Citizens of Champaign-Urbana from the 1940s through the mid 1970s might remember Robert “Bunker” Jones as a respected member of Champaign’s Police Department, but did you know that he once was a letter winner on Ray Eliot’s 1945 Illini football team?
Born 94 years ago today in West Frankfort, Jones was an outstanding athlete for the Frankfort Community High Redbirds. From 1942-45, he led FCHS to three straight appearances to the Illinois state basketball tournament at Huff Hall in Champaign. The Redbirds’ best chance to win the state title came in Jones’ sophomore season, but the 6-foot-4 center was badly injured in Frankfort’s victory over Decatur. Jones teamed with future Northwestern University Hall of Famer Max Morris as the Redbirds set a school record with 32 wins. As a senior, Jones earned All-State honors in both basketball and football. Anchored by Jones in 1944-45, FCHS tallied a school-record 35 basketball victories.
Jones was successfully recruited by Eliot to play for the Illini football team and he lettered as a freshman in 1945, playing guard and serving as a placekicker. He also made coach Doug Mills’ Illinois basketball team as a rookie, but did not letter.
Jones transferred to Southern Illinois University and lettered for the Saluki football team in 1947.
Jones returned to Champaign-Urbana in 1949 to marry Barbara Wilson of Urbana. He joined the Champaign police force and continued in that role for more than 25 years. Jones was a member of the Policemen’s Benevolent and Protective Association of Illinois, the Illinois Police Association and the Varsity I Men’s Association.
His family included two daughters and a son, plus five grandchildren. Jones died in 2003, just a few weeks shy of his 77th birthday.
Sunday: Bruna Vrankovic, volleyball
Monday: Annie Luhrsen, volleyball
Tuesday: Jeff Dawson, basketball (69)
Wednesday: Al Carius, track & field (78)
Thursday: Ryan Thompson, baseball (23)
Friday: Manuel Amaya, tennis (67)
Saturday: Griffin Moore, football (20)
By Mike Pearson, author of Illini Legends, Lists & Lore (Third Edition now available in stores). Get more Illini birthdays, trivia and historical tidbits daily on Twitter @IlliniLegends and @B1GLLL. His website is www.SportsLLL.com.
Hey, Illini fans. Got a birthday coming up? Let us know
If you’ve got an Illini SuperFan in your family who will soon be celebrating a ‘milestone’ birthday, we’d love to try and include them in our weekly birthday list that always runs with our ‘Legends, Lists and Lore,’ entries. Email their name, age and hometown to Mike Pearson at firstname.lastname@example.org.