- Associated Press - Sunday, October 26, 2014

TOWNSEND, Mass. (AP) - The first thing most people mention when talking about Jane and Ray Jackson are their Thanksgiving dinners.

For 25 years, they hosted a dinner on Thanksgiving Day at the Congregational Church. All were invited; anyone who needed companionship or food could join in the festivities. During one year, people stranded by a storm showed up for the gathering.

The Jacksons’ son, Brian, knowing the effort his parents put into preparing the meals, said he was not surprised when the couple received the William E. May Endowment Award.

This is the 14th year the award has been given.

The award is given by the Friends of the Townsend Seniors to recognize and honor volunteers who have helped the community and seniors.

Jane Jackson, with her friend, Nancy Shepherd, was one of the founders of the Friends 14 years ago.

“They’re just an awesome team,” said Sue Zolgar.

Their involvement goes well beyond Townsend. Ray is president of Trailwrights, a trail-maintenance organization in New Hampshire.

He befriended Zolgar when she attended an overnight club activity on her own.

“He’s everywhere,” said her husband, Mike Zolgar, adding that Ray has been a teacher and mentor to him in trail maintenance and as a leader in Boy Scouts. “He seeks opportunities to learn and grow,” Mike Zolgar said. “He asks key questions.” Both Jacksons still work - Ray works full time and Jane works part time. They both find ample time to volunteer.

“They have discovered the 48-hour day,” said Sue Zolgar. Ray Jackson is on the board of the Squannacook River Rail Trail and is working on building a walking path between the Atwood Acres senior-housing complex and the Senior Center, about a half mile away. He has also worked with the Friends of Willard Brook. The Jacksons have both served on the Council on Aging. Jane Jackson is a former selectman and was a journalist for Nashoba Publishing.

Now, one of her volunteer tasks is to write grants for the Senior Center. Her work enabled the center to hire a volunteer coordinator and a kitchen supervisor.

She and Alice Struthers recently formed the Hope Community Chorus, which presented the first flash mob in Townsend earlier this month. They sang during a luncheon to welcome the new director. Jane is also co-chair of the anniversary committee to celebrate the opening of the library/Senior Center/meeting hall complex on Dudley Road five years ago. The building was a gift to the town from the Sterilite Corp. During the dinner to honor the couple, a few stories popped up.

Brian Jackson said when he was growing up, he just wanted a normal, family Thanksgiving dinner.

After 25 years, the dinner became less of a chore as he recognized the bigger, broader part of the community the gatherings created. “Nice work, Mom and Dad,” he said. Heather Jackson Mac-Neil said her parents are the two most “must-do” people she knows.

Ray and Jane met on a train in Pennsylvania, Bill May said. The retired police chief, and the William E. May of the award name, was the master of ceremonies for the evening.

Ray gave Jane a ride home, and had to see her again. She had left her shoes in the car.

A couple of years later, married with a child, they arrived in Townsend and set down roots. They bought a house on Blood Road and remain there still.

When the Jacksons moved to Townsend in 1969, they had no nearby family.

The Thanksgiving dinner at the church helped fill that void.

“Every person there was our family,” Ray said. Jane takes community service as a given. “My vision is, half the people in Townsend are volunteering already,” she said. “The other half are just waiting to be asked.”

“It’s fun. It’s rewarding,” she said. She did want to set the record straight on one thing, though.

“Are you going to tell them they were my bowling shoes?” she said to May at the end of the evening.

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