In passing, as in life, San Juan’s Mr. Christmas left ’em smiling

Top photo: Jimmie Jones, standing center, with other members of the 76th Air Squadron in England during World War II. Middle photo: Jimmie Jones, during his days as a business college admissions counselor. Bottom photo: Jimmie Jones waves from the back seat of an antique automobile in a Friday Harbor Fourth of July Parade.    - Jones family photos
Top photo: Jimmie Jones, standing center, with other members of the 76th Air Squadron in England during World War II. Middle photo: Jimmie Jones, during his days as a business college admissions counselor. Bottom photo: Jimmie Jones waves from the back seat of an antique automobile in a Friday Harbor Fourth of July Parade.
— image credit: Jones family photos

It was a gathering Jimmie Jones would have liked.

The sun shone brightly in a clear sky at this spot overlooking San Juan Valley, a spot he once told his family was the most beautiful place on the island. People shared funny stories. This was Jones’ funeral, but there was more laughter than tears. Then, as the small group of mourners dispersed, a plane flew overhead, as if in salute to this World War II airman who loved the skies.

Jones, 89, died in Friday Harbor July 21. His funeral was held the next day at 1 p.m. at Valley Cemetery. A small group gathered — his daughter, granddaughter and sister-in-law, a reporter, staff members from Islands Convalescent Center, the cemetery’s sexton, a representative of Evans Funeral Chapel, Peter DeLorenzi of American Legion Post 163, and the Rev. Joe Bettridge of Friday Harbor Presbyterian Church.

“Given a week’s notice, or even two days’ notice, and the whole island would have been here,” said Cindy Thurman, an ICC nurse.

One by one, the group substantiated that opinion with their memories of Jones’ generosity. He was known as Mr. Christmas for his fund-raising to meet local needs that might pop up any time during the year — a child needs a bicycle for Christmas, a family needs some groceries, someone needs help paying a utility bill. Mr. Christmas also helped start the Easter egg hunt at Jackson’s Beach.

His generosity was immortalized in the book, “You Know You’re an Islander When ...” In the book by Jan Jameson and Jeanie Rouleau Burns, the authors included this localism: “You Know You’re An Islander When ... you’ve got Jimmie Jones on speed dial.”

They also remembered his gregariousness and sense of fun. Ask him how he was doing, and his response would be, “Perfect, just like you.” Thurman said that despite declining health, Jones regularly played bingo at ICC up to a month before his death.

DeLorenzi said Jones was “always a bright light in the Legion. He always had a smile.” He remembered Jones’ resiliency. In a community gathering after the terrorist attacks on Sept. 11, 2001, Jones made formation in his wheelchair.

After Jones moved to Islands Convalescent Center, he was escorted to the Easter egg hunts by the Friday Harbor Fire Department. He also rode his motorized scooter in the Friday Harbor Fourth of July Parade.

Jones’ sister-in-law, Diane Cox, said she was 4 when Jones married her sister during World War II. “He was always upbeat,” she said. “He was a great brother-in-law.” She remembered when, as a child, she met a woman in a store who had had a run of tough luck. The woman told her that if it weren’t for Jimmie Jones, she and her family wouldn’t have had Christmas presents or a tree that year.

Jones’ daughter and namesake, Jimmie Beth Schnoor, remembered as a young girl visiting orphanages with her dad.

Jones’ granddaughter, Sarah Lopez, remembered her grandfather as being remarkably knowledgeable about the island — or, at least, courageous. She said he once took her to his favorite fishing spot on the island. As they drove up the driveway, she noticed signs that warned “Do Not Enter” and “Big Dogs.” Her grandfather’s response to her worries: “Those signs are fake. There aren’t any dogs here,” she said.

Jimmie Corbett Jones was born Aug. 22, 1918 in Herdsfield, N.D., the son of sheepherders. He attended high school in Herdsfield, was a Golden Glove boxer and a jockey. He served in the U.S. Army Air Force during World War II, was stationed in Wichita Falls, Texas, and saw action in France.

In March 1943, he married Mary Lorene Davis and their daughter, Jimmie Beth, was born that year. They also had a son, Robert.

After the war, Jones’ adult career fit his outgoing personality: He worked in several fields in just about every Southern state. He worked for a wholesale candy and tobacco company in Waurika, Okla., as a newspaper distributor in Duncan, Okla., then as a business college admissions counselor in Georgia, Mississippi, Texas and possibly other states.

He and his wife divorced in 1960 and he moved to Albuquerque, N.M., then Boise, Idaho. His mother and sisters lived on San Juan Island and he moved here in 1972; he called San Juan “his bit of heaven,” his daughter said.

Jones tended bar at Herb’s Tavern until he was 64, when he retired. He is immortalized at Herb’s, too; a barstool features his name carved into the hand-tooled leather seat.

Scott Rasmussen wrote this about Jones in an April 2007 edition of The Journal:

It was about 20 years ago — Jones was tending bar at Herb’s Tavern at the time — and a young woman walked into the tavern and sat down on a barstool. Jones already had earned a reputation as Mr. Christmas in Friday Harbor because of his enthusiastic embrace of the holiday. That’s why the woman, he believes, sought him out to express her concern about the lack of a community-wide Easter egg hunt on San Juan Island.

The World War II veteran, who moved to Friday Harbor in 1972, always has made the most out of his connections. He decided to spring into action.

“I called the fire department and said ‘You know, nothing goes on around here for Easter,” he said. “I told them that you got a lot of resources and a lot of help we could use. I told them that I’ll buy the eggs.”

Jones recalls that the owner of Whitey’s grocery agreed to sell him 30 dozen eggs at cost. The fire department agreed to dye the eggs and hide them among the driftwood at Jackson’s Beach.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

“I can get things done,” he said. “That’s cause people will help out if they have somebody to push them a little bit.”

* * *

After everyone gathered next to the flag-draped coffin at Valley Cemetery, Pastor Bettridge said that this was a time to “remember with love, Jimmie Jones,” and that although we celebrate his earthly life, he has another life now.

Advising listeners to “let not your hearts be troubled,” Bettridge quoted from Psalm 23 to tell of Jones’ new life — a life without end, with a Shepherd who has restored his soul and leads him beside still waters. “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: and I will dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” the Psalm states.

Surely, Jimmie Jones is already working on a project with St. Nicholas up there, DeLorenzi said later.

Troubled hearts? Not at this funeral. In his passing, Jimmie Jones left ’em the way he did during his life: Smiling.

Mr. Christmas is survived by his daughter, Jimmie Beth Schnoor, of Teague, Texas; grandchildren, Kelly Schnoor, Sarah Lopez, Erica Bourland, Chad Jones, Brandon Jones and Jennifer Womack; sister-in-law, Diane Cox of Phoenix, Ariz.; and nine great-grandchildren.

In lieu of flowers, the family prefers memorial contributions to the Friday Harbor Food Bank or to the service organization of your choice.

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