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School closed, its namesake not forgotten
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Jones Elementary School may be no more, but the Sylvester B. Jones name lives on as the Hall County school board plans to continue to make use of the building in Chicopee Village.

So who was this Sylvester B. Jones anyway? He was a revered Hall County educator and sportsman who was principal of the former Chicopee Elementary School for 26 years. He died in 1972, and the school board renamed the school for him the next year.

Chicopee Village, established as a mill community in 1927, first bused its children to Gainesville schools, according to a history by Sylvester Jones's wife, Inez, who died just last month. The village's first school came in 1931 in a former bleachery behind the mill's warehouse. A gymnasium was in the warehouse.

Tom H. Paris was that school's first principal, which had 226 students. J.A. (Cotton) Neighbors served as principal from 1938 to 1946, when Jones became principal, coach, athletic and recreational director for the mill. Jones organized the first parent-teacher association.

The company built a new school in 1949, and it became part of the county school system. Johnson & Johnson bore the expenses and supplemented teachers' salaries. It also built a gymnasium in 1952, and deeded both buildings to the county system in 1955. Hall County built an addition in 1970.

Sylvester Jones, a New Holland native, wanted to be a dentist, but after graduating from Young Harris College, he took a $50-a-month teaching job at Airline School to finance his further education. Teaching fit him so well he changed directions. After serving in the Army Air Corps during World War II, he returned to take his first job with Chicopee, continuing his education at the University of Georgia and Oglethorpe, going weekends and nights to earn his bachelor's and master's degrees.

After suffering a heart attack in 1954, he had to give up the athletics part of his Chicopee job, a difficult decision because he always had been close to sports, captain of the Young Harris basketball team and playing football at Gainesville High School. He was proud that he coached former GHS, Georgia Tech and pro football stars Billy Lothridge and Billy Martin in youth leagues.

Jones's peers in education and the community at large respected him. "He was always interested in ways to be more active in the community, and, a great patriot, in ways to continue to serve the country," said his daughter, Janie Turner. He was a leader in the Hall County Principals Association and Teachers Association, a delegate to state and national education conventions.

He was a steward and Sunday School superintendent at Chicopee Methodist and taught Sunday School at Gainesville's First United Methodist Church. Jones served in other civic organizations, including the Touchdown Club, which he served as president twice. A huge Georgia Bulldogs and Atlanta Braves fan, he rarely missed a home football game in Athens.

His daughter remembers the family's many travels. They spent a summer in New York while her father attended Columbia University. They visited Washington often and spent a summer in Colorado Springs, Colo., after Jones was appointed liaison officer to the U.S. Air Force Academy.

"The assignment was a special job for him, and he truly loved helping young men from the area to apply to the Academy," said Janie Jones. "Daddy was a great advocate for children and never stopped planning programs that would include the community in partnership with him to improve education and the lives of the children in his care."

Sylvester Jones had worked in his office all day Nov. 21, 1972, when he suffered a fatal heart attack that night at age 56.

"In teaching he found his life's calling," The Times editorialized after his death. "In Chicopee he found the community he would not leave. The community loved him, and he loved the community. Controversy of some sort and some degree struck virtually every school in the system at some time or another - but never during the 26 years Sylvester Jones was at Chicopee did this happen in his school."

There was controversy when the school that bears his name closed this year. But the Sylvester Jones Early Literacy Program apparently will succeed it and carry his good name forward.

Johnny Vardeman is retired editor of The Times. His column appears Sundays and on First published July 4, 2010.