Garner names park after late council member known for his love of town, collard gifts

Garner Town Council member Jackie Johns died Sunday, Jan. 6, following a brief illness.
Garner Town Council member Jackie Johns died Sunday, Jan. 6, following a brief illness. Town of Garner

The son of the late Garner Town Council member Jackie Johns recalls how much his father loved the town.

“Daddy loved Garner and the people in the community,” said Jackie Johns Jr. “He wanted the best for you. He loved this place.”

The town is returning some of the love Johns showed the community through 36 years as a town council member by changing the name of Rand Mill Road Park to the Jackie Johns Community Park. The park is just down the road from the house where Johns spent essentially all of adulthood.

“That makes it really nice,” said Helen Phillips, who has lived all of her 92 years in Garner. “Jackie would like that. He loved this community.”

Johns was born on the family home on Battle Bridge Road in eastern Wake County. His father raised tobacco, corn and some cotton, along with vegetables, hogs, chickens and turkeys.

When Jackie Johns married, he built his own home on Montague Street near downtown Garner. He raised his two boys there and never moved. He never felt the need to live anywhere else.

Johns was the first, and thus far only, African American elected to a municipal office in Garner. But he didn’t talk about that much.

Carl Johns, Jackie’s youngest brother, said Jackie may have gotten some of his political leanings from his mother, who was active in the NAACP.

“As far back as I can remember, Jackie liked politics,” Carl Johns said.

Phillips said she believed that Jackie’s involvement grew from a great desire to help people.

Gifts of money at funerals

“Jackie was the kindest man I ever knew,” Phillips said. “It was just natural to him.

“If you were old or if you were sick, Jackie would pull out his checkbook and pencil. It might not be for much, but he’d write you a check. No telling how many folks he helped out.”

He was known for slipping a folded $20 bill to the bereaved at funerals. “A little something to help,” he would say in a quiet voice.

He traveled in his work. He was a Service Dental Technician. He repaired dental chairs all over Eastern North Carolina and in Southern Virginia. His travels allowed him to stop and purchase vegetables from roadside stands. He’d often give away the vegetables when he got home.

Collards on the porch

“He would find the best collards,” Phillips said. “They had some variety up in Virginia that was different than here. They’d be the best that you’d ever put in your mouth.

“You’d wake up in the morning and find a big mess of those collards on the porch. Jackie would have gotten in late and left them for you during the night.”

The fall collards were a tradition for years, but after his wife Lila and his son Danny died, he started another. Originally, he invited a few friends, around 20 or 25, over for dinner. The number of guests kept growing.

“The last couple of years it was 400 to 500 people coming to a free banquet,” Jackie Jr. recalled.

“He’d start working on it months in advance. He’d call somebody and invite them and give them a number. You’d tell them your number when you came to dinner.”

“It was huge spread,” said Carl, Jackie’s brother. “Ham, barbecue, turkey. He just wanted to spend time with his friends.”

Aptly enough for a people person, renaming the park was a citizen-led initiative. A petition requesting the name change was circulated by the Smith Drive Community Reunion Committee. Committee member Mechele Collins presented the petition with more than 1,000 signatures at an August meeting of the Town Council.

The park includes a fenced field, basketball court, playground equipment and a picnic shelter that seats about 20 people.

“It’s a good thing to name it for Jackie,” Phillips said. “It is a place for young children to have a good time. ... It’s a park that will help people remember Jackie. He should be remembered. He was a very important person in our town.

“He sure loved it.”

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