A Geneva County Legend
105-YEAR-OLD JACK JONES
By Kacy Green • Photography by Brian W. McDonald • July/Aug 2012
It is difficult to understand how the body ages while the mind remains animated in youth, but for 105-year-old Jack Jones of Samson, Alabama, it is just a fact of life.
“There is no secret to living, except being happy,” he says. “I’ve been blessed with good health and good friends.” It’s an astonishing fact: Jack takes no medication. “Just one aspirin a day,” he chuckles, noting that his doctors are sincerely amused and perplexed.
Born in February of 1907, Orlyster M. Jones, “Jack,” has lived in Geneva County nearly all of his life. He was one of seven children—and has only one remaining sibling—84-year-old Loftin Jones of Ocean Springs, Mississippi. Jack grew up on a farm near Bellwood, Alabama, attending his early elementary years at Midway School. “First- through fifth-grade were all taught in the same room,” he recalls. “I walked almost three miles to school, and most of the time I had no shoes. It wasn’t so bad, except when the ground was froze up. … We moved to Albany and lived for about two years, where I completed the seventh-grade. That’s as far as I went; I grew up the hard way.”
“I’ve never been afraid of hard work,” he assures. “I’ve held various jobs, but the bulk of my career has been in road construction.” Over the years, Jack has seen the economy dip, stabilize, excel and dip again. He felt honored to hold good jobs. “I worked wherever there was work,” he claims, noting that one of his positions included helping to build levies around Geneva and Elba, following the 1929 flood.
“I didn’t have a birth certificate,” he asserts, noting the challenge this posed when he tried to draw Social Security. “I went to the courthouse, and they had no record of my birth.”
“At 66, I quit,” he says. “I thought I needed to live a little before the cemetery.” That was almost 40 years ago. “I didn’t have a birth certificate,” he asserts, noting the challenge this posed when he tried to draw Social Security. “I went to the courthouse, and they had no record of my birth.” His proof of birth was in the national census of 1910, taken when he was 3 years old.
“In 1933, I married Elizabeth Cooper,” he beams. “I had no money, no job and no place to live, but I had faith, and boy, that was a leap.” Jack and his new bride lived with his father for about three weeks before moving into a place of their own and eventually having three children. “I couldn’t really afford a family,” Jack explains, “but I guess during that time, nobody really could.” Jack’s income was about $9 per week. “Not long ago, I paid $14 for a fish plate,” he muses. “Now, that’s a big difference, I’d say.”
“I was married 68 years,” he grins. “How many people can ever say that?” Elizabeth passed away in 2001 at the age of 92. “She was sick and put in a nursing home one time. And boy, she didn’t like it,” Jack remembers. “Every time I visited her, she would ask me to take her home. That was about the hardest thing I’d been through, leaving her there each day.”
“One day, I was visiting, and she asked me to take her home, so I got a wheelchair, moved her in it and took her right out the front door to my car,” he shares. Daughter Jackie Crowell notes, “To her, that car was a white horse, and her groom had rescued her.” Jack remarks, “It was a short time later, I got a call from the nursing home, and boy, I wasn’t ready for that. I had to go back up there and sign some papers. I’d rather been beaten than faced those women.” When asked why he had taken her from the facility, Jack responded, “Sometimes, a man’s got to do what a man’s got to do.” He spent a few more months with Elizabeth, caring for her in their home until her death.
Living through the 20th century, Jack has seen nearly everything—two world wars, the Vietnam War and the rapid progression of communication, space travel and political expanse. “I was about 5 when the Titanic sank. I don’t remember knowing much, but I do remember it happening,” he says.
People often ask Jack for advice, assuming with certainty 105 years of life has borne much wisdom. He simply replies, “By all means—be honest, first with yourself and then with your fellow man, and always tell the truth. Above all, be obedient to the word of God, as he creates, owns and controls everything.”
Involved in his community, Jack served two terms on the Samson City Council—in the 1960s and again in the 90s—and did some work with the school board. “I have so much admiration for my father,” his daughter, Sheila Warren, says. “He just loves people and is always willing to help anyone.”
Jack still lives alone and cares for himself, drives and does his own yard work. “I still make my own fig preserves,” he insists. Jack considers his independence a true gift. He shares the responsibility of teaching Sunday school with other members of his class, rotating weekly lessons. A member of Samson First Baptist Church, he is an honorary lifetime deacon. “I was the first and oldest man to be baptized in the new church,” he announces.
“The things that surprise me most about my father are his good health and good memory,” Jack’s son, Forrest Jones, admits. “My father remembers people—he remembers their names and their families. It’s just amazing really. You know, he still cuts his own grass with a riding mower that’s 38 years old.”
On his 105th birthday, Jack received special resolutions, declarations and flags from national, state and local officials. Despite a long life of memories, Jacks says his most important accomplishment was, “The day I rescued my bride from that nursing home. That’s by far the greatest thing I’ve ever done in my life.”