Brenau trustee and benefactor John W. Jacobs Jr. dies

Nov 23, 2011
Rudi Kiefer

Long-time Brenau university trustee and benefactor John W. Jacobs Jr., the north Georgia media pioneer who was founder and chairman of Jacobs Media Corp. in Gainesville, Ga., died Wednesday, Nov. 23, at Northeast Georgia Medical Center after suffering a stroke at Saturday. Jacobs would have been 89 on Monday, Nov. 28.

John W. Jacobs jr.
John W. Jacobs Jr. (From the cover of his autobiography)

A memorial service will be at 3:30 p.m. Sunday, Nov. 27, at Grace Episcopal Church following a private interment in the All Souls’ Columbarium Garden of the church. The family will celebrate John’s life in the Parish Hall of Grace following the service. In lieu of flowers, the family requests gifts be made to Grace Episcopal Church and Brenau University for the John W. Jacobs Jr. Scholarship Fund., 500 Washington St. SE, Gainesville, Ga. 30501.

John Wesley Jacobs Jr. was born in Gainesville, Ga., November 28, 1922. He was the son of John W. Jacobs Sr. and Villa Rhodes Jacobs and stepmother Lillian Moore Jacobs.

He was a graduate of Gainesville High School, Riverside Military Academy, and the University of Missouri School of Journalism. He served in World War II as an artillery forward observer with the 30th Infantry Division in campaigns from France to the Elbe River in Germany, 50 miles from Berlin where Americans met the Russians. He received two Silver Star medals for actions during the Battle of the Bulge between December of 1944 and March of 1945.

It was almost pre-ordained that Jacobs would blaze trails in the media world during his career. In his memoirs, The Longer You Live: Remembrances of John Wesley Jacobs Jr., published in 2009 by Brenau University Press, Jacobs noted that he shares a “birth year” with radio Georgia. In 1922, WSB received the first U.S. government-issued commercial broadcasting license in the state, just two years after licensing of KDKA radio in Pittsburgh, Pa., which claims to have the first commercial license issued.

Jacobs’ journalism career actually began at age 12, when he began publishing Weekly Neighborhood News out of his boyhood home on Boulevard in Gainesville. His first byline in a “real” newspaper was above an article in the Gainesville News, which previewed an upcoming Gainesville High School basketball game. Jacobs graduated from GHS in 1939. However, he elected to spend another year in high school at Riverside Military Academy to prepare for college.

Following his war service and completion of his degree at one of the nation’s most prestigious journalism schools, Jacobs eschewed jobs with a newspaper and an advertising agency in New York City to return to Gainesville to start his career and became an innovator in the broadcast field from the outset. In 1949 with a group of nine friends who were also war veterans he founded radio station WDUN-AM as well as north Georgia’s first FM station, WDUN-FM. He opened the door to putting women behind the microphone and steered WDUN-AM to become the first north Georgia radio station committed to what is today’s news-talk format. By the 1960s, he had purchased all outstanding stock in the fledgling company and changed the name to Jacobs Media Corporation. John was chairman of the board and his son Jay, John W. Jacobs III, is president and CEO. His daughter Elizabeth Jacobs Carswell is secretary.

In 1966, John started Gainesville Cablevision, a franchise he sold in 1984 Charter Communications.

Over the years, WDUN-FM’s call letters and formats changed several times. In the 1980s, after it expanded to cover the Atlanta market, he sold the station to a company that operates on the 106.7 frequency. In 1984, after the Federal Communications Commission relaxed its long-standing rules on sole ownership of multiple stations in a broadcast area, Jacobs Media Corp. acquired WGGA, which had been WDUN’s first competitor in 1949. Subsequently the company added another FM station in Clarkesville, Ga.

In 1959, he started a weekly newspaper, The Gainesville Tribune, but sold it a little more than a year later.

The company started Majic 102.9 FM. Today Jacobs Media owns that station, WDUN – 550 AM and 1240 ESPN Radio.

In 1999 it launched another venture that put it on the leading edge of the coming new media convergence of Internet-based publishing and broadcasting – an online news service

The Jacobs Media holdings also grew over the years to include a travel agency, Wide Travel, and real estate holdings, including Thompson Court, a shopping center located next to company headquarters on Thompson Bridge Road.

John was equally as vigorous in his work in the community. He served twice as Greater Hall Chamber of Commerce president (1955 and 1970), as president of Gainesville Jaycees, as Exalted Ruler of the Elks Lodge, and in Kiwanis as local president of the club that his father had founded and then governor of the Georgia District. John was named as both “Man of the Year” and “Young Man of the Year” for Hall County and served as president of both the Georgia Association of Broadcasters and Georgia Cable TV Association.

At Grace Episcopal Church, John was continually active in leadership roles throughout the years, serving on the Vestry as Senior Warden and Building Fund Chair on two occasions, as well as a Lay Reader and Sunday school teacher. At the time of his death, he was the oldest living communicant of Grace Episcopal Church.

At Brenau University, he served as a trustee from 1958 (he was the board’s longest-serving member) and was board chairman for 23 years. The university awarded him with an Honorary Doctorate Degree and named the Business and Communications Building in his honor. At Riverside Military Academy, he served as an active trustee for 31 years from 1975-2006.

