Bordering a pecan orchard, Cherry Sue Jackson’s home on Welcome Lane reveals a lifelong love of the arts and music. Artwork throughout the house is displayed in a variety of forms, including a framed cartoon from the front page of the Chicago Tribune by her Pulitzer-prize-winning father, Carey Orr, and autographed drawings by Walt Disney, along with paintings collected on trips. An award-winning landscape by family friend Ed Grigware highlights one wall in the living room, while the painting over the mantel is from the first Arts Festival in Opelika, an event Cherry Sue founded. For her interest in the community and selfless service, the Cherry Sue Jackson Recreation Park was named in her honor at the Lee County Youth Development Center.
Growing up in Chicago, Cherry Sue studied art on weekends at the Art Institute and was heading toward a career in music before marrying Henry Carson Jackson of Opelika. A singer and songwriter, she turned down an offer to become a regular at the Grand Ole Opry to live in Opelika. Cherry Sue’s parents had a tremendous influence on her life. Her father became interested in being an artist at age 10 when a wanderer stopped by his grandparents’ farm in Ohio asking for food. After Orr’s grandmother prepared a basket to last for days, the man wanted to do something for her. He drew a picture of Jesus. Orr had never seen anyone draw. He decided immediately he wanted to become an artist and drew on every piece of paper he could find. While he was 10 years old, he became blind in one eye swinging a stick too hard. Orr never wanted anyone to know he only had vision in one eye, but it didn’t prevent him from becoming a famous artist.
Orr and Ed Grigware both played semi-pro baseball until they had saved enough funds to attend the Chicago Academy of Fine Art. Orr was working as a political cartoonist with a newspaper in Nashville when the owner of the Chicago Tribune offered him a job. His friend, Grigware, also became a successful artist with paintings at the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City. When Cherry Sue was around 8 years old, Orr began giving lessons to Disney. Her talented father inspired Disney to use his imagination. When Disney found a mouse in a drawer with his art supplies, for instance, he named him Mickey Mouse.
Cherry Sue enjoyed visiting her father at work on the 31st floor at the Tribune Towers. A person of many talents, Orr was also an inventor. One of his inventions was developing the process for running color in newspapers. Her mother was the great-granddaughter of John Sevier, the first governor of Tennessee. She enjoyed playing the piano, and Cherry Sue loved hearing her music. Cherry Sue spent summer months with an aunt in Montana. While in the West, she took art lessons from Grigware. She was also involved in music, her other interest. She taught herself to play guitar. At age 14 she began writing songs.
After graduating from high school, she traveled with a family friend to Europe for a year, where she studied art in Paris and the University of Grenoble. Her friend thought Cherry Sue should see Munich, Germany, at Christmas. Although it was before the war, an officer attempted to push her into a ditch because she was wearing lipstick, which Hitler frowned upon. That night, the police came to where they were staying, which frightened the owners of the Rension. Her friend told them they were leaving for Switzerland in two days.
After returning to the states, she attended the Chicago Academy of Fine Art and continued to write songs. Some of her music was published and recorded. She sang at several radio stations, and her songs often played on the radio. “My claim to fame is being in the funny papers,” Cherry Sue says with a laugh. Another artist her father taught was Zack Mosley. He named one of his characters Cherry after her in his Smilin’ Jack strip.
Cherry Sue met Henry when a friend invited her to a luncheon at the country club for a group of Ensigns who had qualified for the 90-Day Wonder program. Henry invited her to dinner the next day. For the next two weeks, they saw each other frequently. Her parents were surprised when Henry asked Cherry Sue to marry him after such a short time. She accepted Henry’s proposal and came to visit his family in Opelika. After the wedding, they lived in Chicago two years. They moved to Opelika for Henry to work in his father’s business, Piedmont Fertilizer and Seed.
When Henry was sent oversees during the war, Cherry Sue continued to write songs, which were published and recorded. She received a call to become a regular on the Grand Ole Opry. She was considering this since Henry was overseas, but shortly afterwards she received word he was coming home. She declined the offer. In the 1950s her father was honored on the television show This is Your Life. Walt Disney attended. Cherry Sue and Henry were on the show with their three children, Cherry, Carson and Trudy.
In December 1955, her father’s cartoon of Cherry Sue’s family on Christmas morning ran across the front top page of the Tribune. When her daughter, Cherry, was 13 years old, she and Cherry Sue were regulars on the Rozell Show on channel 3 in Columbus and channel 12 in Montgomery. They sang together and also presented puppet shows.
Over the years some of her songs were recorded by Acuff-Rose and her label Welcome Lane. In 1993, she recorded A Smoky Mountain Christmas. Her music for Saguaro is printed with a painting on the cover by her father. The day before Sept. 11, Cherry Sue wrote I Am A Flag Waving American in honor of veterans.
Cherry Sue enjoyed traveling and attending art shows. “One day I realized Opelika could have an arts festival too,” she says. The first year the Opelika Arts Association’s Arts Festival was held in downtown Opelika. The following year it was moved to the Municipal Park where the popular event was held every April for over 20 years with 2,500 attending. Cherry Sue kept the event growing by visiting other festivals, inviting artists to come to Opelika. For many years the festival was one of the most outstanding in the South.
Along with being active in the arts association, Cherry Sue has a record of longstanding giving to the Lee County Youth Development Center (LCYDC). She began serving on the board of directors in the mid-70’s, serving a number of years as president. She continues to serve as board member emeritus. “Cherry Sue has directly engaged our children by coordinating holiday skits where she would play guitar, and our kids would participate through song,” says Laura Cooper, director of LCYDC.
“She recorded a Christmas album called Christmas Gif in the early 80s with the royalties from this recording earmarked for LCYDC. The agency still accesses these funds each year to financially reward all graduating high school seniors who are residents of the Therapeutic Foster Care or Independent Living homes.”
Cherry Sue was instrumental in spearheading the renovation of the Independent Living Home located on Grand National Parkway in Opelika. Over the years she has been instrumental in the ongoing beautification of the grounds of the main campus. The Cherry Sue Jackson Recreation Park was dedicated in her honor. Upon the passing of her husband, a fountain was installed in his memory. “Hundreds of children and young adults have been blessed by her quiet, ongoing philanthropy at LCYDC,” adds Cooper. Cherry Sue has also been honored by Girl Scouts as a Woman of Achievement, and she has received the highest award from the Rotary Club.
Her father’s political cartoons are being read again as several are in circulation on the Internet. The house on Welcome Lane is still filled with music. Her son Carson and his wife, Lilli, live nearby in Henry’s parents’ house.
At 89, Cherry Sue is continuing to write songs, while her passion for children and those less fortunate is ever abiding.