By ERIC A. HOWALD

Of the Keizertimes

Larry Jackson wasn’t surprised to be named Keizer’s Merchant of the Year in 2018, it was something he worked toward. 

“I grew up in Keizer and volunteering at the fire district, the candy cane day and the breakfasts. I remember the dads who helped build Keizer Little League Park and being there for the kids,” Jackson said. 

In the year since his name was announced, Jackson’s presence in the community hasn’t dwindled in the slightest. He is a regular fixture at just about any community effort in Keizer and Salem. While he is more likely to be found working behind the scenes than in photo ops, the relationships he makes through involvement have allowed others to tap into resources they might not otherwise have known were available. In addition to the extra-curricular activities, Jackson’s Auto Body, the business he co-owns with his cousins Jerry and Carol Jackson, celebrated its 60th anniversary and the third generation of family owners. 

“It gets a little complicated – sometimes very complicated – mixing business and family. But when I talk to other people in family businesses, most don’t get this far,” Jackson said of the milestone.

It was a busy year to say the least, but the Merchant of the Year title was more of a capstone in a long journey. He’d been working toward it for eight years, which is as long as he has been working on sobriety.

Jackson started working in the shop at 14, when his dad woke him up and told him he was going to work on the first day of his summer vacation. From that point until he graduated from McNary High School in 1984, he split his time between a part-time job at Orcutt’s IGA and the family business. 

“When I started at 14, I painted the buildings and swept floors and did some of the prep work on paint jobs, but I wanted to get into the shop and repair things,” Jackson said.

In a field more and more dominated by technology, car body work still requires a personal touch. 

“I always felt I was good with my hands and collision work takes a feel. You have to sand to a happy medium before something can be repainted, and I liked pounding on something from time to time,” Jackson said.

He started full-time in January 1985 and rose to co-owner in 1998. By 2010, Jackson’s dependency on alcohol was consuming him. He spent New Year’s Eve 2010 in a hotel by himself, a few miles away from his actual home. 

“I didn’t want to drink, but wasn’t able to not drink,” Jackson said.

By the end of the first week of 2011, he checked himself in to Eugene’s Serenity Lane.  On his first day in Eugene, a guest speaker shared his story and Jackson connected with it on almost every level. He left the bottle in the rearview and set his sights on staying busy. He found outlets in the Keizer Chamber of Commerce as well as Salem Chamber of Commerce.  

“It was service and it was a way to keep moving,” Jackson said. “People are looking to get involved and do things, we have to give them an opportunity to. It’s not about the business I own, it’s about volunteering and then you go to a store a month later and you meet someone who was working alongside you and you have a new relationship, and it keeps going from there.”

The first time he decided to wrap gifts for the Keizer Chamber’s annual Giving Basket Program, he was the only male on site. That’s changed in the intervening years, thanks mostly to social media, but Jackson does his part by showing up, the same way he saw other adults do when he was a kid. 

In recent years, he’s found himself among a new generation of Keizer leaders—including Bob Shackleford, the current Keizer Chamber president—who picked up the volunteerism baton from their parents). But, he also thinks more can be done. 

“The Keizer Network of Women (KNOW) do a great job of bringing young girls into what they do, I want to get the young boys involved in doing the right thing,” Jackson said. 

For the Merchant of the Year, that is the heart of what integrity means: doing the right things even when no one is looking. Jackson also walks the talk, he celebrated his eighth year of sobriety on Jan. 5.

One of his regular gigs is speaking with others battling alcoholism at Serenity Lane and through visits to the Oregon State Correctional Institution. Any effort that taps into the issues surrounding alcoholism is likely to find an action-minded supporter in Jackson. 

“There were a lot of people worried about me and thought I was going to die, but I want to be someone with a legacy of hope. I know where I was at during the lowest point and I know where I am now,” he said.