Jackie Wood is the co-owner and manager of Olde Towne Mall, Emeritus Board Member of RCHS, Board Member of the Kandu Foundation, member of Downtown Janesville, Inc., member of the Janesville Historic Commission, former Rock County Board of Supervisors, former President of The Women’s Club, former President of United Way, and former President of YWCA.
Where were you born?
Well, I’m a native of Janesville, born at Mercy Hospital. We lived in an apartment when I was born. I remember the small apartment, just two houses up from St. Mary’s church.
My parents met in high school. They were both natives. My father worked at Parker Pen, which was on the hill. He actually walked to work. I remember when we got our first car. My mother was a stay-at-home mom, although she worked at Parker Pen in the office in her early years and quit when she had children.
What were some good memories while growing up?
I got a brother three years later.
That area around St. Mary’s was like our playground and I have fond memories of the neighborhood. Now I seem to have come full circle!
On Saturdays, we would go and watch the weddings come out of St. Mary’s church and watch them throw rice. For a small child to see a beautiful bride that looked like a princess … it was fabulous, I loved it! That’s a great memory.
That may be why I’ve become so social and party orientated. As if by osmosis, I just fell into all of it.
I fondly remember planning a circus with neighborhood kids, which we had our mothers come to watch. We created tricks and acrobatics. It was really fun, or so we thought as kids! I still see an old friend from that time and we still talk about our “circus.”
Another great memory is when my best friend from the neighborhood, Olivia, and I pulled a wagon downtown to sell Kool-Aid to people leaving work at Parker Pen. We had our little stand outside the telephone company on the corner of East Milwaukee and Wall Street.
We did move to a larger house in the neighborhood, across from the Richardson house on Prospect. I walked to Adams School, up to the corner where the fire station is, and then walked all the way up Milton Avenue by myself to Adams. Then, they changed the boundary line and I walked the other way to Roosevelt, but by then my brother went with me.
It was just a fun, normal time in the 1940’s and 1950’s growing up. We played outside a lot. We had playgrounds that were very active, and those playgrounds had teenagers working there. The City usually hired a boy and a girl, college students, to run these playgrounds in each of the city parks.
I went to the old Adams. I live now by the old Jefferson, and that had a big playground when we moved in. It was a wonderful summer thing, because every day we went out there, stayed all day, and did just about everything. They had crafts for kids, they took us on little trips, we also had a playground parade where you decorated your bike or your doll buggy and we actually paraded in the downtown. We used to put on plays, too!
I did live close to downtown. I remember walking downtown to the Woolworth’s. We walked to a donut shop, it was called The Donut Shop. It is now an empty spot of grass on the corner of East Milwaukee and Atwood. Next to it was a gas station, which is now a parking lot. That is where Carrie Jacobs-Bond wrote “I Love You Truly.”
It was a treat that our parents let us go down there at night. And we crossed that busy street! No one thought about what we did. We biked and walked wherever we went, and we walked all the way to Lion’s Beach. The beach was a great fun!
Arbuthnot Dairy was two blocks from the beach so, after swimming, we always went for ice cream there. I think I knew where all the ice cream shops were. There was also the Velvet Freeze. At that time, everything was downtown. I remember going with my mother to shop at a grocery store where the Whiskey Ranch is now. So, for me, it’s really all transformed!
Where did you go to middle school?
I went to the Old Marshall Junior High, which is now the Janesville Performing Arts Center, and then graduated from Craig High School.
Were you involved in extracurricular activities in high school?
Well, I was never good at sports and I could never carry a tune. I did like art, though. So, I took art. My mother was fairly creative with a lot of things, so I enjoyed art the most. But, I was not involved in a lot of extracurricular activities. I was kind of shy, but wasn’t overly quiet since I was social enough.
What were your ambitions for after high school?
I didn’t have a career mode that I followed and did not start college. The reason being, I remember my father saying to me that because I had taken all of the business courses in high school, I could easily get a job. So, I took office jobs here in town.
My father said to me, “You have two brothers, and they will have to go to college because they’ll help to support a family.” But, I had the skills to get office jobs and I could just do that.
One thing I knew I wanted to do was to broaden the base and get out of town. I knew of the Spencerian Business College that was only in Milwaukee, but I did not go.
