Part 2 of a 3-part series

By M.E. Jones

Correspondent

TOWNSEND -- Ray Jackson, a U.S. Navy submariner veteran who served on the Council on Aging in town for 20 years, was friendly but reserved at first, as he and wife, Jane, sat and talked with this reporter on their front porch.

The discussion was about their years in Townsend and the many activities that led fellow townsfolk to nominate them for the William E. May Endowment Fund Award. Named for former police chief Bill May, the annual award recognizes citizens for their outstanding contributions to the betterment of Townsend.

The Jackson more than fit that bill.

As we talked, a quiet Ray contributed telling details when needed.

He described additions to their ranch-style house, for example, including the porch. Mostly, though, he sat back, listened, answered a reporter's questions and let Jane drive.

But it was a different story when a topic piqued his interest or touched on his avocation: Trail building, which he does as a volunteer on public land here and in New Hampshire.

As a volunteer member of Friends of Willard Brook, for example, Ray helped plan and build public trails in Willard Brook and Pearl Hill state parks, which donations will hopefully help pay for. "We still need adopters," he said.

His extracurricular resume includes longtime volunteer membership in Trailrights, a New Hampshire-based trails education and maintenance organization.


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A member for 26 years, Ray currently serves as Trailrights president and is a land steward for the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

With a project in progress, Trailrights could use more volunteers too, Ray said.

His eyes lit up when he talked about past projects he's worked on that are now complete and in use, such as the 58-foot bridge at Mt. Tom in Holyoke and steps built on the side of Cannon Mountain in New Hampshire.

Asked if his wife shares his enthusiasm for trail building, Ray said that's his thing, although Jane enjoys hiking with him.

Jane added a local angle: Ray is also working with the Conservation Commission on plans for a walking trail from the Senior Center to the senior housing at Townsend Woods, she said, maybe with a loop back to the center.

Jane's talking points kept circling back to the Senior Center, where she helped launch the Hope Community Chorus.

Consisting of "twelve loud and proud members" who reportedly rocked the Meeting Hall rafters in June, according to the award biopic, Jane's inspiration came from her desire to fill a void, having noted the lack of music for senior programs and activities.

Asked if she sings in the group, Jane said yes, but softly and from the back row, where she turns the pages of another member's songbook, 94-year old Ed West. "He needs a bit of help," she said.

Clearly, Jane and Ray both like to help, and like most volunteers, they expect no return on their investments. But they do get satisfaction that comes from a job well done.

Take the Thanksgiving dinners they used to serve at the church, for example, which they organized, cooked and hosted for 25 years.

It all started with the Meals-on-Wheels program, which offered a volunteer niche for Jane when she was a young mother with a baby.

With her son in tow, Jane drove around town delivering meals to people in their homes, mostly elderly shut-ins who lived alone. She was struck by how many of them needed companionship as much as they did food, maybe more.

"I thought, I wonder where they go for Thanksgiving dinner," she said.

For a quarter century, they could go to the Congregational Church.

It started out as a senior event, she said, but as it evolved, all ages were welcomed, whether they lived in town or not.

One year, they served over 60 people, Ray said, including a group of Vietnamese refugees who came out from Boston. They spoke little or no English and ate only fruit from the "enormous" buffet meal.

He also recalled a young couple who had lost a child and came to the dinner because "they needed to be with people," Ray said. 

Jane recalled a woman who in previous years had helped out at the dinner. One year, recently divorced, she came on her own, this time as a guest.

They've discontinued the dinners, but Ray said the events were like family benchmarks. "We went from babies in the crib to teens with friends who helped wash dishes," he said.

To be concluded next week.