-By Dick Jerardi
Jackie Gordon was a cross-country tractor-trailer driver for 38 years. When she “retired”, she found a way to help anybody that needed help with anything. And she kept hearing about jobs at the racetrack. Finally, she heeded the call, and went to the Parx Racing backstretch where she began working for Michael Pino. She quickly became the trainer’s “barn wife”.
So how did she get from there to here?
She drove for more than a million miles. She owned five trucks. She taught people how to drive the rigs. She knew what she wanted to do from the time she was nine years old.
“I have nine uncles,” she said. “Eight of them were tractor-trailer drivers.”
She used to cry because she was too small to get up in the trucks. They got her a step ladder to get in as well as some phone books on the seat so she could reach the string to pull the horn.
And she did, over and over and over until she became old enough to drive one. And then she drove and drove and drove until it was time to “retire” to her calling.
Earlier this year, Jackie was nominated for the Godolphin Thoroughbred Industry Employee Awards’ Community Award. No wonder.
She opened a seasonal water ice stand nine years ago in her Northeast Philly neighborhood of Parkwood to “keep the little children safe”. She started it by purchasing a freezer for $240. She sells chips, pretzels, funnel cake, soda and candy. The kids don’t have to cross busy roads to get to the 7-11 or Wawa.
“I have anything a child could want to keep them from running out in the street, getting hurt,” Jackie said. “I’m a mother away from the mothers while they are at work.”
When it’s time for the kids to go back to school, she takes all the proceeds, “buys backpacks, fills them up with water ice and gives them to the children”. On Thanksgiving, she “goes into the leasing office, (and) asks for three less-fortunate families that are struggling to pay their rent. I will present them with a Thanksgiving basket.”
There are 522 apartments and 112 townhomes in her complex. She knocks on every door and gives every child a toy from Miss Jackie’s water ice stand.
When the nomination letter arrived in her mailbox, the most selfless person around said, “I was stunned. When I opened up the letter, my eyes got big as 50-cent pieces. I was like ‘no, are you serious?’”
They were serious.
“Tears started rolling down my face,” Jackie said.
If somebody from another country is new to the neighborhood, they are sent to Miss Jackie so she can help them. If somebody needs clothes, she finds them. If she needs to give the clothes off her back, she will.
Even with all that, she was looking for a part time job. Somebody suggested the racetrack. The application sat on her table for three weeks.
“I was sitting at the water ice stand one day and I heard God tell me ‘them people need you on that race track, fill out that application,’” Jackie said.
They did. And she did.
“I was on the track at 3 o’clock every morning in the cold waiting for somebody to hire me,” Jackie said.
She got hired in 2012. She was told to arrive at 5. She got there at 4:30. She’s been there ever since, working for the same man, Mike Pino.
So what does she do?
Everything, it turns out.
“If Michael Pino was to take two Tylenols a day, I am his glass of water,” Jackie said, summing up her role as only she can. “If Michael Pino needed ketchup on his cheesesteak sandwich, I am there to squeeze it.”
It was Pino who termed Jackie “his barn wife”. His family has become her second family.
Jackie started as a hotwalker. She graduated quickly to barn paperwork. She picks up checks, deposits checks and writes checks. If something needs to be done around the barn, she does it.
Then, she goes home and does whatever she can to help her community. Which is, basically, whatever is needed by anybody who needs it.