The walls in Bill Jones’ home office are covered in plaques and certificates.
One plaque signifies his induction into the Athletic Hall of Fame at St. Andrews Presbyterian College in Laurinburg, where he played football. Another, from the National United Methodist Men, recognizes his service to the community.
There’s also a proclamation signed by Cary Mayor Harold Weinbrecht in 2012, praising Jones for his leadership in helping kids around the Triangle.
Jones, a Louisville, Kentucky, native, moved to Cary in 1959. Since then, he has created the town’s first swim team, coached youth sports and served in various community and church leadership roles.
In recent years, he has taken underprivileged kids to Duke football games, where he paid for their food and used the university as an example of how far he believed they could get in life.
Now 86, Jones no longer coaches, and he can’t get to Durham much, either. He doesn’t move around as easily as he used to.
But his Cary church is determined to promote his legacy of service to others, especially kids.
First United Methodist Church Cary recently helped Jones publish a book about his life, “You Will Always be a Winner!” and took 115 people, most of them kids, to a Duke football game in his honor.
“I use him as an example of what a man should become,” said Rev. H. William Green, the church’s pastor. “The time to say ‘Thank you’ is now.”
The church held a dedication service for the book on a Sunday in August, Green said, and has been giving copies away. Those who received books were asked to donate to First United Methodist so the church could take kids from the Methodist Home for Children, Durham Nativity School and the Cary High football team to the Duke game on Nov. 20.
The church gave away more than 200 books and raised more than $4,000, Green said. It was more than enough, and it will enable the church to take a similar number of kids to another game next year.
“The most courageous thing you can do in life is help a kid and believe in them,” Jones said in a recent interview.
Needing a mentor
The 96-page book explains how Jones became interested in helping young people.
Jones had a rough childhood and needed a father figure, he writes. His twin brother died of leukemia when they were 5 years old, and his dad didn’t offer much support.
In his teens, Jones met a man named Bill Hill, who was pastor of First Evangelical United Brethren Church in Louisville. Their relationship was short-lived – Hill moved to Ohio while Jones was in the Navy – but made a lasting impression.
“I regret that I never saw him again, but the memories linger of a man who taught a bunch of scrubby kids about God, love, respect, and working together to improve life,” Jones wrote in the book.
Like the preacher who took him under his wing decades ago, Jones has devoted much of his life to helping children. He found time to coach and mentor, even while running his own companies, Dealer Appliances Inc, which sold TVs, Jones Distributing Co., which sold interior design materials and Designers Art and Framing.
Jones started Cary’s first swim team in 1960 after waking up in the middle of the night and feeling like “someone had tapped me lightly on the head and said, ‘Use the talents I gave you,’ ” he wrote.
The book also includes tributes to Jones by those who know him.
Jackie Jett writes about how Bill Jones helped her 24-year-old sister, Jeri Jackeway, in 1982, when Jackeway was paralyzed in a car accident.
“I remember the first day he took her to the YMCA and carried her into the water,” Jett wrote. “I watched from the side, praying she wouldn’t sink, but from the moment her fragile body was immersed in the water, she responded with such glee. It was a miracle to me.
“From that moment on, I knew my sister would be fine.”
Jackeway later competed in a national swim meet for people with disabilities, where she set a record for the 50-meter backstroke. Jackeway now lives in Hawaii and swims every day, Jones said.
Jones says children today need more help than ever in part because of rising divorce rates. He’s been married to his wife, Mary Frances, for 61 years. They have five children.
“Is it difficult to stay together that many years? My answer is a resounding ‘No!’ ” he writes. “There are so many split families and divorces today. I think it all boils down to selfishness on the part of one or both spouses.”
As for helping kids, Jones says adults need to earn their respect first.
“A lot of kids fear older folks,” he said. “But you can get to know them and earn their trust by just being friendly with them more than anything else, taking an interest in what they’re doing.”