Mineral Wells Index, Mineral Wells, TX

December 29, 2013

Joe Ruelas named Index's 2013 Man of the Year

School Board president is the ‘glue that bonds Mineral Wells together’


Mineral Wells Index

— By CLINT FOSTER

Perhaps the most beloved movie around this time of year is Frank Capra’s 1946 film “It’s a Wonderful Life,” starring the incomparable Jimmy Stewart. In it, Stewart’s character, George Bailey, reaches the lowest point of his life because of a daunting circumstance and wishes he had never been born. But with some help from his guardian angel, Bailey discovers just how many lives he dramatically touched and realizes that no man is a failure who has friends.

If there is a “George Bailey” of Mineral Wells, there may well be no better candidate than Joe Ruelas.

Just as Bailey led his community and was instrumental in keeping the picturesque Bedford Falls from transforming into the sin city of Pottersville, it is easy to imagine Mineral Wells as a very different place if there were no Ruelas.

Ruelas epitomizes community leadership, serving as President of the Mineral Wells ISD School Board and the United Way Board as well as being an active Lion’s Club member in addition to his day job as assistant vice president for First Financial Bank in Mineral Wells. He also devotes a great deal of his time to coaching and refereeing local youth sports and has even chaired the Chicken Express All Star Classic basketball tournament for the past two years.

Like no one else can, Ruelas has managed to connect the entire Mineral Wells community across many demographic lines. He leads in everything he does, both actively and by example, and strives to make Mineral Wells as great as it can possibly be. As City Councilman and fellow Lion’s Club member Bill Terry simply put it: Ruelas is “just the glue that bonds all of Mineral Wells together.”

Chief among his accomplishments in 2013 was the passage of the Mineral Wells ISD bond, which will be used to build a new school for Lamar Elementary, a replacement track at Mineral Wells High School and improved safety and security for all campuses. Superintendent Dr. Gail Haterius said Ruelas was a vital cog in getting local voters to pass the bond, putting himself at the forefront of educating the community about its benefits by speaking at several meetings and two public forums.

A graduate of Mineral Wells High School, himself, Ruelas has clearly made the future of Mineral Wells ISD a top priority with his daughters, Bre and Maci, in seventh and first grade, respectively. Ruelas has been a member of the School Board for the past seven years, four-and-a-half of which he has spent as president. Haterius said he makes an excellent School Board President because of his keen understanding of the job.

“Joe has a vision for excellence for Mineral Wells ISD in every area,” she said. “Joe has studied and learned what it takes to lead a community board such as our school board. He is perceived as fair and strives to make sure every board member’s voice is heard. He understand governance and that is something that not all school districts are fortunate to have in their board.”

Haterius added another one of Ruelas’ strengths is as a role-model and father figure to multiple extended family members and other youth in the community.

“He will have the hard conversations in order to help young people grow and become productive members of society,” she said. “This concern for the well-being of family is extended to all of the youth in Mineral Wells.”

Ruelas’ fellow Lion’s Club mate, Terry, could not say enough about his friend and his drastic importance to Mineral Wells.

“I’d say on a scale of one to 10, (Ruelas’ importance to the community) is definitely an 11,” Terry said. “He seems to keep the community tied together. Each person can use Joe in everyday life, whether its banking, community business or the school board, he’s kind of a go-to guy. You can count him.”

Terry said Ruelas’ ability to communicate and connect people from all different walks of life makes him invaluable. He alluded that without Ruelas, Mineral Wells would be a significant step behind in its growth and improvement.

“I think he’s here at the right time and doing the right things as far as improving the city,” he said. “I feel so strongly about Joe and what he’s done for the community. He’s just a leader. He’s not a bad banker either.”

Every superhero needs a day job, and the consensus is that Ruelas excels at his. Regional President and CEO of First Financial Bank Ken Williamson described Ruelas as an outstanding employee that places high value on customer service.

He added that Ruelas is well-respected within all groups of the community, which makes him a “very special individual.”

“I can’t give him enough accolades, to be honest,” Williamson said of Ruelas. “He’s just a great individual. He’s willing to help folks and go the extra step. He’s just unselfish with his time giving back to the community, besides being an outstanding loan officer for the bank.”

Williamson also said Ruelas is an outstanding leader, especially for the Hispanic community in Mineral Wells. He lauded Ruelas’ extensive volunteer work and influence in getting the school bond passed.

If Ruelas had never been born, Williamson simply said it would be a loss for the entire community.

“It’s great to have somebody back in the community that believes in the community,” he said. “He’s here for a reason. He’s made a difference in everybody’s life that he touches. He just has a special outlook on life and is always willing to help others.”

A consistent theme besides leadership whenever people talk about Ruelas is a totally unselfish giving of his time in the form of volunteering and other efforts to improve Mineral Wells and the lives of its families. The significance of this theme was especially not lost on Haterius.

“Time is one of our most precious assets and Joe has invested a lot of his time in our community,” she said. “The progress we are making at Mineral Wells ISD is a testament to his vision and support.”

Joe Ruelas is the brand of human being that not only Mineral Wells needs more of, but also the whole world over. His selfless and tireless dedication to the betterment of others is what will ultimately bring Mineral Wells back to a level of prosperity, unseen since the glory days of the mid-1900’s.

He personifies the motto of the Lion’s Club: to “cure the preventable blindness here and worldwide.”

In the words of Clarence the guardian angel, he “really had a wonderful life.” And he’s nowhere near done yet.