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Thursday, Dec. 29, 2016 12:21 am

A life devoted to history and its preservation

JACQUELINE LOUISE DARROUGH WRIGHT Sept. 20, 1927 – July 31, 2016

Jacqueline Wright’s devotion to history took on a life of its own when she began her 40-year teaching career at McClernand Elementary School in Springfield. The school is named for prominent Springfield politician and soldier John A. McClernand, the Union Civil War general and close ally to President Abraham Lincoln who played a prominent role in the president’s funeral.

Jackie became an expert on the general’s life and led the effort to affix the plaque dedicated to the general at McClernand Elementary School’s front entrance, the site that had been the general and congressman’s personal residence. Jackie organized the well-attended dedication ceremony for that marker which took place on May 12, 1979. Jackie’s memorial album of that event includes hundreds of signatures and photos of those attending, including then-Mayor Michael Houston, the Sangamon County Board chair, District 186 officials, World War I veterans, the 114th Reactivated Infantry, State Historical Society members, and many, many others.

Jackie’s interest in the Civil War and local history knew no bounds. A native of Oklahoma, she met and married her husband, a central Illinois WWII vet, and they came here soon after the war. In Springfield, she became active in many organizations. She served in leadership roles in local and state Grand Army of the Republic (GAR) Auxiliary organizations. She actively volunteered at the city library, joined the Sangamon County Historical Society, served on the Springfield Historic Sites Commission for many years, was a caretaker along with her husband at the GAR Museum in Springfield, and regularly attended Civil War Roundtable monthly meetings until her weakened health said “no.”

Jackie’s near obsession with local history included a deep knowledge of Springfield’s Congressional Medal of Honor recipients. There are only a few, and one is none other than General John A. McClernand’s son. Then-2nd Lt. Edward J. McClernand received his Medal of Honor for “conspicuous gallantry and intrepidity in action at the risk of his life” in cavalry action on Sept. 30, 1877, at Bear Paw Mountain, Montana. Jackie was always proud of Springfield’s hometown Medal of Honor recipients and loved talking of them. She was deeply honored to possess Edward’s Medal of Honor itself, as Edward had no descendants.

What some remember most of Jackie (including co-writer Chuck Murphy) is how she delivered the poem “The Blue and the Gray” at the GAR mound in Oak Ridge Cemetery during Springfield’s annual Memorial Day services. She had a truly unique, rich voice which resonated with feeling and passion as she artfully and soulfully moved from verse to verse. It was almost as if she had known the honored dead personally and we were ourselves attending their funerals. Those memories are extraordinary and forever etched in our minds. We renewed those memories at the September 2016 Civil War Round Table Meeting when one of our members recited “The Blue and the Gray” again, in Jackie’s honor.

Meaningful lives are often cojoined. And so it was with Jackie and Harold – married partners for 68 years. Harold faithfully drove Jackie to regular dialysis during her final three years. That life’s journey also included 20 annual weeklong trips to West Point where the Wrights were the primary volunteers behind the annual “100-year reunions” of West Point Cadet graduate descendants. The reunions became so popular and well-attended that they have meanwhile ended.

Harold, a machinist at Hobbs for 30 years, was for decades the MacArthur/Jefferson neighborhood jack-of-all-trades carpenter, electrician, plumber and urban farmer. Like Jackie, he is a perpetual volunteer and good neighbor. That’s how many best remember the Wrights, including co-writer Joe McMenamin. A few springs ago, Harold came across the alley between MacArthur Boulevard and State Street and volunteered to sharpen some mower blades with his power tools. The next day he volunteered and rototilled the remaining portion of a vegetable garden partially shovel-dug. Harold, born on a farm near Moweaqua 89 years ago, enjoys producing from the earth, and his backyard micro-farm proves it.

With Jackie gone, Harold and his son, George, have the monumental task of deciding new homes for hundreds and hundreds of books, files, folders and historical artifacts of a life’s devotion to history and its preservation. One example: In September, after Jackie’s death, Harold and George brought to the kitchen table a paper-wrapped box of eight well-worn leather-bound handwritten journals. The first entry: “September 19, 1918 … Meeting called to order … moved and seconded that this tent bears the name of Mary Todd Lincoln Tent #44, Daughters of Union Veterans.” Last journal entry, seven books later: “July 16, 1985….”

Such was the life of teacher Jacqueline. She respected history with all her heart and intellect. And she desperately sought to preserve history’s facts and deeds, in all their mystery of sadness and triumph, for the future generations of Springfield.

When asked to share his best memory of his life with Jackie, Harold replied, “Don’t want to get started …” as if to say there would be no end. Almost like Jackie herself talking about local history. It was hard to stop. But Harold gave an epitaph for his gone partner … she was a “good American citizen.”

We shall miss her.

–Chuck Murphy and Joe McMenamin, friends


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