2007 Wood Festival Parade Marshal - Jess "Willard" Jones
In the 45th year of the Calhoun County Wood Festival, there have always been a few enduring figures that represent the event more than any other.
We think of the carnival, Band Booster hot dogs, Lions' Club Bingo and the booths - then there are the people.
Young and old, we see familiar faces from year to year and almost expect to see certain ones.
One of those faces is Jess "Willard" Jones, The Mayor of Five Forks.
A fourth-generation Calhoun County native, he was born in 1928 and grew up on a farm on Leading Creek, where he began his lifelong love for horses.
In 1944, Willard joined the army and was stationed in Germany in WWII as a hospital truck driver for the 121st Battalion. He was one of five brothers in the army at the time.
An unvarnished fiddle that he brought home for his brother was his only souvenir from his 18 months in the US Army. He still has this fiddle.
He was a bus driver for Calhoun County for 25 years, from 1955 to 1980. There were times when he drove two separate routes, both before and after school each day.
Willard picked up the banjo when he was 19 or 20 and claims that he "never did get too good at it." He has played at numerous Wood Festivals and Folk Festivals in Gilmer County over the last 50 years.
At almost 90 years old, Willard he has attended every Wood Festival since its establishment in 1962. Playing banjo at most if not all of them.
He expressed a special dedication to his late wife of 66 years, Esta. With the only exception being when he broke his hip, he fed her lunch at the nursing home nearly every day for the last 10 years. Esta passed away in March.
Willard currently attends Prosperity Baptist Church and can be found at Al's Barn, making music with fellow Calhounians.
The Calhoun County Wood Festival Committee salutes its 45th Parade Marshal - Willard Jones.