By Diana Dellinger Poole
Special to the Enterprise
Jacky Moore Esch was born in Huntingdon, Tennessee, on February 8, 1934, the second of five children of Leland William Esch and Edith Roxanna Moore Esch. He joined older brother Bobby, and in years to come Peggy (Stewart), Jerry, and Patty (Tilley) would complete their family.
The family relocated from Carroll County to south of Gleason and lived on a farm on what is now Wright Road.
The Esch family attended Beech Springs Baptist Church. Special trips were going back to Huntingdon to visit with family, and they always looked forward to traveling to Arkansas every summer.
His family got a telephone when he was 10 or 11, and electricity when he was 14.
The family’s transportation in early years was horse and wagon.
When Jacky was about 5 or 6, he built himself a little “goat” wagon, crafting a leather harness for the goats to pull around and entertain the children.
Jacky’s chores included tending to their farm animals—feeding the cows, horses, mules, and pigs.
As for other farm chores, Jacky laughs: “Daddy baled, Bobby raked, and I did whatever they didn’t want to do.”
Jacky was a sickly child. He had inherited lung problems from his mother’s side of the family.
His mother would administer cod liver oil, but despite all her care and precautions, Jacky always had congestive issues, and usually developed pneumonia each winter.
One year Jacky contracted scarlet fever and almost died. Sister Peggy remembers that Jacky’s fever was more than any little body could bear.
“The doctor had told Mama it didn’t look good, and that there was nothing more he could do. Our mother stayed up through the night crying, rocking back and forth, praying for the Lord to take her little boy if He must, and to love him, and begged for her baby not to suffer any more. I had never seen my mother like that. The next morning, he had a little more strength. He was a fighter.” There was more for Jacky to do on this earth.
Jacky has always had a special way with horses. Even as a child, he knew how to soothe all animals, but especially horses.
Sister Peggy marvels, “I have always told Jacky that he speaks ‘Horse Language.’”
The greatest joy in Jacky’s young years was having a horse of his own, and caring for it with pride.
He dearly loved to go horseback riding.
One day his beloved horse stepped wrong and broke its leg.
Jacky’s family didn’t have money for any surgeries, which would have had slim hope of saving his horse in any event.
Though Jacky was just a boy, his father explained to him what he had to do, got out the gun and gave it to him, and walked with Jacky to where the horse was in the field.
Jacky tearfully said goodbye to his horse and pulled the trigger.
He has never forgotten the pain of that day.
Perhaps it was a sign of his resiliency that Jacky turned something heartbreaking into a lifelong passion.
He has delighted generations with his gorgeous, award-winning silver mule team in the Tater Town Parade.
He also has taken great enjoyment in training horses and mules, and judging horse shows.
Jacky attended Peace and Harmony School, where he went first through third grade.
It was heated with a wood stove and had an outhouse. He remembers taking his lunch to school in a tin lunchbox.
The children would eat in the schoolroom. The children were divided into two or three groups by age, and learned together.
He fondly recalls his first-grade teacher was Miss Opal Richee (Dellinger), who was “a kind, sweet person.”
Mrs. Mary Louise Simpson Butler also taught at the school, and her husband Mr. Charlie Butler was the principal.
“We were good at school and didn’t get in trouble that much. Bobby and I didn’t have girlfriends, didn’t even know what a girlfriend was!”
During that third-grade year, the community was hit hard when Peace and Harmony School burned down.
No school bus service ran yet for most rural communities, and families were at a loss as to how to educate their children with no schoolhouse.
During WWII times were hard, but Jacky’s father Leland bought an old truck and built benches around the bed.
He took not only his own kids, but went through the community picking up a load of neighborhood children along the way, and drove them all daily into town to attend Gleason School.
Leland Esch continued driving his community’s children to school until the county provided school bus services.
Jacky then went the rest of his school years to Gleason School, where he says his hardest subject was always English.
Math was his easiest class. Jacky became good buddies with Dencil Verdell and “Bolden.”
When asked if they ever went on any special school trips, he laughed, “Lord no! We might get out of school to pick cotton by hand to sell. My mother was a good cotton picker. She could pick more cotton and faster than me, Bobby, and Daddy combined. Chopping cotton was my first paying job.”
Fellow GHS 1952 classmate and star basketball player Betty Jean Bowie was to be his future wife and the love of Jacky’s life.
They were married February 12, 1954, and had three children: daughters Cheryl Ward and Cheri Wharton, and son Shey, who blessed them with 8 grandchildren, and 15 great-grandchildren.
Jacky worked for the state, and then as a plant manager for many years in Gleason’s famous ball clay mining industry.
It’s a family business, as daughter Cheryl Ward is Chief Operating Officer of Old Hickory Clay Company.
Jacky and Betty joined the Gleason First Baptist Church, where he has served as a Deacon for decades.
He believes the secret to life lies in reading the Bible, praying, and working hard. Jacky and Betty shared their lives together for 62 years, until her passing in 2016.
Jacky has been a devoted member of the Gleason Rotary Club for over 60 years. Whenever there has been a need in the community, Jacky Esch has always been the first to mobilize volunteers and fundraise for the cause.
He raised thousands and secured as much in in-kind donations to save the Gleason Rotary Senior Center when it had extensive termite damage some years back.
He helped fundraise over $100,000 and spearheaded Gleason Rotary’s construction of the Gleason Community Center at Mike Snider Park.
Daughter Cheryl, also a Rotarian, laughed when asked about her father’s special fundraising prowess: “Whenever those businesses would see Daddy coming, they knew he would talk their ear off and nag them until they get out their checkbook and wrote a generous one and supported whatever project or need Rotary was addressing. They knew he wouldn’t take ‘no’ for an answer.”
Other Gleason Rotary projects Jacky fundraised for through the years have included Huggins Park, the summer youth softball and baseball programs, free swimming lessons for the town’s children at Bethel University, Gleason football field and fieldhouse, and most recently, the construction of the Gleason Rotary Helipad for Life Flight emergency services.
Perhaps it was his father’s example of ensuring a community’s children could go to school that moved Jacky to always think of others.
Perhaps it was knowing he had been spared, and given a second opportunity to live, that moved him to want to make a difference in the lives of those in need.
No one has done more, worked harder or longer, for more years, with a deeper love or greater kindness, to address the needs and help the people of Gleason than Jacky Moore Esch.
Your town thanks you, and we love you.