Former Danville mayor added to high school wall of fame
DANVILLE — His name is already on a building in Danville — the municipal building no less.
But Bob Jones, a longtime businessman and Danville's longest-serving mayor, said seeing his name on a special wall at his alma mater will rank right up there with any previous accolade he has received.
"It's the whipped cream on the strawberry shortcake," Jones said of being selected as the 47th inductee to Danville High School's Wall of Fame.
The announcement came at Wednesday's school board meeting. A formal induction ceremony will be held later this year.
Established in 1991, the Wall of Fame recognizes graduates and former students who have demonstrated achievement and/or service above and beyond the responsibilities of their normal employment. Their pictures and biographies are displayed near the entrances to the Dick Van Dyke Auditorium in the main hall.
The wall aims to provides positive role models for students, who see their pictures on a daily basis, as well as promote pride in the public school system and the community.
A 1956 graduate, Jones joins a list of alumni that includes Medal of Honor recipient Maj. Kenneth D. Bailey, astronaut Joseph Tanner, entertainers Dick Van Dyke and Bobby Short, human rights activist and Tostan founder Molly Melching, retired Danville schools Superintendent David Fields, and one of Jones' classmates and friends since the fourth grade — Dr. Ron Gillum, a retired physician and humanitarian who was inducted in 2009.
A lifelong Danville area resident, Jones, who will turn 74 on Tuesday, was selected by an independent committee for his long business career and years of public and community service. After working for the late Lowell "Jocko" Diveley for 14 years, Jones — a cook and mess sergeant in the Army — opened a produce business with his brother, John. He then owned and operated the Colonial Parkway restaurant for 25 years, the Dairy Queen on Fairchild Street for 20 years and the Dairy Queen on Main Street, which has been open nearly 30 years.
Jones was first elected to public office as Vermilion County treasurer in 1978 and re-elected twice. He was elected the first mayor under the new mayor-aldermanic form of government in 1987, and re-elected three times before retiring in 2003 after 16 years in office.
Jones also has worked behind the scenes on numerous projects for organizations including the Danville Lions Club and Valley of Danville Masonic organization. A 33rd degree Mason, Jones was instrumental in establishing the Children's Dyslexia Center of East Central Illinois, now in its fifth year of providing free tutoring to children.
"It's become my passion," said Jones, who remembers confusing his B's and D's and E's and 3's as a child. "In studying dyslexia I realized that I must have been dyslexic. I was fortunate to have an older brother, Charles, who helped me overcome that."
Despite struggling with reading, Jones has fond memories of attending the old Daniel School and high school. He credits his education and teachers — including fifth-grade teacher Harry Skadden, sixth-grade teacher Maria Ehresman, ninth-grade homeroom teacher Art Mathisen, English teacher Harriet Rewerts, social sciences teacher Charles Ross and audio visual director Grace Brandenberger — for giving him a firm foundation in life.
"They really taught me to work hard and do what was right and treat everyone fair and equal," he said.
In high school, Jones' favorite subjects were chemistry and math. He described himself as an average student who made B's and C's and "slipped an A in there once in a while."
He wanted to play football, but his father wouldn't sign the release form. "I was too little, and I injured my left leg playing football in grade school," recalled Jones, who weighed 105 pounds as a freshman.
So, he joined the wrestling team instead and served as captain his junior year. "We had a really good team our junior and senior year. We beat everybody but Pekin. We used to wrestle Lafayette, Crawfordsville and Bloomington, Ind. They used to wrestle Danville because they could get a win. After we beat them, they stopped wrestling us," he said, adding his teammates including Jim Timberlake, Bill Wallace, Allen Wagner, Larry Hawkins and Coach Don Pittman became lifelong friends.
Jones also was a member of the Projectors Club, the Boys Athletic Club and student council. His first foray into politics came when he ran for student council president.
"I didn't carry the freshman class, so I lost the election," he recalled with a laugh.
"High school was the best time of my life," he continued. "I didn't realize it at the time. You were cultivating your friends and the things you would become later in life."
While Jones can think of others who deserve to have their name on the Wall of Fame, he said, he's taking his friend Gillum's advice to "shut up and accept it."
"It's pretty awesome. It's beyond words. I've been so very, very blessed throughout my life," Jones said.