Jackson starts endowment at Sondheim
Fairfield philanthropist John Jackson has donated money to the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center to start an endowment.
Jackson donated $104,000 to provide the initial investment in what convention center employees hope is an endowment that will grow to $1 million or more.
“The convention center is great for Fairfield and the surrounding communities,” Jackson said. “It’s great for everybody, and they have great programs. I wish I was younger so I could go and experience them, but it is great for Fairfield.”
Convention center executive director Rustin Lippincott said the center has received donations from many people, but this one is special.
“What makes this unique is that it gets our endowment off the ground, which is something we’ve talked about for five years,” he said. “Finally, thanks to John Jackson, we’re able to create one.”
Lippincott said the endowment will help the convention center make an even greater impact on the community. He said the convention center hosted more wedding receptions in the past fiscal year than it has in its history. The convention center is a bustling place as it averages more than one event per day – 390 in the last fiscal year.
Fairfield resident Dave Neff has known Jackson for 40 years. Neff met Jackson when Jackson was running Fairfield Seed Company.
“I bought seed from him when I was young, and that’s how our friendship began,” Neff said.
In 1978, Neff joined the Greater Jefferson County Foundation, an organization through which he worked with Jackson in a different capacity years later. A few years ago, Jackson set up a scholarship through the foundation for Fairfield seniors interested in music.
This spring, Neff approached Jackson about an endowment for the Fairfield Arts & Convention Center.
“Many times you have to till the field, plant the seed, and when the time comes, let it germinate,” he said. “The time was right this last spring.”
A few weeks after their initial meeting, Jackson called Neff to talk about the endowment. Neff and Cindy Woodbury, then development director at the convention center, told Jackson his donation would be the endowment’s seed money that would grow in time. Neff said it was an easy sales pitch for him and Woodbury, since Jackson was more than willing to donate the money.
Jackson, who turned 99 years old this week, gets around in a wheelchair, but still drives a car and lives independently.
“He jokes with you and his mind is crystal clear,” Neff said.
Jackson has lived his entire life in southeast Iowa. He graduated from Washington High School and Parsons College.
Jackson has been musically inclined throughout his life. He was a charter member of the Washington Municipal Band in 1932. Jackson donated $175,000 to help build a new bandstand in Washington. The new bandstand was completed in 2010. That year, the Washington Municipal Band honored Jackson by playing his favorite song, “Lassus Trombone.”
Jackson has lived in Fairfield most of his life, where he also is widely known for his business and his participation in bands. While serving as a sergeant in the Army and the National Guard, Jackson led the marching band “Rhythm Majors” as its drum major. He also participated in the dance band and played saxophone in the concert band.
The Iowa National Guard’s 34th Army Band counted on Jackson for years to entertain audiences. Jackson was in the band during World War II in Italy. When former bandmate Donald Samuelson compiled a history of the 95-year-old band, Jackson was among those he interviewed.
Jackson was also good friends with Ron Prill, a fellow member of the 34th Army Band and the man after whom the Fairfield bandstand was named this summer. Prill died Sept. 9 at age 81.
Jackson is also the son of a famous athlete. His father, John E. Jackson, was the first Iowan to win an Olympic gold medal. His father won the prize in the military rifle competition at the 1912 Olympic Games in Stockholm, Sweden.
Despite his tremendous success as a sharpshooter, John E. Jackson all but gave up the sport after the Wimbledon Cup, held shortly after the Olympics. His son John C. Jackson said he rarely saw his father fire his rifle, except when a visitor asked him for a demonstration. He said his father did not spend much time teaching him or his brother to shoot. In fact, John C. said he never once fired his father’s rifle that was once on display in the Washington Public Library.