La Jolla centenarian has seen a lot but says his best time is ‘right now’
On the cusp of his 100th birthday, Jim Jackson — former dean of students at what is now Point Loma Nazarene University and current chaplain of the White Sands senior living community in La Jolla — can reflect on a long life of service and adventure.
Born June 24, 1920, in a sod hut in South Dakota, Jackson and his family moved often, following his father’s work as a carpenter, according to information from Jackson’s son, Jim Jackson Jr.
Jackson lived in Seattle and both Northern and Southern California, where he graduated valedictorian of his high school at age 15.
Jackson attended Pasadena College, earning a master’s degree in divinity in 1941, and was ordained as a minister shortly after. He married his wife, Alice, in 1944 and spent the next few years as a pastor at churches in Oakland and Merced.
Jackson returned to Pasadena College in 1949 as a faculty member and earned a Ph.D. in speech communication from USC in the early 1950s.
He was a professor of speech and dean of students for Pasadena College and stayed with the institution more than 40 years as it moved from Pasadena to Point Loma in 1973 and became Point Loma College. It became Point Loma Nazarene University in 1998.
An avid traveler who has visited every continent but Antarctica, Jackson climbed the Great Wall of China and spent his 69th birthday at the bottom of the Grand Canyon.
He amassed countless experiences with his wife and their two sons, Jim Jr. and Jerry, before Alice died in 2008.
Jackson now lives in the White Sands senior community, where he serves as chaplain and is as active as restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic allow.
During a Zoom interview, Jackson answered questions about his life, shared some of his many memories and looked ahead to what’s next: “I want to be 110!”
Q. What’s the secret to your longevity?
A. “I was given a good body; I was brought up with good habits. Living in La Jolla more than 40 years — that’s one reason.”
Q. You’ve lived through a lot of tough periods in history. What do you make of the current pandemic?
A. “In some ways, I’ve been through it before. I remember the Great Depression, I remember when Franklin Roosevelt was elected president. They talked about ‘pump priming,’ when the government would spend money to get the economy going. It lasted until we started building weapons for World War II. That’s so familiar now!
“I was born right after the Spanish flu [pandemic]. I don’t remember that, but I remember polio and when we couldn’t go to parks to play; we had to stay away from groups. It was scary; it was similar to ‘What do we do with COVID-19?’ Life repeats itself.”
Q. What’s a favorite memory?
A. “I was in sixth grade, Seattle, Wash. The principal said, ‘Everybody out on the playground. Look up.’ Here was a silver plane; this was 1929. Who was it? Charles Lindbergh, doing a national tour. I saw his plane, Spirit of St. Louis, flying over our school.
“Over 85 years later, 2015, they said, ‘Get outside at 5 a.m. and look up.’ I look up, and it was the International Space Station moving over La Jolla. Think of that! I saw a little monoplane, Charles Lindbergh … and I saw men flying like a star up there. In one lifetime.”
Q. What’s the most important invention or technological advancement of your lifetime?
A. “This [holding up his mobile phone] is one of the amazing things, [and] that I’m sitting here talking to you [via Zoom and computer].”
Q. What was the best decade for you?
A. “Right now! I have two sons, two daughters [their wives], I have four grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and one great-great-granddaughter [and another on the way]. That is amazing. I’m seeing these little kids play. I took them down to the Children’s Pool, where I took my kids.
“And I’m still doing things.”
Q. What are you most proud of?
A. “I was the first one in my family to go to college and the first to get a Ph.D. I still have, here in the closet, my Ph.D. robe. I don’t look at it, but I know it’s there.”
Q. Any regrets?
A. “Just that I only had 63 years with Alice. Why isn’t she here now?”
Q. How do you handle loss and grief?
A. “I have a genuine faith in God’s will; that has directed a lot. There is peace.”
Q. What’s your best advice to a young person?
A. “Follow your abilities; prepare well. Don’t be afraid.”
Q. What are you looking forward to?
A. “I want to have a meal with people in the dining room. I want people to go back to our chapel. It would be good to have people be together.”
Jackson said he’s also looking forward to celebrating his birthday. White Sands had planned a 150-person party but postponed it for when it’s considered safe.
Jim Jackson Jr. said there will be a family Zoom call the morning of his father’s birthday and that the great-grandchildren made banners to tape on his windows.
“We’ll try to make a small ruckus,” Jackson Jr. said. “He deserves to be celebrated.”
Jackson said he can’t wait to celebrate and “see what’s next. I’m turning 100, but I’m really going on 80.”◆
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