Locals mourn for Jones

Published 4:00 am Tuesday, November 24, 2015

MESSENGER PHOTO/COURTNEY PATTERSON Hank Jones, right, stands with his wife, Eulane, at the Golden Eagle dinner in May 2015. Jones was recognized as the guest of honor.

Hank Jones, right, stands with his wife, Eulane, at the Golden Eagle dinner in May 2015. Jones was recognized as the guest of honor.

Henry W. “Hank” Jones used to tell his teachers “you are who you are because of everybody you’ve met and come in contact with.”

On Monday, hundreds of people who benefitted from that contact came together to pay tribute to the late teacher, principal and superintendent at Troy City Schools.

Jones, 67, passed away Friday, Nov. 20, at his home after a lengthy battle with cancer. A funeral service was held on Monday at Park Memorial Methodist Church, where Jones was an active member.

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“He was a great friend and he was a mentor to so many of us in this room,” said David Helms, who worked alongside Jones as principal at Charles Henderson Middle School then at Charles Henderson High School. “At the end of the day, if you can say you made a difference in life, that means so much.

“And Mr. Jones made a difference.”

Jones worked for 33 years in the Troy City Schools as a teacher, principal and eventually as superintendent. He retired in 2003 and his legacy lives on through the Hank Jones Early Childhood Center at Troy Elementary, named in his honor, and the Troy City Schools Foundation, which he helped found and for which he served as vice president for nearly a dozen years after retiring from the school district.

In sharing the eulogy at Monday’s service, Helms talked about both priorities and focus. “Mr. Jones had his priorities in order,” Helms said. “He loved the Lord first; he loved his family, and he counted us as his family; and he loved the children and his work.”

That family includes his wife, Eulane Baker Jones; their children, Rhon (Deanne) Jones, Beth (Corey) Barnes, and Jennifer (Jason) Davis; and their grandchildren, Will, Mary Baker, Jack and Luke Jones; Taylor, Avery and Corey Barnes; and Bill and Madison Davis.

He was consistent in his message to his family, the community and his teachers and principals. Each year during teacher in-service sessions, Helms said Jones offered the same directive to the teachers: “You are here for one reason and one reason only: to serve the children of Troy. If you have any other reason for being here, forget about it.”

Jones’ passion for education drove much of his life’s work. After retiring from Troy City Schools, he served as an interim principal at Goshen Elementary and as a consultant for Goshen Elementary and Banks school.

“Hank was not only an outstanding educator but a mentor and friend to so many,” said Dr. Mark Bazzell, superintendent of the Pike County Schools. “He was a pleasure to work with when he served as superintendent and there was never a week that we did not talk several times about issues facing our systems and education in the state. His decisions were always guided by what was best for students, and he will be missed by all.”

From 2004 to 2010, Jones served as new superintendent coordinator for the Alabama School Superintendents’ Association, mentoring first-time and new superintendents throughout the state. From 2010 until 2014, he worked with the Alabama Association of School Boards to help find and recruit new superintendents. He was a consultant with the Southern Association of College and Schools and president of the State of Alabama Elementary Principals association. He served as chairman of the Pike County Chamber of Commerce Education Committee and on the Chamber’s board of directors. In 2015, the committee renamed its annual academy program scholarships in honor of Jones. And the Troy City Schools Education Foundation renamed its annual grant program in his honor.

Roxie Kitchens, a longtime member of the Troy City Schools Board of Education, said Jones was a “true champion” for the students and the system.

“Serving on the board alongside Hank afforded me one of the greatest experiences I’ve ever had,” she said. “I had always respected educators but under his wing I learned what it was to be a true educator and champion for our public school system. It was truly all about what was best for the children.”

Beyond the realm of education, Jones was a man of faith and character. “He had a passion for Jesus. Hank was not a Sunday Christian,” said the Rev. Steve Rascoe. “He lived it every day.”

Rascoe was pastor at Park Memorial for 13 years, getting to know Jones and watching the influence he had on fellow church members. “His love for the church was real … it was something deeper than just attending the church.

“And he had a personality you couldn’t help but love.”

Rascoe recalled Jones’ ability to listen, coach and guide friends of all ages. “You’d get that smile and he’d say, ‘we need to talk.’”

Jones was active in the church’s finance committee and building committee and served as a Sunday School teacher. He also led the church’s Relay for Life team for several years, driven in part by his more than 10-year battle with cancer.

“He hated to lose, and he could work a crowd better than anyone,” Rascoe said with a laugh. “And during those years, Park Memorial beat every other team when it came to fund-raising.”

Jones was honorary chairman of the 2015 Pike County Relay for Life campaign, as well.

In the community, he was a dedicated volunteer, active in the Jaycees (where he ran the Dixie Youth Program), Kiwanis and Rotary Clubs, as well as serving on the Industrial Development Board and numerous other organizations.

In 2015, Jones was honored by the Boy Scouts with the Golden Eagle Award. At the time, chairman Donna Horn reflected on Jones’ impact on the youth of Troy. “You just can’t say enough about Hank Jones,” she said. “He just went over and beyond. Every child and parent was treated as an individual person, not as part of the school.”

Troy Mayor Jason Reeves agreed with Jones’ impact on the community, from being an advocate for students and teachers to being an integral part of making Relay for Life what it is in Pike County.

“But to me I think the thing that stands out most of all were all the things he did that few knew about to help people from all parts of our community,” Reeves said. “(My wife Elly) has done the memorials for the Education Foundation for many years and I can’t count the number of times she prepared one Hank had done in honor or memory of someone. This community could count on Hank, and he will be sorely missed.

“Troy very simply is better because of his service to his church, our schools and the community.”

Helms echoed those sentiments in his eulogy on Monday, and challenged the friends, family and community gathered to celebrate Jones’ life with carrying on that service.

“The biggest tribute we can pay today for Mr. Jones is to out and do for others as he did for us,” Helms said.