Twila Jackson got to know a lot of people during her two decades as office manager at the Dickinson County Historical Society.
That was evident by the overflow crowd of well-wishers who attended her retirement reception in August.
“I knew a lot of people in the county before — and then working here with the different people on the board and volunteers from various areas of the county, you get to know people in their communities,” Jackson said.
She retired in August after spending 20 years working behind the scenes to keep the operation running smoothly— answering questions, aiding people in their quest for information, helping with event planning and a plethora of other job duties.
It’s been a good run, she said.
“I’m very grateful to all the citizens of Dickinson County that I’ve been in contact with who helped me with everything,” Jackson said. “I’m thankful for their help.”
Jackson first reported to work at the historical society on Aug. 2, 1999 after she was hired by then-director Jeff Sheets. She was job hunting after working nearly 40 years for ABB in Enterprise and Abilene, dating back to when it was Ehrsam’s.
The office manager job at the historical society was a good fit. Jackson and her husband Allen, or “Lloyd” as most people knew him, were members of the society and Twila herself had a love for history.
She also had pretty good knowledge about most areas in Dickinson County. After all, she grew up north of Abilene in the Buckeye community; she knew Abilene since both sets of grandparents had lived there; and her husband hailed from east of Enterprise and attended school in Chapman as did their daughter, Wanda, so she knew many people in the eastern part too.
Coming from a big family, she was Twila Kuntz before she became Twila Jackson and she had lots of relatives living around Buckeye.
“They called the area Kuntzville,” she said with a laugh. “My dad had three brothers and they all lived within a square mile of everybody.”
When it came time for her to attend high school, she wanted to go to Chapman, but her father said she had to go to Abilene.
“My grandparents lived there and the Abilene school bus came to our door,” she recalled. “But I met a lot of people coming to Abilene.”
Hard work became a hallmark of Twila’s life early on. When she was 10 her mother took a job off the farm so Twila was responsible for taking care of the house.
“I had five brothers and I was the oldest girl,” she said.
While attending high school, she started working in the kitchen at Memorial Hospital and worked various jobs until her retirement this past August. Over the years, she also worked at the former Safeway grocery store, the Skip Inn restaurant and Royer & Royer back when there were more lawyers in the firm.
“I’ve enjoyed all my jobs. There was a time when I thought it would have been nice if I had went on and got some college education, but back then we didn’t go and I did well without having to do that,” Jackson said.
Learning more about history
One of the most interesting aspects of working at the historical society has been learning more about the history of Abilene and Dickinson County.
“There were a lot of things I didn’t know about the cow town, about the Seelyes, the Seelye Mansion. My grandfather was a minister here in town and he knew the Seelye girls and I remember him talking about the mansion before Terry (Tietjens) and his brother took it over,” Jackson recalled.
“Just seeing the mansion being taken care of meant a lot,” she added. “I love history and loved being able to help people when they’d come in. They’d start talking and it might be somebody I know or maybe I’d be able to help somebody piece together their family history.”
One of the big requests in recent years has involved helping people with genealogy searches.
“We had the old newspapers on microfilm, but it’s also been nice to go online to (the website) findagrave.com or ancestry.com or newspapers.com,” she said. “It’s easier and you can learn a lot more too.
“But I’ve read a lot of old Abilene newspapers on microfilm,” Jackson with a chuckle. “It wasn’t filtered. Some of it was pretty colorful.”
Being able to use the computer to find information and do daily office tasks was the thing that changed the most over her 20 years at the historical society. Not only did the creation of Facebook and other social media create another avenue to promote the society, it also made things simpler.
“I used to have to type up reports and do everything manually on the typewriter,” she said. “The computer made it easier to send things back and forth to people.”
Writing her story
In 1957, Jackson married Lloyd, who died in 2016. They have one daughter, Wanda Pitney and her husband Russell of Abilene. The Pitneys have two grown children, Sophia Semicka and her husband Avery of Lawrence and Eli Pitney, a freshman at Kansas State University in Manhattan.
After decades of work, Jackson has a number of projects she plans to tackle in retirement. The first being redecorating her house, followed by sorting and organizing old papers and documents.
“Then I’m going to start writing my life story. I already did my dad’s side of the family, but my mom’s side of the family hasn’t really been done,” Jackson said. “Verl Coup (with the Talmage Museum) has been on me to get that done since I’m from that area and my grandparents lived in the Talmage area at one time.”
She also plans to travel with one of her younger brothers, visiting other brothers in Alabama and Michigan.
Jackson said she thoroughly enjoyed her job at the historical society and commented that during the 20 years she was there she only worked with three directors, Sheets, Michael Hook and current administrator Judy Zimmer.
“I enjoyed working with them, all the people on the board and the volunteers,” Jackson said. “A lot of those people are gone now, but I learned a lot from them.
“I will always be grateful to Jeff for hiring me. This has been a passion of mine,” Jackson added with a smile. “I have loved helping people learn more about Abilene, Dickinson County and the area.”
Contact Kathy Hageman at email@example.com.