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Sun, Jul 13, 2014

Sharing Thoughts: Jennings A. Jones still stands tall

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As we go through life, many people will make an impression and have influence on us. I’d like to single out one person who became a friend, a confidant and advisor. Jennings A. Jones was well known by many in this community and even beyond. I’m quite sure that many readers had a friendship with him; maybe even closer than the one I enjoyed. He served as city mayor, planner and was a successful businessman.

Personally, he stood tall in my mind. I first met Jennings and his wife, Rebecca, when I began working for the Rutherford County Chamber of Commerce in 1986. Back then, the chamber was located in Cannonsburgh Village.

Jennings and Rebecca had given what he called “seed money” to fund a Crimestoppers program in Murfreesboro. The chamber supported Crimestoppers with our limited means. Someone suggested that a radiothon be held to raise additional funds for the cause; using the airwaves of WGNS and the former WMTS. Station managers, Bart Walker and John McCreery, respectively, agreed to help. The daylong plea for money was staged at the chamber of commerce, and if memory serves me correctly, we raised approximately $15,000.

It was during that episode that I became acquainted with the benevolent Jennings and Rebecca Jones. Our friendship grew from there. I made many trips to the Jones’ home on Apollo Drive to seek their advice and counsel. Jennings made it clear in the very beginning that he welcomed all visits.

We often talked at great length about one of his favorite subjects, entrepreneurship. He shared memories from his big game hunting trips, proudly showing photographs and trophies from those adventures. He believed that nature teaches entrepreneurship; competition among animals and all wildlife where cleverness and resolve lead to victory. In the case of nature, it is survival.

The first chamber of commerce project that Jennings and Rebecca helped to fund with their seed money was the Excel Card program in 1990. The idea was to reward good grades in school by issuing high school students a plastic card – similar to Visa or Master Card – where discounts could be gotten from area merchants. We started the program with approximately 150 merchants in Rutherford County participating.

The pilot for the program was Riverdale High School, thanks to the visionary support of Principal Hulon Watson. Excel Card was soon embraced by all the high schools in our county, even garnering some national attention to Rutherford County after the Excel Card was implemented in other parts of the country.

Now back to my story about Jennings and Rebecca. Besides their friendship and my frequent visits to their home, the most amazing project that they supported on my behalf was helping to fund the chamber of commerce building at 501 Memorial Boulevard. The large meeting room was named in his honor for being a major benefactor.

The names of Jennings and Rebecca Jones are legendary, especially with Middle Tennessee State University. The Jennings A. Jones College of Business has one of the largest full-time faculties accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business. The Jennings A. Jones Chair of Excellence in Free Enterprise promotes a better understanding of free enterprise and its power in the marketplace. The Jennings and Rebecca Jones Chair of Excellence in Urban and Regional Planning gathers and disseminates information about the importance of proper planning in the mid-state area.

During one of my last visits to the Jones’ home, Jennings and I discussed the idea of co-writing a book about the lessons he learned in business and life, using the metaphor of nature and the animal kingdom. We gave it a working title, “Lessons Learned in the Wild.” He had many photographs and also a journal that was written during his safari adventures.

I regret that we never got the book completed. In my opinion, his life, and his many stories, would provide some great examples of lessons learned in entrepreneurship, philanthropy, and character.
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Ralph Vaughn, Sharing Thoughts, Voices
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