December 18, 2014

Medina
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The Dash Between: Proud father of 18 shared life, interests with kids

Tommie Lee Jackson Sr. and his wife of 41 years, Alice, never distinguished between the children who were born to them, adopted by them or placed with them through Beech Brook’s family services agency.

They considered themselves the true parents of 18 children.

“Every child became a permanent member of the family,” said Lynn Avery, who heads Beech Brook’s foster care program. “They’ve never thrown a child away.”

More photos below.

Most of their kids and subsequent grandchildren, including those who still reside at the Jacksons’ home in rural Spencer, attended the recent funeral of their “Dad” and “Granddad,” Tommie Jackson, who died Dec. 12, at age 65.

Although the state views kids who are no longer under the foster care system once they reach the age of 18 as adults , Tommie and his wife refused to cut their family ties. Ever.

The Dash Between: About this new feature
The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates: The life that a person lived.

Alana Baranick

Alana Baranick

The Dash Between, a new obituary feature written by Alana Baranick about regular folks from Medina County and adjacent areas, debuts in today’s Gazette. Baranick wrote her first obit in 1985 when she was a reporter for The Chronicle-Telegram in Elyria. She wrote obituaries for Cleveland’s Plain Dealer from 1992 through 2008.

"Life on the Death Beat"

"Life on the Death Beat"

She is the chief author of “Life on the Death Beat: A Handbook for Obituary Writers” and director of the Society of Professional Obituary Writers. She won the 2005 American Society of Newspaper Editors Distinguished Writing Award in the Obituary category.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear in The Gazette once a month.

To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at abaranick@chroniclet.com.

Most of their kids and subsequent grandchildren, including those who still reside at the Jacksons’ home in rural Spencer, attended the recent funeral of their “Dad” and “Granddad,” Tommie Jackson, who died Dec. 12, at age 65.

Although the state views kids who are no longer under the foster care system once they reach the age of 18 as adults , Tommie and his wife refused to cut their family ties. Ever.

Many of the kids stayed with them after officially becoming adults. Some came back a few years later for assistance until they could make it on their own.

Tommie appreciated the loyalty and support of a large family. He was born Feb. 9, 1944, in Montgomery, Ala., the 10th of 21 siblings.

“My dad was in the middle,” his son, Jerome, said. “He was the heart of the family.”

In 1950, Tommie’s parents moved to Lorain, where his father found work as a steelworker. They took their younger children, including Tommie, with them. The older ones, who stayed behind, later joined the family in Northeast Ohio. They remain closely knit.

Tommie attended Admiral King High School in Lorain, but didn’t graduate with his class.

“He couldn’t behave himself, so he went and got a job,” said his sister, Agnes Patton.

Tommie later went to night school and received his GED. Over the years, he worked for American Crucible, Abex and Elyria Foundry before retiring in 2003.

Shortly after meeting Alice Battle, he told a relative he was going to marry her. The attraction was mutual and immediate.

“I thought he was so cute,” Alice said. “I didn’t know what to say. His hands were rough. That told me he was a hard-working man.”

They were married within a year.

Alice, who always wanted to have a large family, was invited to a meeting at Beech Brook more than 25 years ago. She learned about foster care and adoption and that adolescents and preteens with emotional and behavioral problems were difficult to place.

“So many kids, not enough homes,” Alice said.

She and Tommie enrolled, received training and became invaluable to the foster care program.

“They were people we could call at any time,” Beech Brook’s Avery said. “They had special skills, working with adolescent boys, but also with girls or any child, regardless of their special needs.”

Tommie shared his hobbies with his young charges. He restored old cars, built his own home and went hunting and fishing. He taught the kids how to take care of themselves.

“Every kid who ever came through here left with a trade,” son Jerome said.

He introduced kids who came from an urban environment to country living. He showed them they could develop friendships with people with different lifestyles, races and cultures.

Jonas Miller, an Amish man who owns Miller’s Tarp Shop in Sullivan, did upholstery work on Tommie’s cars for at least 25 years.

“We were friends,” Miller said. “It was more friendship than business. He was a good neighbor.”

Miller and his family do not drive or own motor vehicles. Whenever they needed transportation to medical appointments in Akron, Cleveland or Canton, Tommie treated them as he did his own brothers and sisters. He volunteered to serve as their chauffeur.

“He came over when we butchered hogs,” Miller said. “He would stop in (to the shop) and visit. We got to know his brother and his kids. He could make people laugh. He told clean jokes.”

Tommie’s talent for comedy lay in his presentation of a story, according to his son Tommie Jr.

“He would embody (the joke or story),” Tommie Jr. said. “Can I use an adjective? Comedic timing. Before you knew it, you were in tears. You were laughing so hard.”

His humor contributed to creating a joyful atmosphere for the kids who came through his home. Yet he maintained their respect.

“He was a salt-of-the-earth, no-nonsense type of person,” Avery said. “He spoke. You listened.”

Tommie and Alice were among the 2006 winners of Beech Brook’s Hearts of Hope Award, presented to Northeast Ohioans who give hope to children.

The couple took troubled kids from tough situations and helped them turn their lives around. In the process, the Jacksons also touched the lives of Beech Brook staff members, Avery said, adding: “I wish we could duplicate them,” Avery said.

For more information about foster care and other programs, call Beech Brook at (216) 831-2255 or send e-mails to fostercare@beechbrook.org.

Alana Baranick can be reached at abaranick@chroniclet.com or at (216) 862-2617.