life was full and rewarding
After all, the young 6-foot 7-inch first baseman entered an era that included an array of playing greats such as Ted Williams, Jackie Robinson, Roy Campanella, Stan Musial, Willie Mays, Mickey Mantle, Yogi Berra, Whitey Ford and Warren Spahn, to name but a few. Jackson, born and raised in our community, died here at age 74 of pancreatic cancer on Sunday.
In the baseball world, Jackson never reached stardom. His professional career lasted only seven seasons (1954-60), six of which were spent riding the bench with the Chicago White Sox, and the seventh with the Boston Red Sox.
At that time, the odds were against him. There was no such thing as free agency. A player was bound to the team that owned him. There were only 16 teams in the Major Leagues in 1954. Today there are 30, and many observers contend that the talent has been diluted.
It wasn't until 1975 that baseball's infamous reserve clause was dismantled, and free agency turned young men into multimillionaires. It's a good bet that, in today's market, Jackson would have had far more opportunities and greater success.
As it turned out, baseball -- which was Jackson's first love -- was a relatively small part of his life. But early on, he excelled. He was a third-team all-American on the 1952 Western Michigan University baseball squad, which he led to a third-place finish in the College World Series.
In southwestern Michigan, Jackson will best be remembered for his stardom in basketball. This superb athlete led Kalamazoo Central's Maroon Giants to a then-unprecedented three consecutive Class A state high school championships in 1949, 1950 and 1951. At WMU in the 1951-52 season, he led the late coach Bill Perigo's Broncos to their first Mid-American Conference basketball crown.
Jackson was inducted into WMU's Hall of Fame in 1981, and in 2003 became an initial member of the Kalamazoo Central High School Hall of Fame. In recent years, he -- along with Carol, his wife of 55 years -- was a familiar figure and enthusiastic fan at WMU home basketball games.
Jackson's life after sports was one of success in business and community involvement. The baseball logo on the building that houses the Ron Jackson Insurance Agency long ago became familiar to motorists driving along South Burdick Street. The Jackson family remains involved in the business.
``Of all the athletes I ever covered, Ron Jackson was the epitome of a real sportsman,'' recalled Jack Moss, retired sports editor of the Kalamazoo Gazette, who now resides in Fort Myers, Fla. ``He was modest, soft-spoken, a really good athlete and a good person. He never bad-mouthed anybody, yet he had a fire within him and was very competitive.''
Ron Jackson not only was a gifted athlete and a role model of his generation, he was a loving husband, father, grandfather, great-grandfather and solid citizen. His contributions to the Kalamazoo community will endure.