Jackson Mortuary is a family business – the oldest continuously operating, Black-owned family business in Wichita.
“I remember my great-grandfather, but it was my grandpa who was more of a mentor to me,” says Michael E. Jackson, the fourth generation of the Jackson family to lead the operation. He is supported in the business by his wife of 46 years, Deborah, sons Jamaun and Torrance, and Torrance’s wife, Chastity. Torrance who finished mortuary science school in 2002 is also a licensed embalmer, licensed funeral director and licensed pre-need agent, like his father. Torrance is already involved in the business and slated to be the fifth generation in charge. “Growing up in the business, learning from the generations before you, gives you a special sense of responsibility,” Michael says. “This has always been a family business. I remember my grandmother playing the piano and singing. We all work together.”
In the Beginning
Abner B. Jackson Sr. was born Dec. 2, 1881, and graduated from the Kansas City College of Mortuary Science in 1926.
“Great grandpa didn’t want to compete against a friend in Kansas City, so he came to Wichita to start his business. He started an ambulance service on North Main Street on July 10, 1926 – almost 100 years ago,” Michael says.
Michael’s great-grandfather, Abner B. Jackson Sr., his wife Maude and his three sons (Howard, Edward and Abner Jr.) were partners in the business.
By the 1930s, the business had evolved into a full-service mortuary and moved to 703 N. Water. The 1930s brought the tough times of the Great Depression and the death of three of the company’s founders: Maude, Howard and Edward.
“I remember stories of the business surviving the depression by taking eggs and chickens for payment and sometimes getting no payment at all,” Michael says. “From those stories and the ethics passed down to me, I learned that you can be in it for every penny you can get, or you can do what you can to make it right. Personally, I like to sleep at night.”
In 1940, Abner B. Jackson Sr. and Abner B. Jackson Jr. formed a partnership with Abner Jr. later becoming manager in 1942.
The Next Generations
Abner Sr. retired in 1950 and Abner Jr. along with his wife Janett (affectionately known by all as Nanny), led Jackson Mortuary for the next 32 years, expanded its service to the Wichita African American community and moved the business to its current location at 1125 E. 13th St. in 1965. Abner Jr. encouraged his sons and grandson to become involved in the business. When he retired in 1982, he bequeathed ownership of Jackson Mortuary to his twin sons Anderson E. Jackson and Abner Val Jean Jackson, as well as his grandson Michael E. Jackson.
“My grandpa always said you can’t expect someone else to do a job if you can’t do it yourself,” Michael says. “So, he made sure I knew how to do anything that came up. He’d send me on trips out of town to pick up a body and learn the process you must go through picking it up from a home or a hospital.”
.Michael said he learned that when you are part of a family-run mortuary it is a 24 hour, 365 days of the year request for your availability to the families you serve. The loss of a loved one is not a scheduled situation, so you never know when the phone will ring, So, you stay ready.
With the passing of Abner Val Jean Jackson, Michael’s father, and his uncle Anderson Eugene Jackson, the torch was passed on to Michael.
Preserving History, Keeping the Legacy Alive
Jackson Mortuary, at the end of 2019 and the start of 2020, found itself in need of outside assistance when Covid touched our lives, and impacted our community overwhelmingly. We reached out to Speers Family, who has a pick-up and transport service, that was willing to assist us with removals from hospitals, nursing homes and the family home and transport to Jackson Mortuary, for us to do our preparation, this relationship has continued to this day. Jackson Mortuary remains family owned and operated.
Jackson says he is grateful to the city and to all the families who have entrusted Jackson Mortuary to take final care of their loved ones. That trust means so much to our family. It is not taken for granted. Our most important asset is the empathy we have for the families we serve, and the dignity of care we give to their loved ones.
“We have been blessed by God to be working as a family team along with all the ancillary attendants and friends that on a -need basis rotate in and out to keep Jackson running smoothly for all of these years.”
Michael says he has learned you just keep your head up and keep on moving and it’ll all work out. And sometimes, he says, when he’s in the building at night, all alone, he feels the presence of those prior generations, still silently guiding his thoughts and decisions.