Kirk Jackson always seemed to fill up a room with his bigger-than-life personality.
“He was always whistling, singing, playing the guitar or the banjo,” said his wife of 30 years, Candilee, 74. “And then we were always talking, about just everything under the sun. Now it’s just so quiet.”
Mr. Jackson diedJan. 12 of complications from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He had a 32-year career as a music teacher, and was active in local music and theater groups.
He grew up in Festus, the youngest of four children in a musical family.
“When he was 3, he started singing and never stopped,” Candilee said. “He grew up with all the classic musicals, and loved the crooners like Sinatra and Torme. He loved folk music, too. He has nine guitars.”
He also owned and played piano, lute, banjo, bass, mandolin and violin.
As a young man, he was class president at Festus High and student body president at Jefferson College. He earned a bachelor’s degree at the University of Missouri in Kansas City, during which time he worked at a dinner theater.
After graduation, he and some fellow performers headed to California.
“They toured all over, playing in nightclubs, county fairs, anywhere they could make some money,” Candilee said.
In 1966, he won a spot in the folk group The New Christy Minstrels and toured the US and Europe until 1980, when he left for teaching. In 1982 he started at Simi Valley High School, where he met Candilee. The two were married in 1991.
“I taught theater and he taught choral music,” she said. “Over the years, we had a lot of students who went on in the entertainment industry.”
The Jacksons moved to Jefferson County in 1992. Mr. Jackson worked at Dunklin until earning a master’s degree in 1998 and then spent a year teaching at Ladue before returning to Jefferson County.
Mr. Jackson had just a one-year stint at Grandview High School but made an impact there.
“They had never done show choir, never done a musical,” Candilee said.
Samantha Roop, who now teaches musical theater at De Soto High School, was at Grandview that year.
“(The Jacksons) had so much experience performing professionally,” she said. “Hearing their stories made this little bitty school feel that we could dream bigger! I remember the feeling of starting something new and fun, and I continue to use a lot of what I learned in those rehearsals today.”
Both the Jacksons began teaching at Dunklin R-5 in 2002 and retired from there in 2014.
Mr. Jackson served as music director for several local churches and was active with the Festus-Crystal City Rotary Club. He was also proud to be a member of Mensa.
He and his wife enjoyed cooking together.
“He loved making pastries and cookies,” Candilee said. “We’d start in mid-October making pumpkin bread, zucchini bread, all from scratch, for the cakewalk at church.”
But Candilee said his favorite was cinnamon rolls.
“We made a lot of pies – coconut cream was his favorite – and we’d make cheesecakes from a kosher recipe from my great-grandmother.”
Right after moving to Crystal City, the Jacksons adopted a pair of Siamese cats. After one of them died, they sought a replacement from a breeder of Tonkinese cats, and their Paw Dancer Cattery was born.
“Kirk’s favorite part was when kittens were born,” she said. “He always wore hoodies, and he’d have one or two in the pocket and a few in the hood. He’d wander around the house that way.”
The two became involved with the Cat Fanciers Association on the regional and national level.
“We traveled all over the Midwest for shows and events,” Candilee said.
In mid-2019, Mr. Jackson came down with a persistent case of bronchitis.
“Then, in January 2020, his older brother, Gary, died of something called idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. (Kirk) was talking with his sister-in-law and realized she was recounting the same symptoms he had. In April, he had a biopsy and it showed IPF. Supposedly there are only 250,000 cases worldwide.”
He was hospitalized for pneumonia in the summer of 2021.
“From then on, it seemed like there was nothing he could do to feel better,” Candilee said. “They found a drug that was supposed to help, and it was $49,000 a year. We found a grant, and he started on it in September, but it made him so tired.”
He was cast in the Walter Matthau role in “Grumpy Old Men, the Musical” with a St Louis-based community theater group.
“He was so tired, he knew he wouldn’t be able to do the show,” Candilee said. “So they took him off the drug, he did the show, then went back on it in November.
“In December he went on supplemental oxygen. On Dec. 21, he went into the hospital and never came home.”
As the end was drawing near, he got a lift in spirits from an unexpected source.
“I had turned to social media to gather a group of prayer warriors,” Candilee said. “One of his former students from Simi Valley called and wanted to set up a Zoom meeting. There were almost 50 ‘kids’ from SVHS classes 1987-1992.”
One of his former students sent out parts to all four choir sections and edited them into a 50-voice choir.
“The height of the reunion was the playing of ‘The Lord Bless You and Keep You,’ an octavo Kirk taught every choir he ever had for 32 years,” Candilee said. “The recording was played at his memorial service.”
Candilee said she cherishes the years she had with her husband.
“In 35 years together, we had one argument. We didn’t always agree, but we had a happy, peaceful, fulfilling life together.”
“Life Story,” posted Saturdays on Leader Publications’ website, focuses on one individual’s impact on his or her community.