May 6, 2011 in Sports

Jackson brings ’em to park for last time

By The Spokesman-Review

The hair – whatever was left of it – is grayer now, but faces were unmistakable.

Numerous ex-ballplayers from his first team to his last and recreational basketball and softball teammates of Ron Jackson gathered at Avista Stadium on Thursday to pay tribute to their departed coach.

Jackson, 83, died April 29 at Sacred Heart Hospital from complications after a long battle with Parkinson’s Disease. The ex-professional baseball player touched the lives of many while coaching American Legion Baseball for nearly a quarter century in Spokane.

Fittingly, a crowd estimated at some 500 filled the stands behind the backstop of the Spokane Indians baseball team for which he once played.

Ex-player and neighbor Terry Jones, who would later speak, set the baseball tone of the memorial service..

“You know the rule,” he said, urging people to their seats, “It’s one lap on the field for every minute you’re late.”

Following minister Jimmy Sirmans’ invocation, daughter-in-law Lisa Jackson read the autobiography Ron had prepared 10 years before that was interspersed with tears-inducing songs, “Wind Beneath My Wings” and “I Did It My Way.”

She read of the time sons Rick and Mick hit back-to-back home runs at Shadle Park and Ron writing, “I had to turn my back to the field as tears field my eyes.”

Grandchildren read tributes written by their parents. Then, said Sirmans, it was story-telling time. Several talked about Jackson’s values, coaching and impact on their lives.

Tim Hattenburg, a teacher and coach to the Jackson children at North Pines Middle School was asked if he was nervous having Ron and his wife, Sally, in the stands.

“It was great to see them in the gym,” he said. “They had nothing but positive things to say.”

Then he told of the time in 1956, before the civil rights movement and government legislation, when Ron was still playing and went to a restaurant with an African-American teammate. They would serve Jackson, but not Jim Simpson.

“Then I want two beers for me and two dinners,” Ron told Hattenburg. When they were placed before him, Jackson got up and told Simpson, “This place isn’t good enough for you,” and they walked out.

One of his early players, who Jackson said was perhaps the slowest, Dave Sutton, gave another example of his belief in standing up for what was right. Sutton’s dog had gotten loose and was chasing a neighbor’s chickens. The neighbor beat on the dog with a stick and Ron, at a sprint, intervened.

“All of those years that he was teaching baseball, he was really growing men,” Sutton said.

Larry Kimmel, who played with Sutton and coached with Jackson, drove 400 miles to be at Avista and speak.

“I couldn’t say no,” he said. “But Sally searched the Oregon voter’s records to make sure I was a Democrat.”

He was a father, a mentor and a friend, Kimmel said. “And if you played for Ron you better know how to bunt.”

Marty Barth was on Jackson’s final Spokane Valley Legion team and spoke of the confidence and accountability instilled by his coach.

“Somehow I didn’t get a wake-up call and I was late,” Barth said. “As soon as I got to the field he said, ‘Start running.’ I didn’t ask how far or for how long. I carried on in life what I learned from Ron.”

Tom Skierka could relate. He regaled the crowd with tales of him failing to lay down a bunt and being benched. His replacement was to bunt, but swung away and was benched as well.

“Never in my entire life had two people been pulled in the same at-bat,” Skierka said. “I took pride in that.”

A successful coach in his own right, longtime educator Harry Amend said he was a kid who didn’t turn to his parents for direction. “I ended up turning to Ron. We both had a passion for baseball and an unending desire to compete. I learned from him it’s OK to be a fierce, compassionate competitor and at the same time care for kids.”

Said Jones, “the best thing that happened to me was the Jackson’s moving next door. There were a lot of kids in the neighborhood with no fathers and Ron was our dad. What it comes down to is there are people kids look up to, heroes and superheroes. Ron was a superhero.”

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