Jackson Center To Debut Willard Exhibit June 5

The Robert H. Jackson Center will debut an original exhibit, “Say, I Taught Thee: The Life of Mary R. Willard,” on Thursday, June 5.

There will be a public opening from 6 to 8 p.m. at the center, 305 E. Fourth St., Jamestown. Refreshments will be served. There is no fee or reservation required to attend. A short commentary will be offered at 7 p.m. to accompany the exhibit.

The concept for the exhibit came from the Jennifer J. Champ, the Jackson Center’s consultant for archives and exhibits. Champ spent months researching Willard, a Jamestown High School English teacher whom Robert H. Jackson considered one of his greatest mentors. Champ worked closely with Pam Brown, records management coordinator for the Jamestown Public Schools Records Center and Archives. The Jamestown Public School Archives has a wealth of unique materials related to the history of education in Jamestown. One item Brown and Champ found was the 1909-1910 Academic Register that Willard used to record the students in her various classes, and the lessons she taught throughout the year. Robert H. Jackson is listed as student 16 in her English fourth year class. In addition to the Jamestown Public Schools archival materials, there are items on loan from the Fenton History Center.

Willard had a profound impact on Jackson’s character.

“The Jackson Center’s mission is to teach about the life of Robert H. Jackson, and his relationship with Mary R.Willard is a part of the story,” Champ said. “In many ways, it is a universal story, one that most of us relate to.”

Jackson often referred to his relationship with Mary R. Willard as one of the most important of his life, and their friendship lasted until she passed away in 1931. The exhibit portrays the life of a significant woman in Jamestown’s history; Mary R. Willard’s accomplishments and credits are extensive, and her influence extended into all facets of the Jamestown community.

“This exhibit is a wonderful opportunity for the school district to display many items in its historical collection,” Brown said. “These artifacts are a record of Mary R. Willard’s work and accomplishments in the school and community. Her influence was felt not only by Robert H. Jackson, but the students she saw in her many years in the district.”

In the spirit of honoring mentors, a special portion of the exhibit includes a display created by students from Pine Valley High School. The display features photos, and letters written by the students to important mentors who influenced, guided and inspired them. The students’ participation in the exhibit is part of a lesson plan created by Lynn Kutschke, Pine Valley High School special education teacher and Robert H. Jackson teacher fellow.

According to Kutschke, the students have been on a yearlong endeavor to learn more about Jackson’s early life, professional career and lasting legacy, all culminating in the “Who Inspires You” exhibit at the Jackson Center.

“They are so proud to represent the inspiration that Robert H. Jackson found in Mary R. Willard by writing their own artistic essays focusing on a person who has truly inspired them,” Kutschke said.

Additionally, Pine Valley Middle School teacher Penny Benson had her students supply their own expressive writings to add to the exhibit.

The exhibit was made possible by a grant from the Chautauqua Region Community Foundation, and through partnerships with the Jamestown Public School Archives and Records Center and the Fenton History Center.