Bruce Hayes grew up in Erlanger Village – a bustling community built around the Erlanger textile mill which was built in the early 1900s in Lexington, NC. This mill was known for manufacturing BVD underwear and military uniforms.
In his young life, Hayes trained daily for the sport he loved, boxing. He lifted weights and ran five miles a day, something he still does even at age 76. Much of the training was done in his own back yard, where other young people from the community would gather to spar and jab and see who had the better boxing skills. Hayes also spent a lot of time at the Erlanger YMCA Gym where he played basketball and boxed in the gymnasium. Soon, boxing became the focus of Bruce’s life. At Lexington High School, he gave up football and baseball and every other sport just to box. In fact, when coaches at Lexington High School told Bruce he had to make a choice, boxing or other sports, Bruce chose boxing.
In addition to boxing in Lexington and at the Erlanger mill, Bruce traveled all over the state boxing in armories and at YMCAs. He traveled to nearby Virginia (Fieldale) to fight in other textile mills. He also went to Kannapolis, NC, Charlotte and places throughout the Carolinas. He also started fighting in the Carolinas Golden Gloves Tournaments.
Like other young men of that era, Hayes had his boxing heroes like Rocky Graziano, Tony Zale and Rocky Marciano, and he couldn’t wait to buy the next issue of Ring Magazine. As high school ended, Bruce won a scholarship to Dartmouth University in Hanover, New Hampshire but instead chose to go to Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, where he played basketball, ran cross-county and played tennis.
After his college years, Bruce came back to Lexington to work in his father’s jewelry store, Hayes Jewelers, which was also located in the Erlanger community. Bruce’s father, Delmar, opened the store in 1939.
With growing responsibilities, Hayes stayed in boxing, only instead of being in the ring himself, he would become a promoter and a coach. One of those he helped train was boxing standout, Jimmy Hester, and he expressed his thankfulness in a letter to Hayes.
My friend and Big brother Bruce,
You know Bruce, I have always wanted to tell you how I felt about you. My Senior Project in High School was about a man who always helped me and trusted me like a brother. He ran with me and always treated me like someone. He helped me do something I love. You might say he helped me learn to love boxing. Yes this man is Bruce Hayes! I got a B+ on my project! But Bruce, in my book you rank in the A+s. Thanks for being a man to me. I could always go to you when in trouble. You know I have always looked up to you and respected you. I would like to be just like old Bruce Hayes, the boy who has a big heart.
Thanks for everything!
That letter was written just days before Jimmy Hester was killed while serving our country in Vietnam. Even today, Hayes continues to help young boxers by promoting tournaments at the American Children’s Home in Lexington, NC and at other amateur boxing events throughout North Carolina. Hayes also served as the judge of boxing events, including an event he named after Jimmy Hester.
According to Wayne Vuncannon who trained Hester after Hayes, “Bruce was instrumental in introducing me to his neighbor, Jimmy Hester. He encouraged Jimmy. Bruce has always been an advocate of boxers. Bruce fought when he was young and was a great encourager and supporter of other boxers. He’s very passionate about the sport. He and his daddy both were involved in helping propel the sport here in North Carolina to new heights.”
These days, Hayes continues to operate Hayes Jewelers, which he has grown into one of the largest diamond superstores in the country, along with his son, Zack.