Georgia Trend magazine named John one of the 100 Most Influential Georgians in 2000. During the City of Gainesville’s 180th Birthday Celebration, the city presented him with a Distinguished Service Award. The Northeast Georgia Council of Boy Scouts of America honored him with the Ralph Cleveland Distinguished Citizen Award. The Gainesville Times in 2008 selected him as one of 25 who had the most influence in the 100-year history of Gainesville-Hall County.

Starting in 2003, he became interested in the Northeast Georgia History Center. Under his leadership, the History Center designed and constructed a $4 million facility on the Brenau campus. He was primarily involved in membership, development, and financing. His true passion was the development and completion of “An American Freedom Garden,” adjacent to the History Center building, which pays tribute to individual military veterans for their gift of freedom to each generation. He completed two years as president in 2006, but remained involved with History Center activities until his death.

In 2009, John decided to put the experiences of his life to paper and engaged Brenau University Press to publish his memoirs, the university publisher’s first book venture. The writing of his book was a meaningful story of family, friends and business associates and proceeds from its sale, as arranged by John, added thousands of dollars to the scholarship fund he had established at the university.

In 2009, John was inducted into the Emmy Awards Gold Circle, which honors professionals who have contributed to the broadcast community for more than five decades. In 2010, he and his wife Martha received the North Georgia Community Foundation’s Philanthropist of the Year Award. In October, the Georgia Council on the Humanities honored John as of its 2011 Governor’s Awards in the Humanities recipients.

At the time of his death, John was coordinating a partnership between Jacobs Media Corporation and Brenau University’s Mass Communications department. The goal of this partnership is to provide Brenau students with a laboratory for learning with the talented staff of Jacobs Media Corporation and providing scholarships for able students. That collaboration is in full swing with students ‘shadowing’ professionals in Jacobs Media’s newsroom, on air studios, video studios, and in the promotion field.

The love of John’s life was his wife of 53 years, Martha Rand Jacobs of Atlanta, who shared in the joy of his children, daughter Elizabeth Jacobs Carswell and son and daughter-in-law Jay and Anna Jacobs, Gainesville. His sister, Lillian Jacobs Estes was his dearest and closest family member whom he adored all of his life, along with her husband, Joseph Lawton Estes, Gainesville. He was the uncle to two adored nieces, Karen Hand Stevens and Nancy Hand Williams, both of Nashville, Tenn. In addition, his cousin N.A. Jacobs and wife Carolyn of Gainesville survive him.

The true joys of his life were his seven grandchildren for whom he provided love, support and guidance including providing for their education at Lakeview Academy. Watching and participating in every milestone of their growth and development was his greatest happiness. They include William Rand Carswell, 23, Mary London James Carswell, 21, John Haughton Carswell, 21, Emily Hunt Carswell, 18, Lydia Ann Jacobs, 22, Louisa Rhodes Jacobs, 19, and John Wesley Jacobs IV, 14.

Brenau University President Ed Schrader, who had visited with the Jacobs family on Tuesday, issued the following statement after learning of Jacobs’ death:

“Our prayers and sympathies go to Martha, Jay, Elizabeth, Anna, all the grandchildren and other family and friends who have suffered a great loss. We in the Brenau family share the loss, too. The two families, indeed, are overlapping and interconnected circles and, with John’s departure, there is a void that will not easily be filled. The one comfort is that he will be with us always because he was such a vibrant, energetic and enthusiastic member of the family. We all in some ways seek to follow his example and imitate him as much as we can.

“For more than a half century John Jacobs was a larger-than-life presence in the Brenau University family and a key leader in guiding the institution’s success. He joined the Brenau Board of Trustees in 1958 and, as its longest-serving member, he has been continuously active since that time, including an unprecedented 23 years as chairman. It would pay disservice to his colleagues to say that he was solely responsible for Brenau’s survival, but it was his visionary leadership in the 1970s and the 1980s that illuminated Brenau’s pathway to the diversification, which today provides the 133-year-old institution with its financial stability and solvency. He also led the way to Brenau’s becoming a university in the 1990s, a step which built the foundation for the growth that the university achieved during the past 20 years and for the future growth it is undertaking in the next two decades.

“John Jacobs maintained that kind of forward-thinking until his death, illustrated by the fact that he provided for innovative education for future generations of students who choose to follow his path in communications. It is without question that Brenau would not have its radio station, WBCX, had it not been for his investment of finance, industry acumen, soul and passion.

“He was board chairman when I came to Brenau. From the moment I met him I knew that he had the best interest of this institution at heart.

“He was not, however, the kind of leader who guided from afar. John was a man of action. His trademark was ‘big ideas.’ However, for him, even the biggest ideas were just the normal course of doing business because he stayed with them until they were rendered studies in practicality.

“It’s comforting for a university president who wants to try some innovative things to know that he has people like John ready to back him up. John Jacobs understood ‘the big idea.’ He knew that for big ideas to succeed they must be backed by courage, conviction and follow-up, which he provided in full measure. Brenau is a better university than it would have been without John’s involvement. And we are better people because John Jacobs was part of our lives.”