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Chat Jones, devoted friend of youth, dies at age 63

Chat Jones, who had 40 years perfect attendance at the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club. Chat Jones, who had 40 years perfect attendance at the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club.

Chester Allen "Chat" Jones, an eighth-generation Henderson County native who worked behind the scenes to boost the community, poured his heart into efforts to help children and spent countless hours researching the history of the county he loved, died unexpectedly Friday night while working at his car dealership on Asheville Highway. He was 63.

Jones, the owner of Jones Auto Sales, was a longtime car salesman and businessman whose interests outside his day job changed the community for the better in many ways. The breadth of his generosity, friends said on Saturday, was matched only by his resolve to deny personal credit. Most of the things he did, he did without recognition or applause.

 Even through his dealership, he helped people in ways that few people knew about. If he heard of someone who was making an honest effort to work hard and needed transportation for a job, he'd sell them a car for next to nothing.
"His hobby was history and civic things and helping people through his business," said his wife, Judy. "He was a most unusual person."
Friends were stunned to hear the news Saturday morning that Chat Jones, who devoted boundless energy to children, schools and preserving history, had died. The cause of death was accidental carbon monoxide poisoning, the medical examiner told family members. Judy Jones found her husband's body in the garage of his auto sales business. The door to his old 1949 Ford pickup was open but the garage was dark. He had apparently fallen and been overcome by fumes.
Among the programs that he started, co-founded or carried on were car seats for newborns, diapers for the babies of single mothers who attended Balfour School, the Special Needs Baseball League (with his brother Donnie) and swings for handicapped and wheelchair bound children at Henderson County parks. In recent months, he had been working with area churches to raise money to erect large cemetery signs.
During a visit to the program for single mothers at Balfour School, Jones learned that disposable diapers were the biggest need. He immediately launched what amounted to his own charity, buying packages of diapers himself or persuading friends and fellow Kiwanians to donate them.
People would stop by the car dealership and drop off packages of diapers and other needs for infants and babies, and at times big stacks of infant to toddler diapers would appear in the small sales office that was once a city gas station.
"Chat has been collecting diapers right along," said Marvin Larson, a longtime Kiwanian who worked with Jones on the project. "There are 16 unwed mothers out there and they have tutors for the kids while they go to school."
"I just think he liked people," Larson continued. "He helped a lot of people you didn't know about. A lot of people didn't know the things he was doing. He got Trace & Co. to fix all these dugouts. He got more people to donate things free of charge and to donate things than anyone. He was terrific that way."
Even when he had successfully started one project, like making sure "my Balfour babies," as he called them, had diapers, Jones would not rest. As he visited Balfour more often, he realized that the grounds needed improving.
"The thing he wanted to do next was to fix up the outside of the school, and we did that (with Kiwanis volunteers) about a year and half ago," Larson said. "Some people are doers. He was a doer."
He had always been a researcher and collector of history, and in the past several weeks had launched, with retired teacher Tom Orr, a program that guided the audience on a tour of Main Street through pictures of storefronts from the past and today.
"Both Chat and I had a passion for the telling of history of Henderson County and Hendersonville," Orr said. "We often sat and talked about the possibilities and things that we wanted to do to make people know what a great heritage we have. One of the things we thought would be good thing to do is take a simulated walk down Main Street and show what used to be there and what is there now and share history and stories that would make Main Street come alive."
Jones cared so much about the project that he posted a big sign on the Jones Auto Sales door, "On Vacation," closed the business and went home for two days to write the narration and select the photos. He and Orr debuted the program on Sept. 25 at Carolina Village.
"Then we did it the next night at the Methodist Church to a very large crowd and they appreciated it very much," Orr said.
Fellow Kiwanians marveled at Jones's steel-trap memory. Like a hound dog in tune with even the smallest sound in the woods, Jones would alert at the mention of local events, businesses or organizations that had a Kiwanis connection. Someone would mention Vocational Solutions, for instance, and Jones would tell about how Kiwanians had started it as Something Special sheltered workshop 50 years ago. He usually had the year, and sometimes even the date. When someone started listing Henderson County schools, Jones would share with the club how many schools had been named for Kiwanis Club members.
"It was a passion of his to become more and more of a historian," said Buddy West, a retired Etowah School principal and good friend. "He grew up here, he took an interest in it and in recent years, with the loss of Louise Bailey, he saw the need. Chat knew these things. I would talk about things because my parents had told me about. My parents were older."

In the spring of 2011, he had started, with his brother, Donnie, the Special Needs Baseball League, which grew from a handful of kids to eight teams involving 170 players.

“What a loss to the community,” said Tom Komara, whose son, Tommy, plays in the league. “It was great to see the league grow. It was good to see the program get up and running. Chat had a big heart. He loved the people, he loved the community. It’s a big loss.”

Chat Jones and Nicholas ThompsonChat Jones and Nicholas ThompsonThrough special needs families, Chat and Donnie learned of another need — handicapped swings — and immediately launched an effort to meet that need too. They bought or got donations for swings at Jackson Park and Etowah Park. Chat had recently met with the Edneyville Grange about putting a wheelchair swing and a handicapped swing at the Edneyville Community Park.

"That was his next project," said Larson, his Kiwanis friend.

His love of history and support of schools merged in his service with the Henderson County Education Foundation. A board member for six years, he worked on the founding committee of the Hall of Fame, helping to write the guidelines for admission into the hall. "He was real strong backing kids," said the organization's director, Don Jones. "We had a homeless kid from Hendersonville that went down to N.C. Central. Chat helped him get a computer. That was not Kiwanis but on his own. He cared for kids. He really wanted to help kids."

Born May 15, 1949, to David Nathaniel and Marcene Corn Jones, he grew up on Orrs Camp Road behind what is now Blue Ridge Mall. He graduated from Edneyville High School in 1969. The following summer, on July 31, 1970, he married Judith Lyda, also a native of Henderson County. High school sweethearts, she was the cheerleader and Chat was the nose guard on the Yellow Jackets football team. "I was 18, he was 21," Judy said.

After high school, he got a job where his father worked, Boyd Cadillac, and over the years worked at Boyd and Hunter dealerships before taking over Jones Auto Sales from his brother, Gary, who switched to his commercial real estate business fulltime. Three Jones boys occupied the property at 1111 Asheville Highway across from a new Walgreen's — Chat selling cars, Gary selling commercial property and Donnie running a detail and repair shop for Chat and other used car dealers.

In addition to his wife, Jones is survived by two daughters, Michelle Mullinax, and her husband, Todd, and their children, Jones Christopher "Jay," Lilly and Laura; and Lucy Brevard and her husband, Brad; brothers, Gary Jones, and his wife Cindy, Donnie Jones, and his wife, Doris; and David Jones; sisters Diane Grant and her husband, Tom; and Gail King and her husband, Steve, and many nieces and nephews.
He was a member of the First United Methodist Church, where he attended the Roy Johnson Sunday school class.

He devoted a tremendous amount of time and resources on history, community and the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club, which he served as president in 1987. He was named Lay Person of the Year, the club's highest honor, in 2008. He would have reached 40 years of perfect attendance in January of 2013.
Funeral arrangements are pending.

Despite their sadness over Chat's passing, friends and relations took solace that his passion for community would live on, in diapers for Balfour babies, homeruns by crippled children in wheelchairs, photos of long-forgotten service stations and department stores, color and history that a newspaper reporter might apply to stories about the Kiwanis Club and Edneyville, and in generations to come. His daughter, Lucy, is expecting her first child on April 5.


Read "A hole in our heart."