I’ve heard hundreds of alumni state that they knew in their hearts that Saint John’s University was “the right place” for them within the first few minutes of their initial campus visit. I add myself to that number. Nearly 3,000 acres of magnificent forests and pristine lakes -- not to mention the promise of a first-class liberal arts education and the opportunity to form deep friendships – tend to have a powerful impact on a young man.
But for Chris Jackson ’81, it was not necessarily love at first sight.
Chris first set foot in Collegeville as a seventh grader. As he and his high school music teacher made the trek from Deer Creek, MN, to the Twin Cities for a piano competition, they took a slight detour to check in on her son. Chris surveyed the Collegeville landscape and murmured to himself: “Wow, this place is in the middle of nowhere!” But the campus began to grow on him as he returned each week throughout high school – a 180-mile round trip -- to study clarinet with Frank Ell and piano with Fr. Bob Koopmann, OSB. And when the time came to select a college, it was actually an easy choice for Chris. He knew Saint John’s would be the best place for him to pursue an education in the unlikely combination of music and physics.
Despite Chris’ passion for music (the study of which led him to his wife, Valorie CSB ’82, a fellow clarinetist), he abandoned his dreams of becoming the next Benny Goodman (or the more contemporary Martin Frost) near the end of his junior year and instead made the decision to pursue a career in medicine. Upon graduation from Saint John’s in 1981, Chris began his somewhat circuitous journey toward medical school at the University of Minnesota. This involved taking additional prerequisite science classes, landing a work study position at SJU (thanks to a supportive and creative Dr. Mark Hughes) and even driving a school bus for a short stint. His hard work and tenacity clearly paid off, paving the way for a successful career in the specialty of radiology. Following a three-year stint at Mercy Hospital (in my hometown of Council Bluffs, IA) and eighteen prosperous years with St. Paul Radiology, Chris recently accepted a role within the Minnesota VA healthcare system.
The Jacksons and I began meeting a couple of years ago to discuss their financial support for the mission of Saint John's. Chris clearly expressed a desire to help sustain the place that has given him so much over the years – a first-class education in an inspiring setting, supportive and patient faculty who nurtured his talents and his dream, and the opportunity to establish a life-long sense of belonging. Their plan began to solidify last summer when Chris and Val returned to celebrate their 35th reunion with their Class of 1981 classmates. During the main convocation, the Jacksons listened to a current First Generation student extol the benefits of his SJU education and express his profound gratitude for the financial support he had received from loyal alumni. That inspiring message led the Jacksons to formalize a generous planned gift to ensure that Saint John’s will continue to be “the right place” for generations of future Johnnies.
The Jacksons are thrilled that one of those near-future Johnnies will be their son, Seth, who will launch his studies in pre-Engineering this fall. Chris and Val look forward to watching Seth fulfill his dreams and establish his own community at Saint John’s -- a very special place in the middle of nowhere.