WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Samuel H. "Jack" Hairston III, known as "Jack the Bike Man" for donating repaired and refurbished bicycles to thousands of needy children and adults in South Florida, has died. He was 81.
Hairston, founder of the West Palm Beach-based not-for-profit Jack The Bike Man Inc. in West Palm Beach, died from a heart attack Friday, according to a post on his Facebook page Tuesday.
"It is with profound sadness and deep regret that we announce the sudden and untimely passing of Jack Hairston, our esteemed Founder and President of Jack the Bike Man, Inc., a Non-Profit Organization ... leaving us all shocked and devastated," according to a statement.
Since 2007, 32,000 bikes have been provided to Palm Beach County, including 2,318 given away during the Christmas season in 2019, with 48,701 volunteer hours from 2017, 2018 and 2019.
Besides his donation program, the shop performs repair and maintenance on bikes and sells refurbished ones for sale with trained technicians. Profits support the mission.
"It's kind of is a shock and it does not feel real," Lo-Amni Rabanales, who says he met Jack when he was 8 years old walking along the train tracks, told WPTV's Joel Lopez. "He asked me where my bicycle was, and I didn't have one at the moment."
With an exchange of community service, Jack gave him a bike.
Twelve years later, he's paying it forward as a bike tech at Jack the Bike Man.
"I remember Jack a few times told me a bicycle can take you places four wheels can't," Rabanales said. "This changed my life for sure."
In 1999, Hairston was inspired to help a young man in need of bicycle repairs. Jack the Bike Man, Inc. was founded in 2007 "with a mission to strengthen our community through bicycle education and safety programs, and a vision to create a community of healthy, active individuals by providing hope to the less fortunate through support, training and access to bicycles. Under his exceptional leadership, the Organization has grown and flourished, positively transforming the lives of countless individuals and families."
In an interview with WPTV's TA Walker in 2022, he said: "I remember the feeling of this sensation of freedom when I got a half a block away from a house, and it was out of control wonderful, exciting sensations when I got around the block."
His passion for giving bikes to kids and workers started by him fixing the brakes on a migrant man’s bike.
"There's so much poverty here," Jack said. "And I see so many kids who are not going to have anything for Christmas"
His efforts extended beyond the borders of Palm Beach County into Guatemala where he personally visited often throughout the years while contributing towards the futures of countless children. His many charitable efforts in Guatemala included donating textbooks, computers and supplies to empower the education of children in impoverished communities.
"I was going to spend six months here and six months in Guatemala and retire and under the palm trees and a hammock," Hairston said. "And here I am 25 years or so later. Still working seven days a week. Don't forget to go to Guatemala very often, but I love it down there.
Besides giving away free bikes, Hairston also ran a four-week after-school program for middle school-aged children that meets twice a week. It promotes bike riding to instill healthy physical fitness habits. It teaches basic bike repair and bike safety. Participants who complete the class are awarded a bicycle, helmet, lock, light, bell and tool kit.
Also, participants volunteer for a set amount of hours at the bike shop and earn a free bicycle.
The Board of Directors of Jack the Bike Man are actively working to ensure a smooth transition of leadership.
They are implementing a capital campaign to raise $5 million to allow the organization to continue serving the surrounding community "by providing the support, education, and training to those who need it most."
Half of this amount would allow the organization to begin initial renovations to move into a building purchased in 2021 behind his current location on 420 Claremore Road. Designs include a state -of-the-art first-floor showroom, bike shop and offices in two-story structure built in 1925.
The lease on the current location expires at the end of the year.
"What we all think Jack would want is to keep his mission, his goal for Jack the Bike Man to keep going," Alejandro Hernandez, the director of operations for Jack the Bike Man, said.
"I just want everybody to know that we're working hard to keep it going and we want to keep it going and of course we're going to need the help from the community to help support us."
Hairston faced financial hurdles during the pandemic and high rent of $175,000 yearly at its former location.
Hernandez said the team at the bike shop is like family, and that Jack's sister and loved ones have been by the shop.
"Jack's passing is a huge loss for not just our organization but for the whole community," Hernandez said. "Everyone is still in shock; we're just trying to keep everything going because I think that's what Jack would want."
Donations ican be made to Jack the Bike Man Inc. via check to PO Box 17565 West Palm Beach, FL 33416 or online via Paypal on www.jackthebikeman.org/donate.
No details are available for a memorial service, but people are asked to check its web.
In 2018, Joel Solis, one of his employees, died in a crash on the way to work. Hairson met Solis when he was just 5 years old when he gave him his first bike.