A foothill resident since the late 1960s, Jackie Byers has been a busy lady, immediately becoming involved in a community she has grown to love. It is because of her perpetual passion and unwavering dedication that she has been recognized as this year’s Heritage Day Grand Marshal.
“I had no idea that I would ever be asked to be grand marshal,” Byers said, “and was absolutely stunned when I heard the news ... it’s such an honor.”
“We are thrilled that Jackie is our grand marshal,” parade organizer Brenda Negley said. “Her contributions to our community made her a perfect candidate. I’d love to see the streets lined with spectators, people having fun, kids with smiles, and Jackie Byers supporters cheering her on. She’s been an instrumental part of this community for so long that it would be great to hear people shouting out their thanks and cheers to her.”
Over the decades, Byers has developed cheer squads and drill teams which performed in parades and competed in both Sierra and Fresno schools, was accompanist for a community church youth choir (the Sonshine Company which she created) - a group that sang around mountain and valley churches, and was involved with Parent Resource Institute for Drug Education at Oak Creek Intermediate at the time when OCI received the Distinguished School Award (1981).
She was also one of the original founders (along with Janie and Jack Gyer, and Angelo Pizello) of the Vision Academy of the Arts, which continues to this day.
It was in 1994 that the Vision Academy of the Arts scholarship began, with the first scholarship going to Tamara Tackett in the amount of $500. Since then, more than $200,000 has been raised for scholarships in the arts - all earmarked for graduating seniors planning on continuing in drama, dance, music, art, writing and culinary studies.
Byers began her Mountain Area career as the music teacher for Oakhurst Elementary School third-graders in 1968 and has never lost speed or energy.
At 76, she’s still going strong and teases that “if I slow down, I won’t get back up.”
Given her community involvement, it comes as no surprise that she has been recognized for all her good deeds. A few of her awards include Soroptimist Woman of Distinction in 1989, Art Educator of the Year, and Eastern Madera County Woman of the Year in 2001.
Byers can now cross Heritage Days grand marshal off her bucket list.
“I’ve been involved with Heritage Days since day one, when it was known as Mountaineer Days,” Byers recalled. “I’ve walked or ridden on floats in past parades, and more recently, follow along with my grandchildren, Josh and Allie.” Byers is the mother of two, Cindy Donnell and Kent.
She retired from formal full-time teaching in 1995, and began working part-time as a music teacher for the Bass Lake Joint Union School District until her retirement in 2005. But retirement simply was not in the cards for Byers. The PTA at Wasuma and Parents Club at OCI and OES hired her back to continue teaching music to primary grades only.
Fully immersed in and loving what she does, Byers memory overflows with faces of all the children she has taught these many decades - many now grown with children of their own.
“I hope her friends and supporters stop by Fresno Flats Historical Park after the parade to congratulate her and visit with her,” Negley added. “I know she’d love to see you all there.”