Melanie Jackson didn’t expect to meet a former president of the United States on a Sunday morning. But an unforeseen encounter in the 1990s set off a chain of events that would lead her into a career she loves.
“It was my first day handing out brochures as a new member of my church,” Jackson said. “Little did I know that at 10:55, President Reagan would arrive. He was very humble and didn’t want to attract attention. But he arrived with the Secret Service in three SUVs. So I told him and Mrs. Reagan that it was such a privilege to have him there, and he said, ‘My dear, it is my privilege.’”
This encounter proved the first of many that Jackson would have with the president at her church in Southern California. Over time, she got to know the Reagans and would often sit with them during services. She developed a great admiration for the president and eventually found an interest in the Ronald Reagan Presidential Library and Museum, which is near her home in Simi Valley, California.
“I volunteered to be a docent there for the centennial of the president’s birth,” Jackson said. “But they had so many big events planned, including a renovation, that I was hired into the development department and worked on marketing and membership. I’ve been here since August of 2010.”
Jackson grew up in Illinois — Reagan’s home state — but had spent much of her early career as a marketer in the Los Angeles area. Now, she draws on those skills, as well as her passion for history and for the Reagan story, to promote and share the presidential library and museum with visitors.
“This is the most unique destination in Southern California,” she said. “We have an exact replica of the Oval Office from when Reagan was president, with the Western-themed decor that he chose. We have an interactive exhibit with digitized forms of Reagan’s handwritten diaries, which he wrote in daily. And we have Air Force One, a 707 that President Reagan flew on.”
Jackson loves helping groups set up memorable experiences at the museum, including three-course luncheons underneath the wings of Air Force One. She said Reagan’s story and legacy resonate with tour groups.
“They’re truly inspired when they visit and have a sense of national pride, patriotism and civility,” she said. “He was a traditionalist, a statesman, a great communicator and a real hero.”
Jackson meets travel planners at numerous travel industry events, including the Going On Faith Conference, Select Traveler Conference and American Bus Association Marketplace. And when she’s not reaching out to tour operators and group leaders, she’s collaborating with partners at local hotels, convention and visitors bureaus, and tourism alliances to help promote tourism to the entire region.
From a surprise encounter at church, Jackson has found a professional community that brings her a lot of satisfaction.
“It’s definitely a personal pride to be here,” she said. “I’m very happy to work with who I work with. We have 400 highly educated docents, and there’s a high standard here. We reflect Reagan’s legacy.”
Sales Tip from Melanie
“It’s all about the personal relationships. We get a lot of repeat people bringing busloads after busloads. We do physical mailings because even something simple like a postcard reminds them about us.”