By Raymond Bill

This is the story of a woman, mother, entrepreneur and friend- a woman with a remarkable presence in our valley who is known and loved by many. Jacqueline Leon-Babington is best known as proprietor of Neil’s Lounge in Indio but there is much more to her story. I am proud to introduce you to my friend, Jackie.

After growing up in Chicago, IL, Jackie moved to the desert in 1977 where she decided to pursue a career in cosmetology. By 1978, she had graduated beauty school and also became divorced, left to raise her three children as well as her step son alone. Being the strong woman that she is, Jackie continued to find her way in life, studying accounting while working at a beauty shop. Across town, at the same time, Neil’s Lounge would open for business.

Jackie purchased her first business in 1985, the beauty shop in which she worked. She would also begin her own tax business, providing tax services and helping others to set up corporations. Jackie sold her beauty shop in 1993 and continued with her tax business. Then one day, Neil (of Neil’s Lounge) came into her office for some tax assistance for his business. After some courting, the two began dating.

The relationship was strained by the fact that Neil struggled with alcoholism. After a few years of dating, Jackie made an ultimatum: either he seeks help for his disease or she would leave. Neil was a kind man and wanted nothing more than to make her happy. Perhaps knowing that an alcoholic should not be running a bar, Neil offered to sell the business to Jackie, assuring her saying, “This bar will take care of you.”

His persistence paid off and she took over Neil’s in 2004, slightly changing the bar’s name to Neil’s Lounge by Jackie. But she knew nothing about this industry. She was afraid to even set foot behind the bar at first. Business was slow and the reputation was poor. With only one bartender and one server, Neil’s needed help. Jackie relied on her tax business to help increase patronage at her bar by telling all of her clients to visit Neil’s. It worked. Neil’s gradually became the hot spot in town where everyone wanted to be.

Although Jackie and Neil no longer dated, they remained close until his passing in 2007. Neil was instrumental in getting Jackie and her husband, Jim together. Known as, “Cowboy,” Jim is an outgoing guy that truly compliments her shy nature. Many people think she is the boisterous life of the party but this is a misconception. She has learned to “put on a character” that is extroverted for the sake of the business but those closest to her know she is rather reserved.

In addition to Neil’s Lounge, Jackie now owns Willie Boys Saloon & Dance Hall in Morongo Valley, just a short drive up Hwy 62. Her children, ages 27 to 44 help in the family business and with their help, she hopes to spend more time with her 6 grandchildren, the oldest of which is recently married. Jackie enjoys line dancing and hopes to travel more. Her family is the most important part of her life and she was emotional sharing with me the story of her daughter’s battle with Hodgkin’s Disease at the young age of 21, referring to the experience as “the darkest time” in her life. Jackie is a strong woman who has overcome many obstacles to become the successful business woman she is today.

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