A beloved longtime Columbus coach and educator will forever be memorialized as part of a new veterans’ shrine when the Pawnee Park Baseball Field’s ‘Wall of Heroes’ debuts later this summer.
The American Legion Athletic Committee, of American Legion Hartman Post 84, is proceeding with its plan to have the sign spread beneath flagpoles inside the park field after some bleachers were removed, receiving a $3,000 donation from the family of late resident William “Bill” Jackson and approval from the City Board of Park Commissioners. It will feature the logos for all six branches of the military, but there was one space left to fill when Committee officials worked on the design.
That gave resident Ken Robinson, the athletic committee chairman for American Hartman Post No. 84, an idea. That space on the memorial could be used to honor Jackson, who became a staple of local baseball as a coach, fan and supporter through the decades until he passed away in 2022.
“I kind of remembered this picture of Coach Jackson. I thought it would be a good thing,” Robinson recalled in early May 2023, showing an illustration of what is supposed to be Jackson mentoring a boy on the baseball field. “He was a great coach, but also a father figure all the same.”
See a rendering of what the finished “Wall of Heroes” will look like and how it was presented to the City Board of Park Commissioners here.
So, Robinson reached out to the Jackson family who live in town about the idea. The family was surprised, as their donation had been made to help the Legion tackle season projects like buying new bases and cleaning up the dugouts. They never imagined a tribute to their patriarch.
“It was very emotional. I started crying when he told me,” said Jackson’s son, Scott Jackson, of Columbus. “Dad loved God, family and country. I’m not sure they were in that order, but a close fourth was baseball.”
A Burns Flat, Oklahoma, native and U.S. Army veteran who lived in Columbus with his family for more than 50 years, the proud Southpaw Jackson relished baseball. He pitched his teams to state championships during his junior and senior years of high school and wound up receiving a full-tuition scholarship to Southwestern State Oklahoma University in Weatherford, Oklahoma. There, he went undefeated and racked up more than 25 wins.
A rotator cuff injury and his decision to enlist in the U.S. Army prevented him from accepting offers to pitch on the pro level for the Boston Red Sox and Baltimore Orioles. Jackson ultimately spent two years serving his country as part of the 8th Medical Battalion, with most of that time in Germany.
Education was another one of Jackson’s greatest passions, as he excelled in the classroom. He graduated Magna Cum Laude with a degree in business education in 1956 before a successful teaching career in Nebraska, including the last 25 years at Columbus High School.
Throughout the decades, the elder Jackson was affectionately known as “coach” to hundreds of young men, including his son Scott and Robinson, as he was a skipper for Legion baseball and more.
“He was a lot of fun, but also very serious. He was disciplined and always coached with integrity,” Robinson said. “Some of the best times ever would be getting him to laugh. His cackle could light up the whole area.”
Wife of the late Jackson, Jeanette, said her husband took a lot of pride in coaching baseball at various levels.
“He always talked about respecting the game,” she said. “That was his thing.”
She said her late spouse was a baseball fanatic in so many ways, recalling how a great point of pride for him was knowing he beat the late “Billy” Martin when the two were on opposing teams in a minor league game in Louisiana in the 1950s (Jackson played one summer with the Red Sox and one summer with the Orioles). Martin would go on and become an American League Baseball standout second baseman and five-time World Series champion. He also managed several MLB teams before passing away in 1989.
After he was done playing and coaching, Jackson’s love for the game never wavered. He would watch games on TV and local ones in the stands constantly, they said.
“He still coached in the stands,” Robinson quipped, in response.
The trio had a good laugh, with his son noting his father paid attention to every aspect of the games when he watched them and wasn’t shy on letting others know.
“Umpires across the state breathed a sigh of relief when he passed away,” he said, jokingly. “He was always coaching … and helping the umpires when they needed it.”
The picture that will go on the memorial, which will be removed each year when the season ends, was inspired by an illustration the Jacksons’ late son, Travis, had done when the older Jackson was inducted into the Southwestern Oklahoma State University Athletic Hall of Fame in 2009.
The ‘Jackson’ name will be retained on the wall, but the family insists it isn’t about their late loved one. It’s a veterans’ memorial, they said, and having Jackson serve as a source of inspiration for it is more than they ever could have imagined. The memorial will pay tribute to not only veterans of the Army, Marines, Navy, Airforce, Space Force and the Coast Guard, but Jackson’s collegiate record as a left-handed pitcher and feature the phrase “Thanks Coach, we made a great team!”
His wife reiterated she knows her husband would be happy, but like him, she’s hopeful the wall will symbolize a love for America’s pastime and all U.S. veterans more than anything else.
“… My husband always said, ‘God, family and country,’ but baseball was in there,” she said, with a big smile. “I’m honestly not sure baseball wasn’t before family. But he would have been proud of this.”
Robinson said the American Legion Baseball Athletic Committee will work with Schieffer Signs and hopes to have the memorial wall make its debut by July 4th.
(ABOUT THE PHOTO: The American Legion Baseball Athletic Committee is in the process of installing a memorial inside the Pawnee Park Baseball Field to honor all branches of the military and a late beloved coach who was a longtime resident. Pictured are family members of the late William ‘Bill’ Jackson and the American Legion Baseball Athletic Committee. Front row, left to right: Scott Jackson, Jeanette Jackson and Kathy Jackson (wife of Scott); second row, left to right: Traci Wickham, Ken Robinson and Mike Blaser; third row, left to right: Ken Van Dyke, Nick Larson and Brett Liermann; and fourth row, left to right: Steve Farmer and Colin Alexander. The ‘Wall of Heroes’ will be placed to the right of where the group is sitting by the fence and behind the picnic tables.)