By Andrew Somerville


James S. Acker lived when Prescott was, maybe, a little wilder and mysterious. Case in point —someone once threw dynamite at his home. The culprit is unknown to this day. However, Acker’s legacy isn’t as combustible, even if you count the bang he made in the retail world. It’s the support of youth music education and the convivial atmosphere in Prescott each Christmas season during the Acker Night Musical Showcase for which he’s known, but it took the dedication of a different generation to make his legacy real.


Acker’s retail success was very different from his first chosen profession, journalism. An Illustrated History of the State of Idaho, published in 1899, claimed “He is a man of keen foresight… and unimpeachable integrity,” survival advantages for the tough 1800s and 1900s retail market. It was an age of contest between mail order companies and brick and mortar stores, and according to P. Scott Corbett, et. al., authors of US History II, an OER hosted by Lumen Learning, “The tremendous variety of goods available for sale required businesses to compete for customers in ways they had never before imagined.” Graduating from Kentucky University’s Commercial Department, Acker was presumably familiar with mercantile competition. Leaving his home state of Alabama for California, he eventually landed in Utah, where he sold produce. He gained experience as a traveling salesman, then opened a general store in Mountain Home, Idaho in 1895. Moving to Prescott in 1902, he started another store, later succeeding in real estate. While selling schoolbooks and candy, he grew concerned for Prescott’s children. He died in 1955, leaving his wealth to the people of Prescott. Acker’s bequest didn’t change Prescott’s Christmas until over a generation later, when local resident LaVon Anderson, championed his legacy.


LaVon Anderson sold memorial park plots and would have understood the importance of Acker’s last wishes. She shared Acker’s interest in youth music. Hearing disputes over Acker’s estate, she investigated his will at the Yavapai County Courthouse, discovering that he left his estate to “be used for parks and for music, particularly for children."


Fulfilling Acker’s wishes would take work and patience, but she was made for the task. During the Great Depression, she worked with her husband, postponing their wedding for seven years to obtain financial security for their relatives. She knew how to raise money and awareness for children’s music education, honoring Acker’s legacy. In Texas, she observed a music festival with musicians performing in downtown businesses. Could this be done in Prescott at Christmastime, creating a seasonal event? Perhaps her business experience helped her connect with entrepreneurs of the Downtown Prescott Association (DPA), but to secure their support she needed the help of a local merchant.


Harold Wise owned a store on Whiskey Row and as president of Prescott’s DPA, he sought to revitalize the downtown. LaVon and Harold brainstormed how to realize her “Acker Christmas Showcase.” It would take local businesses’ approval for their plans to succeed. Harold invited LaVon to DPA meetings, encouraging her to speak about their ideas. This was not enough, as merchants shied away from the venture. Persuasively, Mr. Wise explained that the event would benefit both the community and merchants. The first event in 1988 had 20 merchant performance locations, but by 2022, attracted 110 merchants.


This December, whether you’re enjoying a twanging country guitar or a children’s choir, spare a thought for Acker and his helpers. Despite relocations, business challenges and even dynamite, Acker’s legacy survived and was put to good use by later-generation friends. Now, downtown Prescott supports children’s musical growth and is a blast at Christmastime.


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