Jackson William Wanalo was born on January 2, 1930 at Buchifi village, Etenje location, Buchifi sub-location, Mumias district to Mzee Philip Ondako and Mama Mayina. He was the third of Mama Mayina’s five children with eight stepbrothers and sisters.
Wanalo attended A. C. Buchifi School from 1944 to 1947 and then transferred to Musanda Primary School from 1948 to 1950. He then attended Butere Intermediate Primary School where he passed the Kenya Advanced Primary Education (KAPE). He was then employed as an untrained teacher (U.T.) at his old school, Musanda Primary. As he had a desire for further education he went back to be trained as a teacher at Butere Normal Teachers Training College from 1954 to 1955 where he qualified as a P3 teacher. He was posted back to his old primary school of Musanda where he taught until 1958 when he was promoted to the position of headmaster of A.C. Nyapora Primary School.
Wanalo received Jesus Christ as his personal savior in 1958 and in 1960 he answered the call to serve the Lord in church ministry. Due to his strong passion for serving the church, he joined St. Paul’s United Theological College, Limuru from 1961 to 1963 where he was trained in theology and later ordained as a church minister (and made a canon) in the Anglican Church.
Wanalo served in church ministry with dedication and zeal. Being gifted in management and administrative skills, he was instrumental in the starting of new archdeaconries in the Diocese of Maseno North. These were Maseno, Mt. Elgon, Kakamega, and Musanda archdeaconries. He was also appointed school manager-in-charge of all protestant schools in Busia District, which sparked his interest in youth affairs. He also served in the Armed Forces where he was the senior chaplain, holding the rank of a major, in charge of the Kenyan Army, Kenyan Navy, and Kenyan Air Force. During his service in the armed forces he traveled throughout Kenya to minister to the servicemen.
As Wanalo loved his work and enjoyed working with people from all walks in life, this earned him friends wherever he went. Besides his work, he cared deeply about the needy people. In Nakuru, as the vicar of St. John’s Parish Bondeni in 1964, whatever problem could not be solved at the hospital or the police station was referred to Wanalo’s house. His greatest reward after helping somebody was to meet that person later on and to hear how he or she had been helped. In his quest to assist, he helped many children with school fees, from scholarships and his own personal resources and also through Christian agencies like the National Council of Churches of Kenya (NCCK) where he was a board member and World Vision projects like Eshiamachio and Eshibutso.
Wanalo liked discipline and order, and forthrightness in all matters. He never indulged in grudges yet he was humble enough to make amends whenever he went wrong in his work in the archdeaconries. In preaching the Word of God, he had no fear or boundaries related to age or positions. Many testify about how he helped them come to Jesus or serve in church ministry. His common phrase was always “Simama imara katika Bwana” (stand/be firm/strong in the Lord).
Wanalo married his loving wife Mama Felegona on August 30, 1954, and together they were blessed with eight children, Grace, Apollo, Allan, Sara, Daniel, Mary, Joyce, and Gloria. By the time he died he had nineteen grandchildren and two great grandchildren.
In 2001, Wanalo’s health started deteriorating. While visiting his daughter Mary in the U.S.A. in 2002, he underwent an emergency triple bypass heart surgery to unblock three of his arteries. Although he did not fully regain his health after the operation, he stabilized sufficiently to lead a relatively normal life. In 2005 he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease, which led to his loss of memory. His health continued to deteriorate and, on Saturday, February 10, 2007, while at Kakamega General Hospital (Amenity Ward) he rested in the Lord at 10 a.m. in the arms of his devoted and loving wife Mama Felegona.
Wanalo served his God faithfully and with boldness. Wanalo is remembered for his bold messages from the pulpit. He always believed in the power of the pulpit to transform and reform society. He initiated many development projects wherever he was sent to work. He loved to work with people and served them with dedication. He fought a good fight, finished the race, and kept the faith.
Alfred Sheunda Keyas
Jacob I. Mukwambo, church elder, interview by author, February 2007.
Mama Felegona Wanalo, wife, interview by author February 2007.
Life history of Canon Wanalo, February 2007.
This story, submitted in 2011, was researched and written by Rev. Keyas Alfred Sheunda, a DACB Project Luke fellow (2004-2005), currently serving as the chaplain at Booker Academy, Mumias Sugar Company, Mumias, Kenya. Email: [email protected], [email protected].