Local News: McCook College alum recalls freshman’s ‘sink-or-swim’ moment (02/11/22)

Brent L. Cobb McCook Community College

Don Jackson as a student with the MCC fraternity. courtesy photo

MCCOOK, Neb. – Don Jackson grew up in southwestern Nebraska at a time when the idea of ​​going to college was a challenge for most families. His family could not afford Don to attend a four-year college. He wasn’t even sure he could handle the class, but by the fall of 1965 he got up every morning and drove from Cambridge to McCook to attend classes.

Then Jackson, like many freshmen, when sitting in a science class, recalls the “sink-or-float moment of truth.” He had just gotten his intermediate grade in Harlan Wyrick’s zoology class – a D.

It was like oh my god! I have to do better or I won’t make it,” Jackson recalled.

Don Jackson courtesy photo

That stark memory, that burning truth, was a turning point for a journey that would eventually include passing Harlan Wyrick’s zoology class, graduating from McCook College, a four-year degree, and building a legacy in science, rehabilitation services, education, and the public Service.

Jackson graduated from McCook College on May 26, 1967 with an Associate of Arts degree and transferred his credits to Hastings College. There he received a Bachelor of Arts in biology. He received a certificate in physical therapy from Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois in 1971 and a Master of Science in administration of rehabilitation services from DePaul University in Chicago in 1981.

As a freshman struggling at McCook in his freshman semester, Jackson still didn’t know if he’d make it through college, but he definitely knew he could work harder than the “D” next to his name on the gradebook was standing. Yes, McCook College was convenient and affordable and a great opportunity for him, but it didn’t fulfill his end of the winning formula.

A longtime fly fisherman, Jackson owns year-round farmland in Frontier County and a home in LaGrange, Illinois. Photo courtesy

And while he remembers Wyrick as a being who was “tough as nails,” he learned. And he worked hard. And it was this mentorship that had a profound impact on his personal and professional journey, first as a coach for the college’s athletic teams.

“I had important role models at McCook and they made a huge difference in my life and I’m sure they continue to do so today,” Jackson said.

He wasn’t the only student who had to buckle up and kneel down. He knows that there were many other students who also benefited from these mentorships.

“It’s a time I look back on with great fondness and I’m very grateful that McCook College was there for me when I needed it and grateful that it’s there for people today,” Jackson said.

Another mentor was Rex Grossert, sports director and football coach. He introduced Jackson to physical therapy and gave him the opportunity to work as a coach in the athletic department, the first step in what would become a career.

“And EP Baruth’s influence was also profound,” Jackson said. “I even talked him into starting a cross-country team.” Jackson also developed a close relationship with Rudy Gerstner, who also later became an athletic director and coach.

“I wasn’t really a collegiate athlete, but with the mentors who guided me into athletic training, I got a scholarship to Hastings College. I couldn’t have afforded it otherwise,” Jackson said.

In 1976, Jackson founded and became President of Rehabilitation Systems of Illinois, a multistate healthcare company, serving until 1987 when it was sold to NovaCare. inc

In 1991 he became Chief Operating Officer of Easter Seals, Inc., a position he held until 2012.

From 2007 to 2012 he was a member of the Hastings College Board of Trustees and the Hastings College Foundation Board. In the fall of 2012, Jackson became vice president for promotions at Hastings College. He was named the college’s 16th president on February 4, 2013 – a position he held until his retirement in June 2017.

Jackson was named Mid-Plains Community College Alumni of the Year in October 2015 and was the commencement speaker in May 2016.

The man who overcame a low grade in zoology in 1965 built a science-based life that enabled him to continue doing things he is passionate about in retirement.

A lifelong fly fisherman now spends much of his time fly fishing for trout in Montana and other locations. The Big Horn River is a popular spot. This April he has a trip planned on the White River in Arkansas and also a return to South Florida for tarpon fishing on a fly rod.

He and his wife Beverlee (Nelson) travel for about three months each year from their home in La Grange, Illinois on winter trips and spend time in Arizona, Dana Point, California (one mile from the ocean), Santa Catalina Island, Texas, New Mexico, Nevada, Utah, Montana, Colorado and Nebraska. They enjoy Switzerland and the Lake Como region of Italy and have a townhouse in the Chicago area and a lakefront home in Wisconsin where they have spent 16 months in Covid-19 isolation.

Even after retirement, he continues to be involved in two charitable organizations.

“I just can’t help but commit to not getting paid for the work,” he said. He is Treasurer of the Foundation For Physical Therapy Research, which funds research and develops researchers to optimize exercise and health. He is also board secretary of the Bighorn River Alliance, a non-profit organization whose mission is to conserve and protect trout habitat.

He has farmland in Frontier County, north of McCook, and the Jacksons return three or four times a year to the farm of Henry and Anita Koch — a mentoring couple who helped Jackson get started in the business when they jointly signed a loan in McCook .

“We’re part of this farming family, bound by events and life rather than blood,” he said.


Throughout his life of accomplishments, Jackson remains grateful for these enduring connections—many were made while mentors from McCook College helped lay the foundations of who he would become and what he would do (once he figured out how to take Harlan Wyrick’s zoology course consists ).

Comments are closed.