Part 1 in a multi-part story
By M.E. Jones
TOWNSEND -- Thunder, lightning and heavy rain marked a morning drive to Jane and Ray Jackson's home on Blood Road.
But the storm soon abated and a sheltered welcome awaited a visitor on the Jacksons' front porch, along with hot coffee, blueberry scones and a view.
Over the next hour or so, the couple -- this year's William E. May Endowment Award recipients -- talked about the many interests and volunteer activities that led to the honor, sketching a picture of their busy lives and how they came to put down roots in the town they've called home since October 1969, when they bought this house.
Responding to a complimentary comment about the spacious L-shaped farmer's porch, Ray said it was a fairly recent addition and "one of the best things we've ever done" in terms of home improvement. Another was an addition out back, with a gas-fired stove that keeps the room cozy during winter storms when the power goes out.
But before the optional upgrades, the house was apparently a fixer-upper when they moved in, maybe a bit more so than anticipated. They were shown the property at night, Jane recalled, and decided to buy it without looking around much. "It was dark," she said.
"We were in our 20s" then, Jane said, and Brian, the first of their two children, was a year old. A daughter, Heather, came along later.
New roots and community ties
Both from Pennsylvania, Jane and Ray Jackson were married in April 1967 and lived for a time in Washington, D.C., a move tied to Ray's former job with AT&T.
Now a contractor for the Federal Aviation Administration, the move to New England was job-related, too, he said. With a new work site in Ashburnham, Townsend was an ideal location and they liked the neighborhood. This time they stayed put.
The community ties Ray and Jane have built over the years like a collection of family photos can be traced back to Scouting and the Townsend Congregational Church.
The Jacksons were active in local Scouting for several years and on nearly all levels, as Cub Scout, Boy Scout, Brownie and Girl Scout leaders and committee members.
Ray's adventures in Scouting started as a "spin-off" from the church he and Jane joined shortly after moving to town.
They were new, with no family or friends in town, when the pastor of the Townsend Congregational Church paid them a visit, Jane said. It was a serendipitous social call. They've been involved ever since.
Boy Scout Troop 10, which Ray led for seven years, was sponsored by the church and he took over as Scoutmaster when the previous leader retired.
He also served on the executive board of the Nashua Valley Council and received the prestigious "Silver Beaver" award for adult Scouters.
Later, when Jane was a Girl Scout leader, he helped out, Ray said. They agreed that of the two Scouting groups, working with the girls was more challenging.
Jane and Ray have been active in the church and still are. In a list of biopic bullets, Jane said that at one time or another, they've "quite possibly" served on every church board or committee and in just about every leadership role except pastor and organist.
When approached for a story on their May award nomination, Jane's emails hinted at some discomfort with the notion of being singled out for recognition. But she, characteristically, didn't simply stand by, she got involved, voluntarily editing a biopic fact sheet prepared by the award committee.
A veteran journalist who served for seven years as a town selectman, Jane didn't include the small newspaper she once owned and published in Littleton on the joint resume. But Ray brought it up.
The paper was called "Senior Times" and Jane kept it going for 10 years before selling it, in part because she had so many other things on her plate.
When her daughter went back to work, for example, Jane was a part-time, stay-at-home grandmother for a while. "I offered to watch Connor a couple of days a week," she said.
Running a business can be tough even without the added responsibility of childcare, but Jane enjoyed both.
As for the paper, it was a friendly flier, mostly ads and features that focused on senior interests and aimed at getting folks "moving ... off the couch," she said. One was a series called "Cool places to take your grandparents."
One might say Jane has a way about her. Careful of other people's feelings, she's personally unassuming, with a seasoned sense of humor, but she can be tenacious about getting facts straight and is no-nonsense when it comes to business.
The at-home interview venue was not her first choice.
Jane had suggested an early breakfast meeting before she went to her part-time job at a Littleton church. The scenario excluded Ray, who was out of town and often is, she said, adding that he could fill in the blanks later by phone, if necessary, and that she does most of the talking for the two of them anyway.
The interviewer, a former co-worker from Jane's days at Nashoba Publishing, preferred meeting with both Jacksons at home.
Jane provided directions.
To be continued.