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February 20, 2014

Celebrating Black History Month Spotlight on Lafayette County Commissioner Earnest Jones

Jones is first elected African American county commissioner for Lafayette

Mayo — Earnest Jones, 60, is a soft-spoken and polite man who has lived in Lafayette County most his life. Born in Mayo, he grew up and graduated from Lafayette County High School in 1973. Jones currently serves as District 5 representative on the Lafayette County Board of County Commissioners.

He came from a family of nine siblings and couldn’t afford to go to college. He started thinking about what his best options might be and decided to go into the military.

“I wanted to get a good job and a good education, so I wouldn’t have to live paycheck to paycheck and struggle,” said Jones. “The best thing for me to do at the time was to join the Army and get the training which was the same as what I’m doing right now.”
Jones was in the U.S. Army for three years and trained in telecommunications for installation and repair. Since he joined the military in 1974, at the end of the Vietnam War, he believes he just missed being deployed there.

“I was right at the deadline there,” said Jones. “I went in as a volunteer and knew what the challenges were and luckily I didn’t have to go to Vietnam.”

Jones completed basic training at Fort Knox, Kentucky, then went to Fort Leonard Wood, Missouri for a pole-climbing class. The Army then sent him to Fort Gordon, Georgia which is home of the Signal Corps, the largest communications-electronics facility in the free world and covers 56,000 acres.

“I graduated at the top of my class,” said Jones. “I made Private First Class.”

The last 18 months of his military service, he was stationed in Fairfax, Alaska.

“It was pretty extreme being from Mayo all my life in December going from T-shirts and shorts to wearing overcoats,” said Jones.

In 1977, Jones returned to Mayo and prepared to go to college at North Florida Junior College (now North Florida Community College) in Madison on the GI Bill. He said he had all his paperwork together and started going to school when in September of that year, he was offered a job.

He was told they didn’t have a full-time position, but if he was willing to do a sort of “go-for” job, he was promised they would place him in the next available position which they did.

Jones began on Sept. 6, 1977 at what was then the North Florida Telephone Company. Since then, the name has changed several times and is now Windstream. Jones has been there ever since and Sept. 6 of this year will mark his 37th year.

“Along the way, I was elected to be commissioner back in 1992 as the first black county commissioner for Lafayette County,” said Jones. “I’ve spent six consecutive terms as an elected official.”

He said it was a record he could be proud of, but there were many wonderful people in the community who have said nice things about him which he attributes to maintaining his long-standing status as commissioner.

Jones has two daughters and one son who also graduated from LHS and has three grandkids who are currently at LHS.

“To me, that’s kind of wonderful to have your kids and grandkids go to the same high school that you did,” said Jones.

“Being in Lafayette County, this is home and I love it here,” said Jones. “I like to visit the big cities, but when I’m ready to come home, this is where I want to be.”

When asked about his thoughts on retirement, Jones said he and some others who have also been with the phone company for many years were recently offered an early retirement package, but he declined.

“I passed on it because I wasn’t ready,” said Jones. “To me, working for the company doesn’t seem like work to me.”

Jones said if he retired now, he would miss it. He didn’t want to wake up a couple of years later wishing he still had the job.

“I feel like a man’s job is his livelihood,” said Jones. “Like I said, it doesn’t feel like work. I enjoy it so much, I feel like I’m just visiting my everyday people.”

Jones said he’s not quite ready to hang up his commissioner hat either. He said although he’s accomplished a lot in the time he’s served, there are still some things he wants to do.

“If you want something done and you want it done right, the only way to do it, is to do it yourself,” said Jones.

He said he’s gotten much positive feedback in the community and the county about his work as commissioner and it’s also helped to encourage and motivate him to press on. Jones said if things go as planned, he’ll be running again for commissioner in 2016.

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