BIRTH OF JACK THE BIKE MAN
In 1999 a young Spanish speaking man was falling off of his bike in front of my house. I was very much disabled while walking so I hobbled out to the curb, looking closely at that bike. I noticed that the front brakes were not attached. I went into my house and got a screw driver and a pair of pliers. I then repaired the brakes and the young man no longer had to crash into the curb to stop. He was very happy and an immediate friend.
Shortly his friends would come by and ask for help in getting their bikes road worthy. A few of my friends heard me speaking of this unusual activity at my house and gave me some old bikes to repair. These bikes I would give the children and young men needing transportation to work.
These neighbors were for the most part Migrant Workers from Guatemala. When I assisted them with their bike problems a trust developed. When a problem or other issue would come up in their lives, they would come to me for help. This produced many new friends for me. The best result of these new friends was that I was able to put my attention onto others and their needs and not on my poor health. This produced tremendous improvements in my health as the elimination of a very stable walking devise. Now I only use a walking cane to stabilize my balance. My overall health saw major improvements.
During this time, I became an advocate for improving the safety of my neighborhood. This brought even more new people into my life. These people were from many walks of life. This brought to me several benefits. Not only did people give me many more bikes, they recognized me for my work assisting the Migrant Workers in the Northwood Area.
Soon my effort was brought to the attention of one of the Assistant State Attorneys in Palm Beach County. Marty Epstein made arrangements for the Drug Farm to present me with bikes that had been repaired by the inmates for presentation of those bikes to kids in my neighborhood.
Someone called Jamie Holmes of WPTV and told him what I was doing. He became interested and called me to do a story. He came on a day that I had planned on delivering a bike to a young man 12 years old. The camera was able to get some real good shots of the child and his other brothers and sisters. After the show aired there were hundreds of phone calls. People called and offered me bicycles all over South East Florida. The calls came from Ft Lauderdale to Vero Beach and out to Okeechobee. To my surprise people called and wanted to send checks to help me with my effort. This program is where Jamie Holmes started calling me “Jack the Bike Man” It stuck and now I am famous all over the place.
With all of the publicity there were problems that started to happen. I had over 100 bicycles in my back yard. This proved to be a big temptation for the neighborhood youngsters who were needing things to sell for Drugs. This was very frustrating and got me started to look for a new place to keep the bikes.
I asked every private property owner in this area for help and the doors were all closed. Then I became aware of many unoccupied buildings in the Northwood Business District. One was a beautiful new building belonging to Northwood Business Development Corp., now called Northwood Renaissance Corp. They were trying to improve the economics in the area and also to improve our living standards. They offered this new building to me to get through the Christmas season.
With all of the publicity on the bike project and my other efforts in helping people in need, the program started to grow. Suddenly the 12 bikes the first year built up in 3 years to over 100 bikes for Santa Claus. I also was nominated for the Prestigious Jefferson Award and was a finalist for this honor.
A world famous Children’s Charity called Variety called me on the telephone. I was invited to a Variety Show in the Poinciana Playhouse in Palm Beach. They presented me to the audience on the Stage and gave me 10 brand new bikes to help with my Christmas Bicycle Gifts for the children of the Migrant Workers in my neighborhood. They became a major help for my project for several years.
After several Hurricanes I was forced to rent a building as all of the buildings that were originally available to me were damaged and torn down. It was a nice building where I could store, repair hundreds of bicycles. I was able to give away 400 at Christmas time in 2005. After that Christmas with other disasters and developments all over the world, donations slowed down significantly.
I then made the decision to lighten my obligations and closed the shop. It was costing me a lot of money each month and that was a problem as my income is from Social Security. I still get phone calls weekly with bikes to donate and I get requests for bikes more often.
I have been privileged to have been able to donate many bikes to very worthy causes. After the first big storm here and I had to get rid of a lot of bikes an angel appeared. A pastor from Haiti found me. There had been bad storms in his village there. He had bought a big truck here to ship to his country. It was empty and he felt that it was a waste to ship a big empty truck to his church. I gave him 120 very tall big people bikes needing repairs. We packed them on the back of the truck. Then he stuffed rice between the bikes in big bags before covering the whole thing with a tarp to ship to Haiti. On his return he showed me a video of the truck being unloaded. The happy faces were worth millions to me.
In a few months a man approached me form St Paul of the Cross Catholic Church. His group had a ministry in Nicaragua. On two separate occasions I was able to give him 40 bikes needing repairs. They were shipped to Nicaragua and repaired for the people there.
Another wonderful Angel came into my life. Cecilia Campoverde a Professor at FAU. She wrote a project called “The Guatemala Project” She has adopted a complete city that had to be relocated after a flood in Guatemala because of Hurricane Mitch. Her group has built a school, a Medical Clinic, a house for the Doctors to stay when visiting the clinic. She has raised money to build every family a table and chairs to eat their meals in. The project also makes very small loans at very low interest to help the residents into business. One was a bicycle shop. I have sent to her 175 bikes over the years. Some were to help the bike shop get a good start and the rest were distributed to the entire village.
I have received help from the most unusual sources. One family decided not to have a gift exchange one Christmas and gave me the money for my project that they would have spent on their gifts. One group of girls in a neighborhood had a lemonade stand to raise money and collect bikes for me. A forth grade class did odd jobs to raise money to help me out one Christmas. A group of firemen came to assemble new bikes one year to help with Christmas. Many employees of a Bellsouth office building had a project and collected close to 100 bikes to help me out several times.
The most touching was from a Mother of a young man who had died prematurely. Her son loved his bike and she told me that he was his happiest when on his bike. She gave it to me so his Spirit would continue in another child.
One year, I had a bad injury on my toe and left the hospital to get the bikes ready for Christmas. I received hundreds of Prayer cards and letters that people wanted to help me to get well so that I could continue the work.
When I had the nice big bike shop a lot of miracles happened. The young children would come after school to work or just to say Hello. Sometimes they would have a problem that worried them and would talk to me about it. This was a very Spiritual experience for me. Some kids just came to pick out a bike while others liked to come and fix the bikes for the kids that were not able to repair their own bikes. Some would pick out a badly damaged bike and repair it for a special friend and I would let them give it to the friend.
Some of these kids were headed towards the life of crime in gangs. The bike shop was able to build their self esteem and the gangs suddenly were not an issue.
A Celebration of Life Ceremony will be held at Quattlebaum Funeral Home, 6411 Parker Avenue, West Palm Beach, 33405, on Tuesday. September 19, 2023, from 5:00 PM to 8:00 PM. This date was selected as it would have been his 82nd birthday, a day to celebrate Jack. All are welcome to participate in remembering Jack, his life and contributions to his life and legacy. A memorial graveside service will be scheduled at a later date at Magnolia Cemetery in Meridian,...
by Joe Capozzi A CELEBRATION HONORING the wonderful life of the late “Jack the Bike Man’’ wouldn’t be complete without a few bicycles, even if it is being held at a funeral home. “We will have the place decorated with bicycles,’’ said Mariano Garcia, who’s helping organize the public send-off in West Palm Beach for his friend Samuel H. “Jack” Hairston III, the beloved community fixture better known as “Jack the Bike Man,’’...