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Michaele Jean Jackson

Mar 08, 2011 03:00AM ● By Anonymous

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“It was the neatest thing to work with the directors of the opera or the Colonial Players. They’re such creative types, but so precise; oftentimes challenging, always fun,” starts Jackson over a cup of vegetable soup at the Double T Diner in Annapolis.

Though you may have seen Jackson named in local theater playbills, you probably have never seen her on stage. That’s because she is often found behind the curtain, acting as stage manager for the many opera or theater companies in Annapolis, keeping everyone on cue. It’s one of the talents that Jackson has developed in her years of being involved. In fact, time management is something she learned early in life. During her formative years at boarding school Jackson was the bell ringer: she held the prestigious position of timekeeper, which was awarded to the most responsible student. “The bell is what made people move. It was the clock,” she recalls.

Years later it was Jackson’s leadership that guided many of Anne Arundel County’s successful arts and community organizations to prosperity. She served the Annapolis Opera company from 1975–2006, as president (for three terms), a board member, and hands-on production manager. Jackson revived funding for the fledgling company and helped establish its residency at Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. Dennis Monk, past president of the Annapolis Opera, worked closely with her during the early years. “Jean became president of Annapolis Opera at a difficult time in its history. But it was through her dedication and exceptionally hard work that the future became considerably brighter for the organization. Annapolis opera lovers owe her many thanks.” Her managerial roles with the Annapolis Opera were reprised many times in various capacities with other local performing arts organizations, including the Maryland State Arts Council, Arts Council of Anne Arundel County (a.k.a. Cultural Arts Foundation), Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation, Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival, and First Night Annapolis. “I’ve always loved music and performing arts,” she says. “My mother earned her master’s from Juilliard and encouraged us, growing up, to appreciate music and theater. Plus, I like an itty-bitty challenge now and then.”

Born to physician Harold Franklin and his wife Myrtle Jean in New York City in the 1940s, Jackson came into this world named Michaele Jean. “My father’s favorite author was Michael Strange [a.k.a. Blanche Oelrichs, an American poet, playwright, and theater actress], who was a wife of one of the Barrymores. And his first child was going to be a Michael—he didn’t care if it was going to be a boy or a girl,” she says, laughing.

When her parents divorced, Jackson relocated south with her mother, first to Atlanta, Georgia, then to Jacksonville, Florida, to attend the Methodist-run Boylan Haven boarding school (7th–12th grade), where she earned bell-ringing accolades. After grade school it was off to Bennett College for Women in Greensboro, North Carolina, where she hit her stride, always feeding the curiosity bug, enjoying the performing arts, and planting the seed for her career.

After earning her bachelor’s degree in psychology in 1963 Jackson moved to Anne Arundel County at the suggestion of a friend. Here she found social work at the Crownsville Hospital Center, working for the Maryland State Department of Education’s Division of Rehabilitative Services (DORS) and settled down, marrying Oliver Jackson in 1978. She served in various hospital positions for 17 years—psychology assistant, rehabilitation counselor, and director of vocational rehabilitation unit—before being promoted in 1981 to the department’s Baltimore offices, ultimately becoming, in 2004, the director of the Workforce and Technology Center (WTC), which she remains today. During her 44 dedicated years with DORS, Jackson has cared for, treated, and provided counseling to thousands of Maryland residents who have disabilities, both physical and emotional. As director of the WTC Jackson oversees state programs and services that help individuals with disabilities go to work or stay independent in their homes and communities. Her leadership has driven the expansion of several programs, including mental health support services, deaf and hearing-impaired services, and local community internships and other training programs.

And as quickly as Jackson established her professional career, she launched a career of volunteering her talents to local arts organizations, always willing to accept an “itty-bitty” challenge. “Getting involved became a great way to meet new people in the area when I moved here,” she says.

In 1974 Jackson hooked up with the Annapolis Fine Arts Foundation; she served as its festival chair until 1988, helping to produce arts and crafts festivals near the City Dock. It was during this time that she homed in on her ability to “bring it all together.” This led to her becoming festival chair of the Kunta Kinte Heritage Festival for nearly 20 years, from ’87 to ’06. Jackson managed all the particulars of production, such as securing funding, location, amenities, and performers. She was the first to arrive each day of the festival to make sure everything was on pace and in place. For eight years (’99–’07) she served as a board member with First Night Annapolis, helping to guide the New Year’s Eve festival into the 21st century, increasing attendance and quality performers. Jackson was tied to so many festivals over the years that she became known as “Festival Lady.”

All the while her affiliations with the Annapolis Opera and Colonial Players flourished. In 1986 Jackson began a 21-year relationship with the community theater, serving as its stage manager, alongside longtime director Rick Wade, on such productions as A Christmas Carol, Of Mice and Men, Driving Miss Daisy, and Amadeus. Jackson could be found behind the scenes, script in hand, cueing the actors and actresses. “I first asked Jean to work with me more than 20 years ago, as the production manager and stage manager—two roles not usually handled by one person—but of course Jean did it with aplomb, with whip-crack discipline in the cast and crew, and kindled a great back stage working environment for everyone,” says Wade. “I did everything in my power to ensure that she was available to work with me when I directed. I know a lot of hard chargers who get things done. I know very, very few who charge hard, get things done, and leave a trail of love, joy, and respect in their wake . . . Jean is one of them.”

In 2006 Jackson was recognized publicly by herpeers: she received the Annie Award for Arts Patron. “Her leadership skills and association with so many arts organizations in the county were assets to the grant process of the Arts Council,” says Carol Treiber, former Anne Arundel Arts Council executive director. “Her sense of humor was well appreciated when it came time to have the heavy hand for fund raising. She was a joy to have on the board and a team leader for the Arts Council, as well as the many organizations that she helped to develop and nurture.”

Today Jackson continues to serve as a judge for Scholarships for Scholars, is a board member of ARC of Anne Arundel County, and serves on the board of the Anne Arundel County Fair. In fact, Jackson organizes what’s become one of the most popular events at the fair—Arundel Idol, a singing contest modeled after American Idol—living up to her “Festival Lady” moniker.

And since 1994 Jackson has been a Naval Academy midshipman sponsor, opening her Arundel on the Bay home, and her heart, to plebes. Over the years she’s sponsored 35 mids. “I simply love them. They are all near and dear to me,” she says. In addition to participating in the sponsor program Jackson is an active volunteer with the Academy’s chorale and annual Halloween concert. Monte Maxwell, chairman of musical activities at the Academy, considers Jackson a huge asset to the community. “Jean has been a great colleague and helped me out immensely. She is an outstanding individual who has served in so many capacities to help further the cultural and artistic activity in the greater Annapolis area. I personally count it a great privilege to have Jean Jackson as a dear friend and fellow supporter of the arts.”

Reflecting upon her years, from childhood to the present, over lunch at the diner, seems to have opened Jackson’s eyes to how much she has really accomplished in the arts community. “I didn’t think much of it at the time; it’s just what I did. But hey, I guess I did do a lot of neat stuff,” she says with a laugh. Finished with her lunch, she prepares to drive home for a relaxing evening with no distractions—a break from all those “itty-bitty” challenges.