I stayed in town and got a job in the office at JJ Smith’s Jewelry Store. I had a warm association with the Wexlers, who owned it. They became great, great friends and mentors. Bob Wexler and his wife, Sima, were very involved in the community. I think he had the Kiwanis Club, and he got me working on an event that a club would have. That was my first experience of getting involved in the community.
Who were your role models, women who inspired you to be independent?
My Aunt Midge, she moved out of Janesville and lived in a lot of neat places. We visited her a lot. She met someone in Chicago who had a substantial job. She had a great lifestyle, so different from life here in Janesville. She was also very active.
My mother was also a bit involved. She volunteered for the United Way, and my mother had me going around the block to collect for them. I guess that was my early start!
I became involved as a young mother in the YWCA on Courthouse Hill. They had two older women who took care of your children while you attended classes. It was there that I met a lot of positive role models like, Dorothy Gilbertson and Dolly Nowlan, and of course Gloria Ziegler, who eventually became the Executive Director.
I don’t like wasting my time, so it was so nice to have really substantial things to work on, and to give back.
Did you stay home with your children?
I did until I went to work at Hough Manufacturing. I worked in the office there for three-and-a-half years with friends I still have today, and great people like Albert and Lois Hough and John Hough. Hough Manufacturing was another great place.
I had three children, Kellie, Kim, and Graham. One is a graphic artist, one is a nurse, and one is a chef. So, I think they’re all employable. My son is in town, he was a chef at the Grand Geneva when they married. My daughter Kim lives in Edgerton and my daughter Kellie is a young mother and is currently at home and involved in the schools.
I have nine all together if we count mine plus Bill’s kids and John’s kids. And I have five grandchildren! Most of them are all around here, which is nice.
What other activities interested you at that time?
I have always liked the early history of things, how things began. I got involved at the Lincoln-Tallman House as a docent, when I was a young mother. I just loved it. I worked under Monte Montgomery and Rick Hartung. Nancy Douglas was there then — all really inspiring people.
Eventually, I was asked to be on the board. Everywhere I’ve gone, it seems, I’ve ended up on the board. At the YWCA, they had me teaching children’s art classes for an hour on Saturdays. I had a talent for making up stuff we could do. Next thing you know, “Would you like to be on our board?” And then all of a sudden, “Would you like to be the Board President?”
So, I was Board President of the YWCA, then on the board and Board President of the Rock County Historical Society. I was then asked to run a United Way campaign. So, after I did that, I got on to their board for nine years and was also Board President! It seems wherever I’ve gone, I’ve fallen into that role. I’ve met a lot of people and enjoyed it.
Where I truly come from, and because I didn’t go on with a career in a college, I’ve spent my life educating myself! They say you should never quit learning!
How did you meet Bill Wood?
That’s a sweet story. His wife had died of cancer. She was a lovely woman who owned Lynnwood Nursery School, which is now Goelzer’s First Step. A year-and-a-half after her death, he went to his law firm and said, “I’m ready to date. If you fix me up with a date, I’ll take you and your spouse out to dinner!”
A friend from The Women’s Club told me that Bill was looking for someone to take to social events. I said, “Well, I like social events!” I knew who he was, an attorney with Nowlan and Mouat, and he was running for School Board. So, I went to a political event where he was speaking and I thought he was interesting.
I married Bill Wood, in 1980. A friend said to me the other night, “Do you know that we had someone lined up for Bill Wood, but he had already met YOU, so there went that!”
Bill had such a good sense of humor. When he called me to go out, my youngest brother, who is 13 years younger, was getting married. I told Bill I couldn’t go out then, but that I had tickets to go to the play at Trinity Episcopal Church. He was pretty well known in town, so he came to the church and sat with me and my kids. And everyone in town turned their heads and were looking and whispering! His story was, “Well, she was standing on the corner selling tickets!”
He had wanted someone who had children, as his had just left the house.
Tell me about your beautiful, historic home.
Bill said, “I’ve already built a cottage and a house, but I’ve never restored a house.” So, we purchased the home on the corner of Wisconsin and Van Buren that needed a lot of work.
It became a real pleasure to restore this older house. It hadn’t been painted in 20 years. It was a two-family home. The woodwork was never painted, it’s always been beautiful, as are the hardwood floors. But, the kitchen was in bad shape, and the bathrooms, of course. We also needed to take the walls out to return it to a one-family home.
Restoring the home really struck a chord with me. I’m passionate about preservation. We have to preserve these old homes! At one time, people were taking these homes and not really taking care of them. Or, they would make them into two-family homes because they didn’t like the high heating bills. But, that generation has sort of gone out and now people really treasure and appreciate these homes.
