By Maggie Nixon
PLYMOUTH — To say that the community is mourning would be an understatement. John “Happy Jack” Oliver, 78, passed away Friday, Aug. 7, 2020 while in ICU at Franciscan Health, Indianapolis, from complications due to Covid-19.
With his children — John, Jennifer and Jessica — and sister by his side, along with his nurse and Chaplin, Jack’s last moments were spent listening to soft music, hymns and prayer.
Jack’s wife Jana is still recovering from Covid, and the family hopes to see her back at their Pretty Lake home soon. She was moved to the geriatrics floor to continue her recovery on the day her husband passed. While she was being moved from her original room, the family was able to talk with her and pass along the news. As she continues to recover, she will be moved to rehab, one step closer to coming home.
Sister Marilyn Oliver, Jack’s sister, said, “We want to thank the Medical and Spiritual Care team of Franciscan Health in Indy. We always felt loved, that Jack was well taken care of, that good communication happened all along. She also wanted to thank the community for its support, kindness, understanding and prayers. “Jack will live on in his children and grandchildren. Jana will continue to improve. And, Jack will be, once again, with Mom and Dad, our grandparents and all others who preceded him in our heavenly home.” The siblings lost a sister at 9 months old, she said. Sr. Marilyn reminisced about her childhood days with her little brother.
“The fun things about our childhood I remember, we moved a lot because of dad’s work. When we moved, it was always a challenge going to a new school. We adapted, and have friends in many places because of that moving. When we settled in Plymouth, it was when he started his freshman year and I started my junior year. We were the only two siblings, we fought like most brothers and sisters do. I can remember when he would get in trouble and I would rejoice, but deep down inside there was a deep love for each other. That is how it was through all these many, many years, and it will be hard to go on without him.”
Jack always said she was the queen and she said he was the king of the family, Sr. Marilyn said.
“Another memory is when I entered the convent, he would come and visit with his family. He had just graduated from high school. I can still remember one of the sisters who was my classmate had three sisters who were very pretty and all around the same high-school age. I could see Jack, all in this same room visiting each other, eyeing those girls. Who wants to visit a nun when you’ve just graduated high school? He had more fun visiting with those pretty girls from Canada than he did visiting me. Those were those days, Jack has been a very strong supporter of me in everything I’ve done and I do of him, it’s mutual – he’s always been very supportive.”
Sr. Marilyn continued, “He has been a pretty special guy. We don’t agree on everything that’s for sure, but deep down inside I couldn’t ask for a better brother and I was just so privileged to be able to be with him in those last moments. Not everybody gets that opportunity. To be able to be with him when he took his last breath… now he’s with mom and dad and little Marilyn.
Others close to Jack from Oliver Ford’s dealership struggled to find the right words to say, expressing both the stubborn side of Jack, but also acknowledging the softer side and the generosity he always displayed.
Oliver Ford was established 65 years ago, in 1955 by Jack’s father, John Oliver, Sr. The family-run business, with Jack, John and Jennifer, has created an extension of family in its long-term employees.
“Jack hired me in February 1994,” said Greg Scheetz. “He has been not only a boss, but a true friend for 26-plus years. Jack was never Jack to me, he was always Happy, Happy Jack or Ollie. At the old dealership on West Jefferson Street, we had quite the cast of characters and Happy was one of them.”
Scheetz continued speaking on Jack’s work ethic: “He loved to have fun, but no matter how much fun he had, NOBODY beat him to work the next day, and you best be on time ready to go yourself.”
He added, “Jack’s generosity was frankly unbelievable to me. Not only to his employees, but to the Plymouth community — any kind of fundraiser or sponsorship.”
Jack had compassion for his employees/friends. “I had a serious colon surgery in December of 2017. I missed close to three weeks of work totally and another couple weeks of half days,” Scheetz said. “Since my return and until his last day at Oliver Ford, he came to my office — not most, but every single day — and asked me how I was feeling, usually sitting in my office for a 10 to 15 minute conversation.”
Scheetz said the three things he will always remember about Happy Jack: “The fun times we had; the respect I felt from him for the job I did; and how much he cared about me and my family.”
Another long-term employee and friend, Steve Keiser, said he’s known Jack most all of his life.
“What a man,” he said. “I can’t think of any man – maybe one other in this town – that’s given so much back to their community. It’s a really sad loss.”
Keiser remembered a time Jack’s compassion showed to a stranger. “Back in 1998, there was a car carrier who pulled in and hit a car we were about to deliver. It was brand new. He was so mad at that carrier. As he walked through the door the carrier said God bless you, and Jack folded, that’s how much God meant to Jack. He just got quiet.”
Keiser, who has helped with the Warm-Up Marshall County coat drive, said Jack was the one who had the idea to help his community. “He collected more than 15,000 coats to donate to the community in 22 years. He funded that and was behind that the whole way.”
Keiser said, “I don’t know how many hundreds of thousands of dollars he’s given this county, with the Drive 4 UR School events in not only Plymouth, but Triton, Culver, Argos. He bought the scoreboard for the baseball field. He was so generous and the most kind person that I’ve ever met. He’s going to be missed greatly. I was honored to work for him for 24 years and be a friend for 40 years. He was an incredible man and still had a lot to do left in this world, but I’m sure John, Jennifer and Jessica will keep giving to this community. He’s greatly missed but in a good place now. It’s just a wonderful man this community lost.”
Jamie Greenlee, another long-term employee at Oliver Ford, said Jack was a great friend and mentor.
“He loved life and lived it to the fullest,” he said. “Jack gave me an opportunity to work for him and I can never thank him enough. He gave to the community like no man I’ve ever seen before.”
Greenlee added, “He was a fair and tough boss, but I had a really kind heart.”
Greenlee explained when his father died, he was the first person to console him and help him through the grieving experience.
“We would meet after church on Sundays to talk about politics, family and sports over a cup of coffee. If I liked one team, Jack would pull for the other team. He loved to get a reaction out of me.”
Greenlee said, “I learned if you stood up to him he would respect you. We were both hard with respect for each other. I would walk in his office and take blame for something I did not do to take heat off of everyone else. He would laugh and forget what he was worked up about! That was our relationship. Having said this, I will miss Jack. He will always be one of my best friends and I will miss him a lot. He had a soft heart.”
Guye Goodlow, new vehicle sales zone manager at Ford Motor Company, remembered Jack via his Facebook page:
“Jack, I looked forward to our meetings every other Wednesday at 1 p.m. at your dealership Oliver Ford Lincoln. Every time I came into your office, you stood up and said, ‘Hello Mr. Ford’ and shook my hand. Thanks for all the jokes, knowledge and wisdom, and for opening up your dealership, family, and heart to me. I’ll never forget the stories about Urban Meyer at Notre Dame, your commentary on the 2016 Presidential Election, and the intensity of the Lions/Packers Rivalry. Your legacy is in great hands with your wife, your seven grandchildren, and your children. I worked with Jennifer, John and Jessica. Rest In Power, Jack Oliver. You were more than a Ford dealer. You were family. Thanks for making me feel like an Oliver. Happy Jack. “I tip my hat to you.”
*Anyone wishing to send cards or to donate, can send directly to: Oliver Ford dealership, 1001 E. Jefferson St., Plymouth, IN 46563.