Local Commentary

Guest Commentary: On Her 100th, Jessie Thackrey’s Colorful History Gets Told

(Editor’s Note—Two major celebrations of the 100th birthday of Falls Church pioneer Jessie Thackrey were held in the City last month, one at the historic Falls Church Episcopal, where she’s been a member since moving here in 1941 and was its first female deacon, and the other at the Henderson Middle School, where her seminal role in founding the City of Falls Church and its school system 65 years ago was the focus. Her son, Keith, delivered remarks at both, and excerpts are included here.)

A lot of you here know about Jessie Thackrey as a citizen of Falls Church, but maybe there are those who would like to learn a little about Jessie in her earlier years. There are many things that Jessie is passionate about, but there are three that stand out. They are family, church, and education.

Jessie was born 100 years ago, a distant descendant of the Mayflower, in a tiny town called Homewood, Kansas, still on the map because it has an exit sign off of the highway. Today you can find three boarded up buildings at a crossroads, a church, which is still in use, a two room school house, and a small, very friendly, population of 30 or so people.

There was a lot of work to be done on the farm but Jessie’s dad, who raised primarily cows, chickens, and wheat, would not let his girls work out in the fields. Little did he know he would have five girls, Jessie being the youngest, before he finally had a son for a farmhand. Her mom had plenty of help.

Jessie got her love for church from her parents. Her mom faithfully took her children to church every week. Jessie will tell you that although her dad quit going to church, he was one of the most Christian men she knew. He would often invite a stranger on the way through town to come and spend the night at the farm. Jessie took after her dad and as an adult she invited many people to stay at her house. She had a total of seven foreign exchange students, as well as friends of her children come to stay as long as a year.

Jessie also got her love for education from both her parents. Her mom graduated from a normal college and was a teacher before she got married. Her dad never received a formal education beyond the sixth grade but he served on the school board, and was the school treasurer for as long as Jessie could remember. He also read a lot and was well versed in many subjects.

Jessie attended the two room schoolhouse through the eighth grade. From there, Jessie and her siblings went to high school in the big town of Ottawa, Kansas, because her parents thought that they would get a better education there. They would live in a boarding house during the week and come home on the weekend.

Jessie graduated the valedictorian of her high school class and then she attended Kansas State in Manhattan, Kansas. Jessie majored in journalism. She was a disc jockey at the school radio station (not the first female DJ, but the first DJ, period) and was business manager on the yearbook staff, where her husband-to-be Franklin was editor. Through much determination and persistence, Franklin got Jessie to go out with him and the rest is, as they say, history. Franklin and Jessie got married in March, 1935.

When Franklin got a job at the Department of Agriculture in Washington, D.C., they with their two children moved here in August 1941. They chose the small community of Falls Church because they had a good friend who was next door neighbor to Milton Eisenhower on E. Broad Street.

Jessie claimed that it was so hot that summer that she told the movers she never wanted to move again. She’s still in the same house today.

But many concerned parents of children in the local schools of the Falls Church area lost enthusiasm for their children’s educational prospects, and decided that if they wanted high quality schools, they were going to have to take action. As Jessie will tell you, something needed to be done, “So we did it!” Many of the people who were the pioneers of our city are no longer with us, but through their persistence and hard work, in 1949, Falls Church was granted a charter (with Franklin as president of the charter committee) and it became an independent city. The road was now clear to create an independent school system of which they could be proud.

Jessie, as you all are aware, remained involved with the schools, serving on the School Board, and on the board of the newly created Northern Virginia Community College.