When his East Palo Alto, California, school dropped music from the curriculum, a 12-year old Hymes moved in with friends of his parents, six miles away in decidedly more affluent Palo Alto, to attend a school with a robust music program. At his new residence, Hymes contributed $65 dollars a month rent, performed household chores and paid for his voice and piano lessons.
To help cover these expenses, he got a job delivering the local paper. Rising every morning around 3:30 am, he rode his bicycle five miles to reach the delivery neighborhood, and to fold and deliver 287 copies of the San Francisco Chronicle. The number 287 is permanently engraved in his memory.
Hymes finished his deliveries at 6:15 a.m., which gave him just enough time to get to orchestra practice at 7:30 a.m. When his father died two years later, he took a second job as a hotel bellman and worked at a pizza parlor on weekends to help support his family.
The college-bound Hymes brought that work ethic with him to Oberlin. As a conservatory student in the mid-1970s he worked two jobs—in the dining hall and with campus security—to make ends meet, and to continue sending money home.
At home in the summers, he worked 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. at a pharmaceutical company, grabbed a few hours’ sleep, and then worked the graveyard shift at Hewlett Packard, finishing just in time to start the routine all over again.
Although he is justifiably proud of his early efforts, when asked what made his college education financially feasible, Hymes credits Oberlin.
"Oberlin’s entire financial aid platform is what made it work," says Hymes, who received substantial scholarship and loan support in addition to his campus jobs. "That essentially made all of it possible."
In 2004, Hymes and his wife created the endowed Victor ’79 and Kathy Hymes Scholarship, which is just one of the ways he is working to repay Oberlin’s favor.