By Dedra Cordle
When some people think of history, whether it be local, state, national, or world, little zzzz’s begin to float throughout their head.
“It is not the favored subject to most,” said Steve Jackson.
But he is not one of those who slip into a state of malaise when the topic is broached. In fact, his reaction is the opposite.
“Oh, I could talk about it forever,” said Jackson. “I’m pretty sure my former students at Madison Plains High School can still hear me going on and on about it in classes that happened decades ago.”
He said his fascination with the much maligned subject began in childhood when he was raised by two history loving parents.
“I remember some of my childhood friends feeling sorry for me when I told them we were going on a vacation to some historic site around the country,” said the longtime Grove City resident. “But honestly I could not wait to join my parents on these adventures through the past.”
Throughout his life, he has been an educator, a researcher, an activist, and a constant presence at government meetings to gently prod officials to take action to save or help restore local items of a bygone era.
“They’ve been wonderful,” he said of former and current city leaders, “but I’m sure some have seen me as this little pest buzzing around with historical preservation requests.”
He said it is important that people know the past, know their town’s past, and has made it his mission to bring it back to life when he joined the Southwest Franklin County Historical Society as a charter member in 1982. But the one thing he has never wanted to do, nor attempted to do, was make history himself.
“Steve does not want any light to shine on him,” said James Hale, a Grove City resident who has known Jackson for more than a decade through their volunteer positions on the historical society. “He would much prefer others take the spotlight and forget all about him.”
But childhood friends and members of a local civic association, however, had another thing in mind.
Several months ago, Jackson’s childhood pal Janet Shailer saw an announcement that the Grove City Rotary Club was seeking nominations for its 2020 Service Above Self award.
“We look for an unknown or unsung resident who has made or left a lasting impact for the betterment of the community, state, nation or world,” said rotary president Brenda Newman. “They have to also be of a certain age and retired, but what we’re really looking for is someone who has done extraordinary things and not sought out recognition just for doing those things.”
Shailer said when she read all of the attributes listed for a potential nominee, Jackson came to mind immediately.
“Steve has a wealth of knowledge about all aspects of history and he will always take the time to share that wealth with anyone who is willing to listen,” she said.
She also praised Jackson for his tireless efforts to preserve local history and called him the historical society’s own Gen. Ulysses S. Grant.
“He never stops when something needs to get done,” she said.
And for many, the need to preserve local history needed to get done.
While Jackson said he did not start taking a more integral role in the historical society until the mid to late 1990s (he taught at Madison Plains from 1971 to 2017 and established its scholarship program), he was a part of a massive effort that led to the establishment of the Century Village Historical Park and the restoration of the Grant-Sawyer Home. Both attractions are points of pride in and for the city.
Newman said when the selection committee sat down and reviewed the list of nominees and their achievements, they were blown away by all that Jackson has accomplished and all that he still wants to accomplish as the president and as a member of the historical society.
“He is a very impressive person,” said Newman.
With the selection cemented, they went about informing him of their decision.
“I am honored and humbled by their selection,” said Jackson, “but I can name a few dozen people who should have been recognized for the impact they have made or left on this community long before I have.”
He said when the bronze plaque that bears his contributions and likeness is permanently placed outside of City Hall, it should come with an asterisk that lists all of those who have helped him in the mission to bring the local past back to life.
“They are the real stars in this story,” he said. “None of these preservation efforts would have been possible without their dedication or their help along the way.”