KEWANEE, Ill. — As News 8 takes a trip to Kewanee, we're also shining a light on a piece of Kewanee that came to us.
Jeff Jackson, one of our show directors, is from Kewanee — born in 1967 at the former St. Francis hospital, he grew up and went to high school there.
We sat down with him to get a glimpse of what a Kewanee childhood was like back in the day and his connections to the community at home and abroad.
Q: What was it like for you growing up?
"It was fun. There was the extremes of everything. It was one of those things where, you know, you'd be out with friends, always constantly making new friends, new situations, new things to do. You know, and it was never really a bored moment because you can always find something to entertain yourself."
Q: Get a lot of kids in the neighborhood that you ran with?
Definitely, oh yeah. One of the best things I remember was, on a Saturday night, we would play neighborhood hide and seek. So all the kids in the neighborhood would get together, we'd be down at what they called Jeff Schultz's house at the time, we'd all meet down there. We'd all split up into whatever, and we would play hide and go seek and usually that would sometimes be in teams or individuals, things along that line. But it was always a good time."
Q: Tell me — I think it was your mom and your aunt, were telling you some stories of people you just kind of found out about and their prominence in the history of Kewanee.
"Yes. My mom and my aunt told me that their father — my grandfather, who I never met, started the first black business in Kewanee: Kewanee Auto Glass, I think. And he opened that business in 1939. Yes."
Q: Long time ago. And then it was an uncle at a gas station?
"Yes. my uncle, Johnny Shell. Johnny Hess was his name. And he ran the Shell station, so everybody always just said Johnny Shell, you know. But yeah, he — I don't know when he started that, but I do remember going by there frequently because he was one of my favorite uncles at the time and it was like, yeah, it was a fun place to be. Because I think that's where I kind of started developed kind of my, I would say, fascination with mechanics and things like that. He would let me operate the lever to let the cars go up. And I thought that was really cool at the time."
Q: You were in high school? What year did you graduate?
"I graduated '85, 1985, yeah."
Q: So you're a proud Boilermaker?
Q: After high school...
"After high school, right after high school, I went into the US Navy. And I was there for three years, honorable discharge. One of the best things about the Navy at the time was, I was going down into the engineering department, I think I was delivering some files or something. And I was walking through, you know, it's like, there was mechanical stuff everywhere, you know, pipe steam everywhere, very hot, miserable environment. And I dropped those off. And on the way out, I walked through the two boilers that were there, and I just happen to be looking around, and I looked down at one of the boilers, and what do you see? There was a little plaque down there that said, Kewanee Boiler Corporation. And I could not believe it, I just stood there and stared at I said, 'No way. No way.' And it's like, yeah, that was it. It was, Kewanee Boiler went to all kinds of different situations, factories, and I did not know that it made its way to the US Navy."
Q: Was this on a ship?
"Yes. This was on a ship. I was on the USS Fanning FF-1076."
Q: Were you ashore or were you guys out?
"We were out at sea at the time when I found this out, yeah We were 'haze gray and underway.' That's what we called it back in the day when we were out and deployed or whatever mission it was. We'd always say we were 'haze gray and underway.'"
Q: Can you remember where you were at the time?
"Probably someplace in between Pearl Harbor and San Diego, out there someplace. Yeah, once you get so far out, it all looks the same. You see no land, no nothing, and it's kind of hard to know where your bearings are at."
Q: So when did you start working here?
"September 9, 1997. And Channel 8 has decided that it still wants to keep me, I'm still here. So yeah, it's been interesting. It's been an interesting ride here."
Q: Well, you've seen a lot of changes in the business then.
"I've seen — I say, lowball, 50+ people come through here. There's probably been more. I've seen some of the most interesting things, met some fascinating people that I've seen come through this building. Learned a lot about different people, their backgrounds, and things along that line. It's been an extreme experience here. Very extreme."
Q: And what is your job here? What do you do?
"I am a director. What that is, is basically, I make sure that the technical aspects of the newscast get fulfilled during our time."
Q: You also wanted to do a shout-out?
"Yes, I want to do a shout-out to my good friends, Donnie and Kenna DeMay, my best friends in Kewanee, and their three kids. Ashley, Emily, and Drew. Drew, do what your mom says."
Q: Excellent. Anything else you can think of?
"I would say just whatever situation you're in, just try to keep learning. Keep growing. Don't stop. Don't stop moving. Keep going. Because life is a grand experience."
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