Making a difference – Community leader John Jones has served since 1958

Published 12:00 am Tuesday, February 22, 2005

When John Jones pulled into Columbiana on old Highway 25 fresh out of college and ready to report to his new job as a County Agriculture Agent, he wondered what he had gotten himself into.

Shelby County had a population of only 32,000 then, and Columbiana was a much different landscape than Tuscaloosa County where he grew up.

&uot;I’ve been here since 19-and-58,&uot; Jones said. &uot;This was the first job I ever had other than the military.&uot;

Jones dug right in, spending the next 30 years working out of the county extension office.

&uot;This place grows on you. I could have left quite a few times for other jobs but I chose to stay here because I like it,&uot; Jones said. &uot;The people have been tremendous.&uot;

Based out of Columbiana, Jones worked with the county’s cotton farmers and did a good deal of horticultural work, but his primary role was in the schools as part of the 4-H program.

&uot;The biggest enjoyment I had was working with young people and watching them develop into real good citizens,&uot; Jones said.

In 1988, he left the extension service to work at the Alabama 4H Center for 11 years.

Hardly a month goes by, he said, where someone doesn’t come by and ask if he remembers them. Some he does and others he doesn’t – between 500 and 1,000 kids came through the program each year.

Jones would plan programs on various topics such as electricity, gardening, safety, citizenship and leadership and present them to the schools in hour-long sessions.

It was his role with 4-H and the county that also got him involved in another venture, the county fair.

He has served as chairman of the Shelby County Fair for the past three years and reflects on how much it has grown since he first became involved years ago.

Last year, the Shelby County Fair was named the most improved fair in its division by the State Fair Association, which Jones serves as second vice-president.

As a member of the Kiwanis Club since 1966, Jones is also proud of the scholarships generated by the fair, which go toward reading programs in local schools, one of Kiwanis’ national projects.

After retiring from his job with the county in 1988, Jones was cutting grass one day in front of the county’s agricultural building when a county commissioner flagged him down to tell him the building had been renamed the John E. Jones Agricultural Building.

&uot;I almost fainted. That was a shock and a very humbling experience for me,&uot; Jones said. &uot;It made me appreciate the work that I had been able to do. Even though there was a lot of people that probably deserved it more than I did.&uot;

Though he is now retired, Jones remains busy, and still takes an active role in the community.

&uot;Basically you’d say I’m retired,&uot; he said. &uot;But my worst days are the days it’s raining and I can’t get outside.&uot;

He has a part-time job cutting the grass at Columbiana United Methodist Church, where he has been volunteering since he first came to town.

Jones also volunteers weekly at the Shelby County jail, directing foot traffic in the front office.

&uot;I could find something else to do but I enjoy helping other people,&uot; Jones said. &uot;I’ve been helped all my life. You can’t make any difference sitting on the sideline.&uot;

Jones also enjoys gardening and takes pride in a little garden he cultivated behind the home he shares with his wife, Jane, on Myrtle Street in Columbiana.

Jones grows everything from cabbage and broccoli to flowers, which his wife are particularly fond of, but his tomatoes have become a favorite around town.

You can also spot him at just about any sporting event at Shelby County High School. Jones has been involved with athletics since his days as a member of the Wildcats’ booster club.

Jones has three sons, Jeff, Kenneth and Kevin.

In March, he’ll help coordinate the rodeo sponsored by the Shelby County Cattleman’s Association.

– Ashley Vansan