‘Bus kids’ remember Jackson for caring nature

Former driver touched lives of students


Almost six years ago, Gerald “Jerry” Jackson had a massive heart attack, but thanks to two young people who gave him CPR, he lived.

Last week, Jackson, 74, of Hollidaysburg, died of cancer that doctors had discovered the week before he died. Those two people visited in his last days, along with his family and dozens of what he called his “bus kids.” They’re the children he drove to and from Blair County Christian and Hollidaysburg Area schools daily, who became like his second family, people said.

In his final days, he called for the children to come to his bedside so that he could say a final goodbye, said his daughter, Jaime Gensamer of Altoona.

“The call went out and it seemed like within an hour, the room filled with like 30 or more kids, parents,” she said.

Jackson had started driving the school bus when he retired from New Enterprise Stone & Lime Co. Inc. where he worked for almost 50 years. He soon became a favorite with the children, said Judy Smith of Hollidaysburg, whose seven grandchildren, all grown up now, loved Jackson.

“He seemed to really listen to them and was interested in what they were doing,” she said.

Jackson, usually accompanied by his wife of 54 years, Kathryn, called “Kitty,” went to every game his bus kids played in, although Smith recalled one that he left early. One of Jackson’s bus kids was worried about a relative in the hospital. Jackson left to go comfort his bus kid, who was sitting watch at the hospital.

“He really did know what was going on in these kids’ lives,” Smith said. “As I watched him go, I thought, ‘He is so genuine.'”

The two local young people who saved Jackson years ago, Caleb Parnell and Daniel Baker, got to know him after that fateful encounter.

“Throughout the years, Mr. Jackson became close friends with both of us,” Parnell said. “He really cared about you.”

Parnell said he’d heard late last year that Jackson had prostate cancer, but because that’s one of the more curable cancers, Parnell wasn’t too alarmed. He saw Jackson at a concert last year and the older man looked good, Parnell said.

But Jackson’s daughter, Jaime, said doctors discovered a second cancer, lung cancer, even though Jackson never smoked, that they believed had been growing undetected for a while. Jackson died a week after they found it, she said.

Parnell, who has been accepted at the Virginia State Troopers Academy, said he was saddened by the loss of his friend.

“I was just kind of heartbroken and definitely surprised that he had gone so quickly,” he said.

Joined by Baker, who came from St. Vincent College in Latrobe, Parnell said a final goodbye to Jackson in the hospital. Jackson couldn’t speak to them, but he knew they were there and seemed glad to see them.

“At first it took me back because his status seemed very similar to the condition he was in six years ago when we saw him,” he said.

But Parnell said his lasting memories of Jackson are the ways he mentored young people like himself. No doubt many others will echo those sentiments at Jackson’s funeral that is scheduled for 5 p.m. today at the Carson Valley Church of the Brethren in Duncansville.

“I have been fortunate to have him as a role model for what a husband, father and grandfather should be,” Parnell said.