“If I’m Going to Live, I Want to LIVE!”
I have known Jean Jernigan for more than 30 years, and throughout those years I don’t think I have heard as many complimentary things about anyone as I have about her, and absolutely nothing negative.
Among these descriptions: Beautiful. Positive. Generous. So sweet. Encouraging. Loving and beloved. Fun. Humble. Always complimenting and praising others. Lovely. The lady who delivers the most beautiful and heartfelt prayers of anyone. A deep faith and great love for the Lord that shows in her life. A quick mind, sharp as a tack. Always dressed exquisitely with perfect hair and makeup no matter what time of the day, eyes glowing with love and life.
The most remarkable thing is that all these things are still true two years past her 100th birthday. I would also add the word “wonderful,” a word she uses so frequently that I think she might name her own story “It’s a Wonderful Life,” just like the movie.
Jean Jordan Jernigan was born on June 8, 1916, to Carl and Pearl Jordan. Pearl was a lifelong Carthage native, and Carl was raised in the Snap Community. However, he was diagnosed with tuberculosis as a young adult, moved to New Mexico for the dry climate to recuperate, and stayed long enough to homestead and have land there.
He returned to Carthage, and the couple married here and built a house on the property where Pippen Motor Company is located now. They farmed the land there, and in the early 1940s they leased some of the property behind the house to some people who wanted to drill for gas, which resulted in the drilling in that place of the first gas well in Carthage. “They called it the ‘Discovery Well,’ says Jean, “and I always heard it described as the well that opened up the gas field in Carthage. I remember a picture in the newspaper of my mother kneeling by some flowers she had grown—she had an amazing green thumb—and telling about that well. I wish my daddy knew how many wells had ended up on his property because it would have made him so happy. I had always been worried about my parents running out of money, and I am so grateful that what came from their property took care of them for the rest of their lives!”
Jean’s mother sold the house and built a new one on Succedss Street when she was 85 years old. The old family house was moved to a new location between Carthage and Tenaha, and the new owners were very kind to invite Jean and her family to come and see it when they finished remodeling it. “I was so thrilled to get to see it,” she says. “And even more thrilled that it still looked the same, with its beautiful wrap-around porch!”
“I had a wonderful childhood,” she says. “I was an only child, but I played with my cousins all the time, so I was never lonely. Many of my favorite memories center around a tire swing my daddy made from an old car tire and hung from a huge oak tree in our yard. I was also very close to my parents. They taught me so much that I was like a little miniature grown-up at a very young age.”
She also took violin and piano lessons, and while she was a student at Carthage High School, she was invited to play in an orchestra being organized by Lonnie Alsup, a blind musician who later became a State Representative. “He would dictate our music to each of us; he would call out the notes and rhythms, and we would write them on staff paper. He was an amazing man and so independent; he would walk all over town by himself with a cane, and we all admired him so much. We would play concerts anywhere anyone asked us to and also on the radio. We would just go to the station and play our music live. I really enjoyed performing with that group! It was a highlight of my high school days!”
Jean graduated with the class of 1932. “I always felt like everyone in my class was my best friend,” she says, “but the girls I chummed around with most were ones who remained my very best friends until they passed away—Kathryn Clark, Mel Punessen, Reo Dulaney, Faye Baker, and Marjorie Ann Woodyard. I also met the love of my life, James Jernigan, during my senior year, which was his junior year. He was from the Shady Grove area close to DeBerry and didn’t go to school in Carthage until then.”
She continues, “I graduated in the midst of the Great Depression, but my daddy said he would borrow money to send me to college if I wanted to go. I knew how much he hated the idea of EVER borrowing money, and I appreciated his willingness to sacrifice, but I really just wanted to go to work. I got a job with the WPA, and it was very interesting work, but sad work, too, because we knew all the details of the hard-luck stories of so many people during that terrible time. When James graduated the next year, I told my boss I was going to get married, and he said, ‘Are you SURE?’ Oh, I was VERY SURE! We had a small wedding in 1934 and the most wonderful life together for 65 years, until his death in 2000!”
James worked for Gulf Oil his entire career, so the couple moved around a lot. They were located the longest in Mansfield, Louisiana, where their children went to school, but they also lived at Caddo Lake and in Crane, Ranger, and Monahans, Texas before retiring to Carthage in 1979. Jean did not work outside the home until the children were grown. “I loved making a home and raising my children,” she says, “but I also loved working, too! I worked for 15 years in abstract offices before James retired, and the work was very interesting. It was during the big oil boom, and everyone was wanting to lease land. The land titles had to be clear, and we had to trace them from way, way back!”
Their son Jimmy, born in 1936, graduated from LSU in petroleum engineering and worked for Halliburton until his retirement. He lives in Bossier City and has two grown daughters, Toni in Longview and Lisa in Arizona. Their daughter Carla, born in 1940, was a Rangerette at Kilgore College. She now lives on Toledo Bend Lake with her husband Jerry, who Jean considers one of her children. She has two grown sons, Jim in Shreveport and Jerry in Gloster, Louisiana, and Jerry has three daughters who are also very dear to Jean. Jean’s family also includes 10 great grandchildren and three great great grandchildren, with two more on the way.
“I never took care of any of our business until James died,” Jean says. “After his retirement, he became very interested in managing investments, and luckily he taught me about it, because it really became a great interest and hobby for me after his death, one that I enjoyed very much. My eyesight and hearing is not what it used to be, so I have turned most of that over to Jimmy, but he still keeps me updated on it, and I still enjoy it.”
Jean moved from her home into assisted living at Winkler Place five years ago. “I love this place, both the facility and all the people here. Everyone here is so nice and so accommodating. It was hard at first, especially giving up driving and feeling like I had lost so much of my independence, but it has been wonderful. I didn’t know how I was going to fit my big furniture into a much smaller space than my home. But my wonderful family took care of everything for me. I didn’t have to do a thing. They looked at the model apartment that was set up in one of the rooms; it looked so pretty that Jerry just said, ‘Why don’t we just take this one?’ He bought all the furniture, they moved my clothes and some personal things from the house, and I have been very happy here.”
One of the most important things to Jean is her faith. She taught the Team Mates Sunday School class at First United Methodist Church for years and also taught at churches in Crane and Monahans, also playing violin and piano for church services and revivals there. She and James also enjoyed participation in a group which met weekly in each other’s home for Bible study and worship and also played 42 together. She says she and James both came to their genuine and deep faith later in life than many Christians do.
“I was taught about God and Jesus and remember praying as a child,” she says, “and I joined the church at 12 years old, but it wasn’t until after I married that I really came to know Jesus like I do today. There is a big difference in knowing ABOUT Him and really KNOWING Him. He is very real to me, and I absolutely cannot imagine living without prayer, without being connected and in close relationship with Him. I just couldn’t live without that! I don’t know why it takes some of us so much longer than others to get to that point.!”
Jean Jernigan at 102 is a living testimony to a life well lived and a positive outlook. One of her mottos is, “If I’m going to live, I want to LIVE! I get up and get dressed and put on make-up every morning like I’m going someplace special. I have just always made it a habit to get up and get ready for the day, and you know what? Every day something interesting always seems to come along!”