I knew of Jack. I mean, everyone did. He had been voted an Arizona Daily Sun Citizen of the Year, for one thing. When I finally got to know him, I could see why.
I had always looked forward to reading his Trailheads column, published twice a month in the newspaper. It was in one of those columns that he encouraged readers to join the Big Brothers Big Sisters fundraising race. He challenged us non-runners to walk it, setting a goal for the most walking participants ever. I signed up, brought some friends and sure enough, many others heeded Jack’s call as well. The biggest walking turnout the event had seen to date.
I met him that Saturday morning and told him I was there because of him. I asked him if I could photograph him, as part of a personal project. He reached out three days later to say yes. I’m so glad he did.
Sitting on the red couch in my office, he told me his story. In 1943, when Jack was about 5 years old, he and his family moved into the St. Louis home they would occupy for 55 years. His mom had come from Kentucky, and was a phenomenal gardener. She nurtured a Victory Garden that, along with the other neighbors’ gardens, was a crucial source of food during the war. She didn’t just teach Jack. She insisted that the family participate in this important activity for feeding their family. When Jack arrived here, he started his own, saying that food is more challenging in Flagstaff than flowers.
After retiring from Benjamin Moore, he moved here to Flagstaff in 1998 and decided to get involved in helping people see the beauty of our town. He told me “I think it’s a great place to live and I like to show people.” He volunteered more than anyone I know, especially in trails, biking, and clean up, often coming up with pithy names for his groups. Once a month he lead a group that did trash cleanup in the city. Considering themselves stewards of the FUTS trails, they called themselves PUTLRUS, an acronym for ‘Pick Up The Litter, Recycle Useful Stuff’. He was relentlessly inclusive, always leading walking groups, teaching, encouraging. A partial list of organizations he contributed to over the last 25 years can be found here.
I think he was nothing short of heroic, but he would wave me away for saying anything along those lines. He was humble to a fault, minimizing his accomplishments and contributions. He’d stepped back as he’d gotten older, he said, because “People don’t listen to you anymore.” He didn’t seem to mind. “Younger people need to find their niche. I’m OK with moving aside to work on something else”
I loved becoming friends with him, getting to know him, photographing him. But I don’t feel I did him justice, photographically. It’s a daunting task to portray someone who embodied so much. Yet, he was so grateful, so appreciative of my time and the portraits themselves, despite his modesty. His favorite was the walking away picture, he told me, not only because his face isn’t visible but he said it “just showed something.”
He passed away last month at the age of 85. His positive, generous presence is irreplaceable but I think the world would be better if we all walked the walk, like Jack.
A celebration of his life is planned for September 7th.
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Kristen Dacey Iwai of KDI Photography is a full-time professional portrait photographer based in Flagstaff, Arizona with decades of experience. Making portraits of families, pregnancy, newborns, babies, children, and high school seniors in her downtown studio and on location, she serves clients from Flagstaff, Sedona, Tuba City, Winslow, Payson, Page, Williams, Prescott, Mesa, Scottsdale, Phoenix, Arizona