Growing up in Louisa – Jake Jordan
Weekly feature . . . by Mike Coburn
Talk about a personality bigger than life! During the days when I was growing up I would venture to say there were very few people in all of Lawrence County that didn’t know the tall, jovial Jake Jordan. I remember him as the County Sheriff even if he was holding another position about the time I moved away. He was easily spotted in his sheriff’s car patrolling the streets and roads of the county. I’m sure there were those that respected him for his title, or maybe they feared he might break out the handcuffs, but I think he was also seen as a man of the people.
To me, ‘Jake’ as most people called him, seemed to be a friend to most everyone. I heard it said that he could remember the names of every man’s children, would shake their hand, and slap them on the back. I think he had his fans but maybe a fair share of distractors, too. I had heard stories that made me think he had issues common to man, but if so, most folks overlooked them. There can be no question of his popularity considering the number of elections he won and the key positions he held in the county. My personal interactions with him was limited to a couple of stories I’ll tell later in this article.
He was married to one of the more respected high school teachers, Mrs. Alva Jordan, a teacher of English and a good friend to my Aunt Shirley. I remember hearing once that she was responsible for turning a rough and raw fellow into a successful member of the community. Like many of us grown men, we would be quick to affirm the woman in our lives have made a substantial difference.
A few years ago I told the story on myself and whichever friend was with me at the time. We were down on North Pike at the culvert where Town Branch crosses underneath. We leaned over the railing and spotted a man’s felt hat floating in the creek just below the culvert. We were maybe seven or eight years old and were certain that if we lifted the hat a dead man’s head would be under it. We had stumbled upon evidence of dastardly, dark murder of a poor chap. In a near state of frantic we ran uphill and across the tracks to Town Hall and reported the crime to the Sheriff. We breathlessly recounted what we had seen and deduced. Sheriff Jordan laughed to himself, patted us on the shoulder, and said ‘Come on, boys.’ We felt important as we drove in the sheriff’s car down to the creek. After pointing out the hat, the sheriff walked down the bank, picked up a long stick and flipped the hat over. No head, no body. Then he stuck the stick down into the little stream to prove to us that it was way too shallow to fully cover a body. We looked at each other, felt relieved, shrugged, and ran on toward Little Italy to play. I’m sure this was fodder for a story or two when he got back to his office. I remember his hearty laugh.
When I was maybe twelve years old I was already as tall as many men. I was six two when I was only thirteen, so I could dress and look the part of someone older. Clearly, I didn’t think older, because after seeing another western at the Garden Theater, I strapped two six guns and a cowboy hat and went rambling. As I strolled down Clay Street I came to the brick sidewalk and iron fence behind the Cyprus Inn. The two old ladies that lived there at the time were hanging out laundry when they spotted me. Wanting to impress them with my cowboy skills I drew both guns and twirled them while grinning. Both dropped the laundry and ran screaming into the inn. I realized they’d mistaken me for an hombre so I ran home. It wasn’t long before Jake’s car was in front of our house and he was knocking on the door. He told me I should be ashamed of myself for scaring two sweet ladies. I was. He drove me down to the inn and I apologized. I learned a lesson and the High Sheriff had captured the desperado.
During my high school years I was a volunteer for the fire department. Several of us received training from someone with the Mayo Clinic on using the hoses, pumps, ladders, etc. To stay sharp we met most Monday evenings to practice or drill on procedures and things. I remember one Monday night, when several volunteer firefighters took the ‘new’ truck out to practice hose laying, or ladder climbing, but someone took the cover off the big rotating light and removed the bulbs. I think the intent was to replace the bulbs, or clean them. When the control for that light was activated the turntable revolved, but there was no flash of red light. I remember the nickname for the domed light was ‘popcorn popper’ because of its shape that reminded us of the devices that produced that wonderful treat. This particular night the truck pulled over on Lady Washington in front of Jake’s house. Some roses were clipped off Jake’s rose bush either as an act of rebellion, or just a prank. The roses were then mounted on the turntable so as the truck proceeded around town the roses rotated in lieu of the traditional red light. Frankly, I have no idea if Jake knew or would have even cared, but some of the men thought it was funny. It took a bit of nerve to do steal the High Sheriff’s roses. Maybe my thinking was askew since it might have been meant to honor him like the Greek laurel wreaths.
Around the time that I was an upperclassman in high school Jake was elected as Lawrence County Judge-executive. I think he served in that position on and off until his death in 1990. I’m thinking the J.J. Jordan Geriatric Center was named to honor him, but it was built long after I had left town. I don’t know the particulars, but I know he was a very well-known political figure from the mid-fifties. I saw him in action a few times and have little doubt that he had good judgement. Like any politician I remember that there were those that liked him and a number of others that didn’t. As I have mentioned before, the votes he got tells of the overall support and appreciation of the community.
Over his career he worked with a number of law enforcement agencies to keep the peace, an important element of making the town safe for our ‘growing up.’ He knew that life wasn’t perfect and that the county had plenty of rough-necks that were bound to cause trouble. Sheriff Jordan kept them in check. Our public safety employees take daily personal risks for the good of us all. As they stand ready to respond to our sometimes very urgent needs, we should focus on the badge and the critical role they play. We all have reason enough to continually give them our thanks.