Rhodes’ response, but nothing yet. My hope is that I will have a comment from him soon.
In the meantime, I approached Elio Botello; he is the owner of Abasto Corporation, one of the largest produce terminals in McAllen, San Antonio, and Mexico. He said the Bob Vackar is a great person that cares for this region.
“His company, Bert Ogden Auto Group, has an excellent reputation, and he has become the most notable donor for education in the history of the Rio Grande Valley.”
And why not have the opinion of a Texas Senator, Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, and he said, “Robert Vackar is a very successful person who has generously given back to the community. He is willing to invest in the future, specifically education, which is the best equalizer we have in our society.”
He also said that the Bert Ogden Auto Group is a successful business that is willing to share their success with our community.
Will this gift have an effect in the business community? “This gift by the Vackar family will encourage the business community to donate funds to help out and provide more educational opportunities for Valley students.”
Also, he said that Mr. Vackar served his country in the military and also serves our community. “He and his family should be commended for their generosity and investment in our future,” State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa stated.
On the same matter, Texas Border Business approached former McAllen Mayor and current City Commissioner Richard Cortez, and he said, “The future of the Rio Grande Valley is going to depend on how well we educate ourselves because 38% of our population is in poverty and without medical insurance.” He continued, “The Bert Ogden Auto Group under the leadership of Bob and Janet Vackar is a great sense of pride to all of us living in the RGV. Their dealerships throughout the valley have touched many lives the right way. It pleases me greatly to see Bob and Janet give back to their community. Their gift to UT-RGV is going to make a BIG difference in the future of the Valley. I am excited about the progress of UT-RGV and STC are having in giving access to higher education to so many of our population. Just imagine for a minute where we would be without UT-RGV and STC? Thank you, Bob and Janet. May you continue to be blessed and Dale Gas!
Charles Marina, President First American Realty Company, graciously gave us his comments and said, “Bob Vackar is a well-respected pillar of our community which shaped the face of the Valley and enriched the lives of so many along the way. Bob is clearly the genius working virtually unnoticed behind the scenes.”
Marina has witnessed Bob and the Bert Ogden organization defy National and local economic challenges that caused others to pause. “Instead, Bob forged ahead and expanded his dealerships as we watched them flourish into a masterful Valley wide business operation.”
He stressed the fact that the gift will have far-reaching impact beyond the doors of the University and his business and many others would greatly benefit from Mr. Vackar’s kindness and generosity.”
“Bob, I salute you for the great job you have accomplished, but more importantly for the person you are and for your generosity which you have selflessly shared throughout our community,” Marina finalized.
I thought it was a very good idea to have a comment from one of the leading physicians from one of the leading hospitals in South Texas. From someone that also knows the meaning of giving and sharing and that is Dr. Carlos J. Cardenas, the Chairman of the Board and Chief Administrative Officer for Doctors Hospital at Renaissance and he said, “Bob Vackar is an exemplary citizen of our community. He has been a stalwart supporter of those causes and endeavors that have contributed to the transformation of education and healthcare we are currently witnessing.”
What is your opinion about Bert Ogden Auto Group? “An Excellent organization and corporate citizen that has focused on its customers and the communities it serves,” said Dr. Cardenas.
Ernest Aliseda Member of the University of Texas System Board of Regents said that philanthropy helps ensure that the next generation of students has access to higher education and is essential to providing a quality higher education by funding scholarships, research, and initiatives that benefit not only individual students but the entire community. He said, “An educated workforce is vital to our quality of life and our economy, particularly in the Valley.”
According to him, Robert Vackar is a committed philanthropist, but most importantly, he’s visionary. He said, “He’s a graduate of Texas A&M – an Aggie – who has no personal collegiate affiliation with the UTRGV, but gives generously and continuously to UTRGV because he understands the importance of education and its lasting impact, not just on students, but on the entire region.”
Aliseda added that he is appreciative that Mr. Vackar has gone out of his way to hire students and graduates of UT Pan American now UTRGV.
“The Valley is among the poorest regions in the State economically, and UTRGV is going to play a huge role in its transformation by producing more and much-needed highly educated citizens. Our future is very bright thanks to committed business and community leaders like Robert Vackar,” Aliseda stated.
Congressman Henry Cuellar (D-TX-28) said, “I thank Mr. Vackar for his commitment to the Valley community and our young generation. This gift will help many of my constituents reach their goals of obtaining a college degree.”
Steve Ahlenius, President, and CEO of the McAllen Chamber of Commerce. What is your opinion of Robert C. Vackar? “Bob has done what I hope every successful business person does, and that is to find a way to give back to the community. “Civic Capital” is an ingredient I hope will become the hallmark for our region. When you look at the successful cities and communities in the country, philanthropic giving is such a big part of what is driving those communities forward.”
Steve also stated that the company is a great corporate citizen that is actively engaged in how it impacts the communities in the Rio Grande Valley. “His gift helps in creating a corporate culture of giving back.”
Laura Warren Ogletree, AIA, Principal of The Warren Group Architects Inc. told Texas Border Business, “I don’t have the pleasure of knowing him personally. What I can say from an observer perspective is that his business success and long-term employee base speaks loudly about his persona and caring leadership skills.”
She added that his company is locally made and grown. “The company success is based on hard work, strong employee ethic, and service.”
On another matter, finally, I got a response from Mike Rhodes; it was a text that read like this, “Roberto, sorry I have bad service. I’m in Jackson Wyoming on vacation; I’m fly fishing now on the snake river.” Now this explains why I was not being able to connect with him; this conversation will continue later. I would like to say that Mr. Rhodes knows about giving, that is why I selected him. I will catch up with him later.
I also approached another giant, Mr. Glen E. Roney, Investments. He said that the recent very large donation made to the scholarship fund at the newly created University of Texas – Rio Grande Valley by Mr. Robert Vackar will provide funds for a significant number of scholarships. He is to be commended for this generous donation to UT-RGV for scholarship funds for needy students.
“Mr. Vackar and his wife Janet were recently honored by the Border Texan of the Year Committee of McAllen, and they were jointly named Border Texans of the Year. This was in recognition of their generous support for the entire Rio Grande Valley and the successful operations of their various auto dealerships,” Mr. Roney told Texas Border Business.
He also pointed out that Bob and Janet have been exceptionally good supporters of all the communities they serve and have been very generous with their time, effort and financial support.
“Bob has demonstrated the ability to manage the company very well producing excellent results. Bert Ogden would be very proud of Janet and Bob’s successes.” He said to finalize, “The generous donation made by Bob hopefully will encourage others to be generous in their support of the various educational facilities in the area.”
Written by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez the 2009 SBA Journalist of the Year Award Winner & The 2009 and 2012 Paul Harris Award recipient. All photos by Roberto Hugo Gonzalez. TBB