Class of 1980 Grad Donates $1 Million for
Bulldog Football and Baseball Scholarships
Jess Jackson, '80, displays his Society of 1842 medal, presented by General Rosa during the opening home game of the 2009 football seaon.
It's tough to put a price on the lessons one learns at The Citadel. Jess Jackson, Class of 1980, insists "there's not enough cash in the world to buy that Citadel ring off my finger," but he clearly places the value of his cadet experience at no less than a million dollars.
To demonstrate the value he holds in his Citadel experience, Jess has documented a deferred gift designating The Citadel as the beneficiary of a retirement account currently valued at over $1 million. The gift will be split evenly to establish football and baseball scholarships through The Citadel Brigadier Foundation.
"I am grateful to The Citadel for the opportunity I had to earn a great education," Jackson stated, "and I wanted to give future athletes the same chance I had. It's a big effort these days to be a successful student first, as well as a dedicated athlete and a cadet in the Corps."
Jackson played football and baseball in high school, but opted to play intramurals at The Citadel in order to focus his energy on academics. "I love college sports," he said, "and I am always impressed by the student athletes who succeed with their plates so full. I hope to help some cadets who find themselves in a situation similar to mine."
The son of a Navy veteran from the humble, rural town of Hickory Tavern, S.C., Jackson is the first in his family to earn a college degree. He credits his success first to his father's advice: "Always do as well as you are able. Play sports, get involved, but do well in class first."
Building on the focus his father encouraged, he sought out the disciplined environment of a military college, aiming to avoid distractions that might impede his studies. Jackson received an appointment to the U. S. Naval Academy, but he was reluctant to leave the state or sign a nine-year commitment, given the deteriorating health of his parents. The Citadel offered the experience he was seeking much closer to home.
This foresight proved wise, as Jackson's mother suffered a stroke in the spring of his junior year. He was granted special leave to care for her but continued working hard along the way to graduate with his class. As a senior, he found himself supporting his parents with the savings he had accumulated since his first job at 6 years old, stocking Coke bottles at the old country store for $2 a day. Funds being scarce, he was reluctant to buy his Citadel ring: "It was a luxury I couldn't really afford at the time, but now it's one of my most prized possessions. I hope this scholarship helps some future cadets avoid having to make that difficult choice."
Years later, what that ring stands for would in some way save Jackson's life. During a mountain climbing trip to Colorado in early October 1997 with his close friend and Citadel brother, Kevin Elmore, '74, Jackson developed serious medical symptoms while climbing. Once they got down off the mountain, he was taken to the local emergency room. Jackson flew home the next day, was diagnosed with cancer and underwent major surgery at MUSC in December of 1997.
Though hospital bound for a month over the Christmas holidays, he never let his parents learn of his illness. Classmates and college friends came from miles away to assist and encourage, offering him a lifeline in his time of need. "Citadel graduates rallied around me in support," he recalls, "helping coordinate details while my parents' health was too fragile for them to worry about my own."
"I would not be here today," notes Jackson, now cancer free, "if not for the incredible support of The Citadel family and the network of friends who continue to motivate me today." Ironically, the most recent addition to that inspirational Citadel family is Jackson's teenage nephew Hamp Thomason, also a cancer survivor, who has just been accepted to attend The Citadel in the Fall of 2010. "I am awed and inspired by his strength and love," Jackson says. "He is the braveheart that keeps me going."
"Being a cancer survivor adds perspective," Jackson says. "I appreciate all those who have made a difference in my life, and I’m now in a special position where I can help others. I hope my classmates and fellow alumni will think about what the school has done for them to change their lives and consider contributing their support to make a difference."
One more "braveheart" who deserves mention as a source of inspiration is Charlie T., Jackson's yellow lab/white shepherd mix. This resilient dog named for his city of origin has, much like his owner, greatly improved his station in life, after being rescued by Jackson from a cardboard box outside a Charleston-area Wal-Mart.
Following Jackson's recovery, Charlie T. has stood loyally by his side, always offering a reason to get through the day. Jackson currently holds a suite at Johnson Hagood Stadium to enjoy Bulldog football games with his Citadel friends, but the name on the plaque at the door indicates that the suite is shared with Charlie T.
During the current season's home opener against Presbyterian College, Citadel President Lt Gen John Rosa, '73, and Citadel Foundation board member Andy Warlick, '79, dropped by Charlie T.'s suite to present Jackson with the Society of 1842 medal, celebrating his generosity by inducting him into The Citadel's most prestigious lifetime giving society.
"It's a wonderful feeling to give to others instead of spending on oneself," Jackson say, "and I'm proud to be able to give back to The Citadel that has given me so much. "
The Citadel, Jackson is quick to note, is not the sole beneficiary of his estate. In the event that something happens to him, a life insurance policy will be paid to one of his Romeo classmates to provide for Charlie T.'s care, along with Jackson's Tahoe, so Charlie T. will always have a ride of his own.
We'd expect nothing less from someone who clearly loves his Dawgs!