Constance "Connie" Abrego Jackson was a giver and a fighter.
The St. Paul resident was known in her neighborhood for opening her door to anyone in need.
Her daughter Nadine Jackson said her mother was warm and loving and found joy in bringing people together. Whenever friends or family came into town, they made a beeline to her house. Sometimes it was for her cooking. Most times it was for the comforts of her home.
"She was happy knowing that she could be of help to others," Nadine said. "It just made her feel good that she knows she was able to do that. That put a smile on her face."
Jackson, who worked as a nurse and was a longtime advocate for low-income housing, died March 31, surrounded by family members. She was 80.
Born in Albert Lea, Minn., she moved to St. Paul and became a nurse at a hospital, eventually going into private nursing after an injury.
Nadine has fond memories of growing up with her siblings and mother. There were the days when her mom would take them fishing. There were the nights she would pile her children into the station wagon to go to drive-in movies, then distribute blankets and popcorn as the kids sat on top of the car. There were big dinners where friends and family members would clamor for her mother's enchiladas, chow mein, fried rice or other meals she came up with or circled in red marker in her many cookbooks.
There was also the way her mother would have her door open for people in need of a place to stay for a few days or would buy extra groceries in case a neighbor or someone else needed food. With her grandchildren growing up fast, Jackson would bag their used clothes and take them to a shelter or church.
Nadine said her mother would give her last of anything — be it a dollar or a piece of food — to help someone.
"She was always taking care of somebody; that was her nature," Nadine said.
Jackson was meticulous when it came to writing everything down in cursive, from addresses to prayers to spiritual advice to recipes. Nadine said that as she and other family members cleaned her mother's home, they found carefully cut newspaper clippings she had saved about people in the community doing good things.
Jackson's love for her community also inspired her to be on its front lines. As a resident of a house owned by the St. Paul Public Housing Authority, she and other residents were faced with the prospect of their homes being sold to a notorious slumlord. The Lexington-Hamline Community Council stepped in to help residents organize into what became the Lexington-Hamline Co-Op.
Ron Hick, coordinator for Lexington-Hamline Community Council from 1974 to 1987, said Jackson "had that quality where she was able to get someone to do something by talking to them." She stepped up as a leader when the co-op was formed, he said. At one point, she and others traveled to Washington, D.C., to meet with U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development officials, U.S. Sen. David Durenberger and U.S. Rep. Bruce Vento to talk about the co-op.
"Of the folks involved probably at that time, she had the best demeanor and most promise to provide that leadership, as well as the willingness," Hick said. "She was calm, she wasn't going to get publicly too rattled, and wasn't going to get too shy or reserved about talking to someone in a position of power."
In addition to Nadine, Jackson is survived by a son, Timothy Jackson; another daughter, Debera Jackson; nine grandchildren, 12 great-grandchildren, three great-great-grandchildren, and siblings Becky Ransom, Siro Abrego Jr., Elizabeth Amerson, Sammuel Abrego and Rosie Hall. Services have been held.