By Laura Samuel Meyn
Above photo by Mark Graham
A smooth blend of jazz and gospel is the soundtrack of a life dedicated to good works and great music.
Marcus Rockwell’s earliest music memories are of the jazz, blues and R&B he heard resonating throughout the house while he was growing up in Fort Worth.
When he was in seventh grade, his mom and dad gave him a trumpet and, within a few months, a lesser known instrument — a flugelhorn. “It’s a mix between a trumpet and a trombone, it’s really mellow,” says Rockwell. “A trumpet is bright; this is a darker, deeper tone.” He took to both naturally. As the son of a minister, helping others was something Rockwell did with equal ease. He readily assisted neighbors with working in the yard and washing cars, as well as making some home repairs, thanks to the father who imparted some carpentry skills along with faith.
As an adult, he sought out causes close to his heart and worked for a series of nonprofits. Along the way, he found some success as a musician. Performing at Bass Hall and Dallas’ Majestic Theatre, he shared the stage with several jazz greats, and met his childhood idol, trumpeter and flugelhorn player Chuck Mangione. Rockwell and some of his bandmates coined the term “jospel” for their unique blend of jazz and gospel music and they have released a handful of CDs over the years.
Some 13 years ago, following a busy season as a professional musician, a slowdown prompted Rockwell to reenter the job market. He joined the staff of Senior Citizen Services part time, working with the elderly at city-run centers, and soon was offered a full-time job with more responsibilities. Evenings and weekends, he kept making music, this time with the namesake trio that’s still going strong; the men of the Marcus Rockwell Trio bonded not only over their shared artistic sensibilities but over shared beliefs, too.
Today, Senior Citizen Services is known as Sixty & Better, and Rockwell is chief operations officer. He works on the wide variety of tasks that go into overseeing nearly two dozen activity centers, from finding fixes for broken kitchen equipment to managing activity planning.
He also heads up the nonprofit’s transportation program, delivering older adults to the activity centers, where men and women gather to socialize, have lunch or play dominoes. He arranges community outings, visiting everything from grocery stores to discount accessories giant Sam Moon — a recent wildly popular trip. He hopes to plan a fishing trip.
Sixty & Better services are open to all comers but are generally used by low-income older adults. Centers ask for a small contribution but don’t deny anyone. “We serve 201,000 meals on average a year; it’s kind of like a well-kept secret in the community,” Rockwell says. “Sixty & Better is for folks who are still active, want to get out, spend time with friends and meet new ones. Our organization is unique in Tarrant County, providing programming for older adults outside their home and within their neighborhood.”
While addressing food insecurity is paramount, Rockwell believes that opportunities to socialize — including bingo, a popular activity at the centers — are more important than they seem. “Older adults who stay home and don’t have any type of social interaction are more likely to develop Alzheimer’s or dementia,” he says. “Interacting with peers helps to keep you sharp.” The nonprofit sponsors a handful of celebrations each year, including for Juneteenth, the holidays and Diez y Seis, and there’s a healthy aging symposium planned for March 2020. “We bring in [Tarrant County College] experts to teach about different issues — fraud, nutrition, Medicare and Medicaid benefits and safety.”
Rockwell, now 55 and a husband, father and grandfather, feels as if he has come full circle from his beginnings. His first real job was working for the Fort Worth State School, run by the state’s Department of Mental Health and Mental Retardation in southeast Fort Worth. That very campus is now where the Sixty & Better offices are housed, alongside other social services.
Musically, he’s still playing that flugelhorn he’s had since seventh grade, along with an upgraded trumpet. The trio is working on a Christmas album that they hope to release later this fall. Also, he’s studying to become a minister, spiritually following in the footsteps of his father and brother.
“We’re here to make a difference,” he says. “That’s what’s exciting about working for an organization like this.”