WILLARD JONES DIES - Leaves Emptiness In These Parts


"Mayor of Five Forks" funeral slated for Friday

By Bob Weaver

Ninety-one-year-old Jess "Willard" Jones, affectionately known as the Mayor of Five Forks, has passed.

Willard's son, Charlie, said his dad had a busy weekend before he died.

"Friday I went with him to the Folk Festival in Glenville, then coming back to go to Friday night music at Al's Barn. Saturday we went to a family reunion."

"I guess he didn't have enough of the Folk Festival and he went back on his own Saturday," Charlie said.

"He had his hat on, cane in hand, ready to go again, when he died Monday."

Over the years, Willard would ask how many complaints the Herald got over readers seeing his photo.

Willard was a fourth-generation Calhoun County native, growing up on a farm on Leading Creek, where he began his lifelong love for horses.

Folks at Al's Barn and the community of music makers and friends celebrated Jones' 91st birthday in March with a large cake and a buffet. Willard said he was feeling "pretty good for an old man."

Creator of the barn, Al Hogan said, "At one time on the stage was four generations of Jones banjo players, Willard, Charlie, Richard and Ritchie."

Stretched across the wall of the barn is Al's "Wall of Fame," recognizing many of the regions mountain music makers, many of which have gone on to their reward.

Willard is now one of them.

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.

Being the Herald's weather prognosticator, Willard would say "The weather's gonna be about like usual, but then I'm not a real weatherman. I think it will be pretty cold in February."

He was a bus driver for Calhoun County schools for 25 years, from 1955 to 1980. There were times when he drove two separate routes.

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 Calhoun County Wood Festivals and Folk Festivals in Gilmer County over the last 50 years.

He often delivered an old railroad song "The Wreck of Ole #9."

Willard had a special dedication to his late wife of 66 years, Esta. With the exception when he broke his hip, he fed her lunch at the nursing home nearly every day for the last 10 years.

There will be an emptiness around these parts.

Funeral services will be held 11 a.m. Friday at Prosperity Baptist Church. Rev. Ken Heiney and Rev. Jim Epling will officiate. Interment will be in Saunders Cemetery.

Visitation will be held Thursday evening at Stump Funeral Home, Grantsville.

See complete obituary Jess Willard Jones