The End of an era: TSTC auto collision technology instructor retires

BY Amanda Sotelo

Jimmy Carter was president, KC and the Sunshine Band was our Boogie Man, bell bottoms were in fashion and gas was only 65 cents a gallon. The year was 1977.

That’s when Jose Vargas began his career at Texas State Technical College as an Auto Collision Technology instructor and now many are calling his retirement the end of an era.

The 78-year-old served TSTC for 40 years and four months and said there was never a day he did not wake up happy to go to work.

“I love my work so much, that it doesn’t feel like work,” said Vargas. “My efforts here at TSTC have allowed me to educate students while being able to support and provide a college education for my own children.”

Vargas said he wakes up every day ready to influence his students and prepare them to be successful in the workforce.

“I know I’m going to accidentally wake up and drive to work on my first day of retirement,” Vargas said while laughing. “TSTC has become my second home and family. The people are what I’m going to miss the most.”

Over the years Vargas has taught more than 1,600 students and has hired a number of his past students as faculty for Automotive Technology.

Among them, Vargas’ former student and Auto Collision Technology Instructor Joseph Cantu who said he is going to miss the knowledge and guidance that Vargas brought to the classroom and life. They have worked together for 19 years.

“I’ve gotten to where I am today because of Jose’s guidance,” said Cantu. “He’s guided me as a student, an instructor and as a friend. I really don’t know what the program is going to be like without him. It’s hard to imagine.”

In fact, Cantu said Vargas got him his first job at a Ford dealership in San Benito when he graduated in 1984.

“His shoes are pretty big shoes to fill,” said Cantu. “But we’ll continue doing what he taught us to do and continue his work for the program.”

One of Vargas’ big accomplishments during his time at TSTC was bringing the Inter-Industry Conference on Auto Collision Repair (I-CAR) to the Rio Grande Valley in 1986 to an ever changing industry.

I-CAR is a not-for-profit focused on providing everyone involved in collision repair with access to high-quality, industry-recognized training solutions.

Vargas’ involvement in I-CAR as a national bilingual instructor and board of trustee deemed beneficial for TSTC students in the Auto Collision Technology. Monetary and in-kind donations have since rolled in along with scholarships for tuition and tools for deserving students.

Lead Instructor for Auto Collision and Automotive Technology Adan Gutierrez has worked with Vargas for 15 years and said what inspires him most is his dedication to his students.

“He started working at TSTC when I was 10 years old, who knew that life or time would put us together at some point,” said Gutierrez. “It’s been great seeing him put his experience and knowledge to work to make students’ lives better.”

Gutierrez said he has a deep respect for Vargas and the vast knowledge he brought to the college.

“When someone of his caliber leaves, you feel the emptiness,” said Gutierrez. “He’s always brought leadership to the table and we’ll miss him, but I also hope he gets to enjoy time with his family and gets to do the things he couldn’t while working.”

Although Vargas plans on continuing to work with I-CAR on a local level, he also plans on spending most of his free time with his wife of 60 years, six children, 12 grandchildren and 13 great-grandchildren, deep-sea fishing and working on his yard.

“I know I’m leaving the program in good hands, it won’t falter,” said Vargas. “All I can say is I’m honored to have been part of an organization that has changed so many lives, including mine.”