This area eventually became the Historic Courthouse District in the early 1980’s, so that’s made this neighborhood a unique, solid and caring community. There is a plaque for this neighborhood on the corner of St. Lawrence and Atwood.
Now the neighborhood is evolving and younger families with children are moving in. It buoys me!
Tell me about your political entertaining.
Once Bill Wood and I got into this big house and got it fixed up, we had a lot of parties and events. We did a lot of political entertaining. Bill was very involved, head of the Young Republicans when he was young. He’d bring people who were running for office up here and ask me to help out. I enjoyed that and got to meet so many nice people.
I worked on Margaret Lewis’ campaign when she was running for the State Assembly. I had several fundraisers here for her. And because she worked for Gov. Dreyfus, he came as the honored speaker … in his red vest!
Later, Bob Dole was coming to town to campaign for Mark Newman. Steve King said to me, “We’ve got to put on an event because Bob Dole will be coming.”
Bill and I (we were always on the same page), decided that we should put money down on the old Dan Parker home, which is now Oakleigh & Tobin Ryan’s home. We were going to move into that home, closing in January. But, that December, Bill had died. So, the realtor told me I had options of where to live.
I started to have little parties in that empty home. With Dole coming, who was running for president then, I hauled over some paintings, and called Best Events to get a party started. It was a big deal with lots of people.
Then, somehow, Stan Milam showed up and was walking around in the yard. He’s a Democrat, I’ve known Stan a long time. I had all these people coming in the doors. I looked out, and there’s Stan, with all his reporter bags on. At that time, he was a reporter. So, I went out, and I said, “Stan Milam, what are you doing here? I didn’t invite you to come here!” And he answered, “I’m a reporter, I have a right to be here!” I was thinking … Oh, I can’t have a Democrat in here. Gov. Thompson and all the big politicals were coming! Anyway, Stan let me know that he was going to stay! But, we have been best friends through the years.
Somehow, they let me keep the house until May. And everyone in town wanted to see it, so then I started giving tours. I had a ball with it! It needed work, but it has such good heritage. It was kind of neat when Oakleigh and Tobin Ryan came here and wanted the house and asked me what I thought of that. She now calls it “Whiton House” after Judge Whiton, who lived there.
When did you start to become involved in your own campaigns?
When Margaret Lewis, who was in the State Assembly for six years, stepped down, she called me up to see if I might run to take her place. I have never been so scared! That was one arena I did not know much about. Everyone said, “Oh, they’ll help you.”
Well, I did it! And Bill was all for it. I did the campaign and did very well, because I had to go far and wide … Whitewater, Watertown. It was a district, not just in your neighborhood.
I was running against a Democrat, Eddington. Then, at the last minute, Steve Nass came home from the military. He had been in Saudi Arabia. He had everyone in Whitewater backing him. He sailed in with a big mountain of people behind him! He won the primary. And I said, “At least I didn’t get beat by a Democrat!” He won it and is still in it, so we still preserve that seat. To him it was a job, he was a career politician. We’ve always been friends.
How did you meet John Schooff?
Bill died in 1992 and a couple of years later I met John Schooff, who owned the Wagner Store downtown. It’s a cute story. John had always worked in Beloit. He told me that the lady in one of the shops downtown gets credit for getting us together because she talked him into opening a store in Janesville.
I was a widow, managing the Olde Towne Mall, and I had known John from when I grew up. At one point I tried to stop him from ruining his storefront on his building. A friend and I called him up to meet with him. He smelled really good when we met up! I found out later that he had run home on his lunch hour to clean up! But, I couldn’t talk him into my plan to not have his store window right on the street.
He was sending people to convince me that I should date him. And I wondered why people kept suggesting it. They would drop hints and ask me why I wasn’t going out with him. My answer to them was, “Well, he has never asked me!”
One night, I happened to be downtown until about 7 pm. We had both come out of the back door of Olde Towne Mall. John came out of the back of Wagner’s Business Products and we ran into each other. And I said, “Well, I’m hungry and I’m going over to The Looking Glass for a hamburger.” He said, “Well, I’ll go with you and I’ll buy you the hamburger.” So, we went over there and he didn’t eat. After the fact, I asked him why he didn’t eat. He said he was just too nervous!
