• Frank Haight: 100 years of memories for local resident

  • Jan. 28 should have been a day of celebration for Jack. J. Reisner – with cake, ice cream and well-wishes. After all, it was the 100th birthday of the lifelong Jackson County resident.

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  • Jan. 28 should have been a day of celebration for Jack. J. Reisner – with cake, ice cream and well-wishes. After all, it was the 100th birthday of the lifelong Jackson County resident.
    It wasn’t, though. The celebration was postponed when the World War II veteran got pneumonia and was confined to his Independence home, where Ruby – his wife of 19 years and the love of his life – nursed him back to health. His first wife, Ruth, died in 1990.
    Now that Jack has fully recovered, let the celebrations begin.
    Neighbors, church members and a few close friends will gather at his home on March 2 for the first of two parties. Then on March 10, Jack’s only grandson, Eric Reisner, is hosting a party for family and friends at the Shamrock Hills Golf Club in Lee’s Summit.
    Sitting in the living room with Ruth and Eric, Jack speaks his heart when asked about being a centenarian.
    “It’s hard,” he says remorsefully. “I am blind. I wear a hearing aid. I’ve got some loose dentures, and I can’t do anything for them. So, why should I be here?”
    With that said, Jack’s pessimism changes to optimism.
    “I guess there is some significance in being a hundred. It makes you feel a little better when you say you are 100 years old,” he continues, then adds: “Most people could care less.”
    Though Jack has health issues, he still has a keen mind and talks about past memories as though they occurred today.
    One early memory was as a 4-year-old. He remembers seeing a lighted candle ignite a Christmas tree during a party at a friend’s house.
    “That was my first experience with the Fire Department,” Jack says, recalling “someone was smart enough to drag the tree out of the house.”
    Not all of Jack’s life was spent in Kansas City. He was born Jan. 28, 1913, in a house he believes was at 10th and Harrison streets. He attended Scarritt School while living on Lexington Avenue.
    His family later moved to Athol, an unincorporated area in Eastern Jackson County between Mount Washington and Blue Ridge Boulevard. Then they moved to Brookside Street, where Jack lived many years.
    It was in this unincorporated area – just west of Independence – that young Jack first met Clarence Kelley. The former Kansas City police chief and FBI director came to Jack’s rescue by playing Cupid one Valentine’s Day while they were students at Northeast High School.
    “I bought a pound of chocolates for my girlfriend,” Jack says. “We had a box at school where we put our valentines, but I couldn’t get my (chocolates) in.”
    Walking home that afternoon, Jack came upon an inquisitive Clarence Kelley, who asked about the recipient of the chocolates he was carrying.
    Page 2 of 2 - “My girlfriend,” Jack said.
    Clarence asked him for the candy and delivered it to his sweetheart with this explanation: “This is from Jack. He forgot to give it to you.”
    Clarence Kelley, though, wasn’t the only famous person Jack knew. When he operated a grocery store/ butcher shop at 28th Street and Prospect Avenue, one of his regular customers was Baseball Hall of Famer Satchel Paige.
    “He would buy a dozen T-bones each time,” Jack says, which he served to African-Americans at his home on 28th Street because they weren’t allowed to eat at a nearby segregated drugstore.
    Jack also was in the Civilian Conservation Corps, the Depression era public work relief program for unemployed and unmarried men between 18 and 25. For a year, he worked in Arkansas and California, earning $30 a month – $25 of which went to his oldest sister, Nadine – whose husband lost his job during the Depression.
    A year after Japan’s attack on Pearl Harbor, Jack was called into service. He was trained at the U.S. Army Proving Grounds, where he learned how to take care of various types of ammunition.
    Jack wouldn’t take anything for his tour of duty in Iceland, he says, because of a heavenly experience that drew him closer to God on a wintry night.
    “It was dark and you could hardly see your hand in front of your face, and, all of a sudden, I saw the most glorious sight. I looked up and there were these beautiful (northern lights) dancing all over the sky,” he says, recalling he was so spiritually moved by the beauty and greatness of God that he sat on a rock and “cried and cried.”
    Jack’s childhood memories are fond: Like watching silent cowboy movies at Fairmount Theater, visiting Fairmount Park, playing hide and seek in Mount Washington Cemetery, playing baseball on the corner lot near his home and riding on the streetcar, which came up to “just beyond Mount Washington Cemetery.”
    One can only wonder where Jack would be today if Ruby wasn’t part of his life. The couple met at Raytown Christian Church and were married in 1994.
    Love at first sight?
    “Pretty much,” Ruby says. “He had been single for five years, and I had been single for over 10 years, and we sat across the aisle from each other.”
    Jack makes no bones about it: It’s his love for Ruby that keeps him going. And Ruby says the same of Jack.
    Here’s wishing Jack a happy birthday. And to the both of you, many more anniversaries to share.

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