NELDON: Jack and Jan prove opposing viewpoints don’t make enemies

This week has been a sad one for Niles and greater southwest Michigan, as the region has said farewell to two of the greats. Even in their passing, Jack Strayer and Jan Personette are teaching us lessons.

Niles area residents know Jack for his giving spirit and political activism. He was an advocate for many causes, the most notable including health reform, the Berrien County Youth Fair Expo Arena, the Niles Education Foundation and Trinity Episcopal Church.

Jack’s political career began in 1976 when he joined the campaign for Congressman David Stockman as campaign manager. Jack’s roommate at the time, Congressman Fred Upton, describes Jack as a “an extremely good writer” that he has always viewed as “Mr. Niles.”

In the years following the Stockman campaign, Jack continued writing speeches, columns, seminars and policies in Washington D.C. and various other parts of the country. When Jack returned home to Niles in 2008, he continued to share his political viewpoints and his strong passions for his hometown in a column titled “Speaking for Experience” in the Daily Star.

Another Niles activist, Jan Personette, passed over the weekend. Anyone who has attended a city council meeting, Four Flags Chamber of Commerce event or downtown Niles festival in the last 20 years has likely come to know Jan as “the purple lady.”

Like Jack, Jan was vocal about her political beliefs and was apt to share her advice for improving the city she loved. She was a champion for providing medical marijuana to those who needed it. She was constantly looking for ways to help those less fortunate through affordable housing options, localization of government offices and numerous volunteer efforts.

I got to know Jan well through her letters to the editor, encouraging fellow Daily Star readers to take a closer look into issues she felt strongly about.

In addition to “the purple lady,” Jan was referred to by many as “Mrs. Niles.”

Sound familiar?

As I’ve reflected on the passing of two friends this week, I’ve learned an important lesson.

Though their paths may have only minimally crossed, Jack and Jan were strikingly similar individuals. They were champions for positive change in their hometown. They both not only recognized the challenges in their community, but set out to do something about them.

Other than some dabbling over party lines to support friends running for office, Jack and Jan were virtually political opposites. Jack put his heart and time into conservative efforts, while Jan’s advocacy was more liberal.   

Put simply, Jack and Jan shared a common love — a love for their hometown — and a common goal: making Niles a better place to live.

They had different ways of getting there, but they both made lasting changes that the city of Niles and greater southwest Michigan area will reap the benefits of for decades to come.

Jack and Jan are proof that regardless of our political beliefs, if we feel strongly enough about a positive outcome, positive change will come.

Thanks for the lesson, Jack and Jan. Niles will miss you both.

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