For more than half a century Ron and Sally Jackson have been synonymous with the Spokane Valley, touching the lives of thousands of youth in numerous ways.
They were involved in scouting and swimming lessons and all manner of sports (and politics).
Ron, a popular former professional baseball player, impacted high school athletes for a quarter century as coach in American Legion Baseball when coaching was a volunteer endeavor.
He died Thursday evening at Sacred Heart Hospital at the age of 83 due to complications from a 14-year battle with Parkinson’s disease.
He leaves his widow, Sally, seven children (Debby from a previous marriage, Rick, Mick, Tim, Andy, Casey and Sally Jo), 14 grandchildren, four great-grandchildren and countless friends who were welcomed with open arms into their Valley home and lives.
One, Doug Matthews, who graduated from Central Valley in 1975, never played baseball for Ron because he suffered burns in a garage fire.
“I played for Sal (in a youth league) and lived there when my folks went on vacation,” he said. “Truly one of my regrets was I did not get to play for Appleway Chevrolet. Ron was a guy who loved kids and was in it for the kids.”
The Jacksons arrived in Spokane Valley near the end of Ron’s eight-year baseball career. Born in the San Francisco Bay Area on Jan. 22, 1928, he was too small to play baseball at Mission High School, a baseball power, and received a four-year college academic scholarship. He pursued the sport professionally instead, signing with the St. Louis Browns in 1948.
He played on eight teams, from California to the southeastern U.S., interrupted by a two-year stint of combat in the Korean War. He batted .347 in Redding, Calif.
With Ada, Okla., he hit safely in 25 consecutive games with 154 runs scored and 48 doubles before coming to the Northwest.
He played with four teams in the Western International League and had a brief stint with Portland in the Pacific Coast League.
In 1956 with the Spokane Indians he batted .332, scored 114 runs, hit 37 doubles and was named to the league all-star team. Twice he had four doubles in a game, a league record.
But it was when he left the professional game that Ron made his biggest impact. He coached Gonzaga Prep’s the Valley’s Legion team, Cal Smith Sports (later sponsored by Appleway Chevrolet) from 1960 into the mid-1980s.
A truck driver for Wonder Bread by early day, he coached youngsters who today have reached retirement age, some who played professionally and four of his five sons.
One of those pros, Casey Parsons, a gangly teenager at University, played for Gonzaga University and reached the major leagues as a free-agent signee. He said it was Ron who gave him the confidence to aspire.
“Maybe he saw a personality like he had, he never told me,” Parsons said. “Many’s the time he said, “If you want to play at a higher level and professionally, you can do it.’ ”
Like Matthews, Parsons was a fixture at the Jackson home, either playing on their outdoor basketball court or in the swimming pool where Sally and Ron taught lessons.
Beginning in 1975, Appleway Chevrolet made three straight state trips, finishing second to eventual national champion Yakima Beetles in ’75 and third the following year. When Ron retired he had a career coaching record of 554-331 with eight league championships.
Jackson’s coaching style was a no-nonsense, disciplined approach with attention to the basics, John Seefried said.
Seefried would go on to star at Washington State and was a member of the runner-up Legion team. He credits Ron with influencing him to go into coaching.
He said both Jackson and WSU coach Bobo Brayton believed in keeping things simple and insisted mainly that players arrive on time.
“Ron was a guy you wanted to go out and play for,” Seefried said. “He was probably better as a coach defensively. And the best thing was having hunches when he was in the third-base box. (Several) times when he called pitchouts on a squeeze play he was asked how did he know it. He’d answer, ‘I didn’t, I just sensed it.’ ”
Ron received a 25-Year Award from the Inland Northwest Sportswriters and Broadcasters in 1985. He and Sally were still coaching, in the Spokane Valley Baseball youth league, as late as 1999.
She is a longtime Democratic party leader, and in 1990 Ron ran for the state legislature, losing narrowly in a Republican stronghold.
In 1976 he and Sally opened a popular neighborhood bar, The Jackson Hole Tavern. They sponsored numerous adult recreational sports teams and Ron played until age 70 before the ravages of Parkinson’s took hold.
A memorial service is scheduled for Thursday at Avista Stadium.