People kept telling John how they thought I should run for the County Board of Supervisors. They were mostly men, but John told me I should consider doing it. So, I did! I was on the board for eight years and served as Chair of the Planning Committee. The farmers had to come and get land divisions and such.
John Schooff died suddenly from heart failure in 2012. We had 18 fun and great years together and he was also a really great guy.
Tell me about your travels and your favorite destinations.
I really got enamored with New York, because there’s no place like New York City in the entire world! Bill and I went there a few times. We also traveled to England and Greece. We took trips to San Francisco and Hawaii. And when I married John, we honeymooned in Hong Kong. That was a unique experience! We also cruised the Côte d’Azur, the French Riviera.
What are your thoughts on relationships?
You have to spend a lot of time on a relationship, and you should. Once you find a good relationship … wow, that’s the best thing ever! And I have had two really great relationships. They were a lot of fun and they respected me. What they did, Bill Wood and John Schooff, they let me be me. They supported me in whatever I wanted to do.
How did you end up with the Olde Towne Mall?
Bill wanted to buy real estate in the downtown area. He had already bought a couple of buildings, the old Power and Light and the old Leath Furniture building. He wanted to purchase one more and planned to retire and just run his real estate.
He met Jim Grafft down at the law firm one day, and they became partners to buy the Olde Towne Mall, the old Medical Center and the Fairview Mall.
My downtown involvement really started with Terry Campbell, who bought the old Woolworth’s and turned it into the Athletic Club. We were full steam ahead, and we had a BID under Terry.
So, that’s how I dove into all of that. I love it. I guess I do love people. And I was dealing with the challenge of renting out. The challenge was to meet people, show them the space and try to get them to rent the place out. It became a challenge that I enjoyed.
What are your newest community activities?
Currently, I serve as an Emeritus Board Member of RCHS. There are so many things that I want to keep up with there, and I enjoy being involved. I still work on the History Makers and Summer Solstice Showcase events.
Also, I’m on the board of Downtown Janesville, Inc. I was in charge of the Design Committee but Britten Langfoss is now in charge and I am a member. I need to stay involved in the downtown.
The Transformation Project, the fund drive to raise $1.7 million for Hedberg Public Library, is my newest project. The HPL Director has reached out to the community to help create extra amenities for the library. It’s really important to contribute to this remodeling.
I’m also on the Historic Commission through the City of Janesville, and a board member of the Kandu Foundation, which I really enjoy.
How did you get involved in the art world and with watercolor?
Well, I took watercolor lessons with Ellen Malsch, and a lot of the local artists, who are really good, took lessons from her. I’m not a good lesson taker, I get too distracted. But, I learned the technique, but I didn’t enjoy the large paintings and trying to replicate a scene. So, I started creating smaller designs on cards. I’ve packaged up the cards and sold them.
Stan Milam commissioned me to make his wedding invitations. Each card was an original, hand-made. I didn’t use a certain color scheme. So, my design was kind of a homage to Stan. I used a kind of swishy design, which reflected his car racing, and then put a cross in it for the wedding.
I’ve been a member of the Janesville Art league, which is more like a study group for art, not really a place to take lessons, though some of the members give classes. My good friend, Claudiadair Fitzgerald, who owns L’Alalier Art Studio, is one, as well as Elaine Wood, my sister-in-law and past Co-President of the Janesville Art League.
Where do you see us going, the community, as far as progress goes?
I’m really excited that Janesville is coming along as far as it is. Even with GM and Parker Pen not being here, you look at the companies which have blossomed since then. Prent and SSI are great examples. Now SHINE and Dollar General have recently moved here. Even the incubator that Forward Janesville, Inc. started is now full!
To see a business, grow from a small business to a bigger business is just very exciting. Janesville is very vibrant now. Milton Avenue, known for all its fast foods, has grown. But we need that, too. We also have Festival Foods, and the new shopping area in the old Menards lot.
The City of Janesville has stepped up and has worked with businesses and has done the things that they need to do to help the new businesses move in. It’s not languishing. It’s bringing the downtown along with it!
What do you love about the community?
One thing that has always struck me is that I meet a lot of new people that move here, who then had to move due to job changes and such, but they hated to leave. They always come back to visit and they say how much they enjoyed living here.
I believe there are a lot of good people here. They look out for one another, we are friendly and helpful. It’s our people who make this community great.
“I’ve always felt that if I do my part, then others behind me will do their part.” ~ Jackie Wood