PALM HARBOR — Winona Jones lived a fast life. At 16, the high school track star dropped out because she wanted to get married.
She cut corners on sleep and exceeded speed limits. Mrs. Jones later resumed her education, picked up two master's degrees, lobbied for libraries and raised a family. The fourth-generation Floridian also started a historical museum, wrote a book and hosted a television program about Pinellas County's history.
"I think she wanted to be the first woman president, to tell you the truth," said daughter Carole Pandorf.
Mrs. Jones, a founder of the North Pinellas Historical Museum and immediate past president of the Palm Harbor Historical Society, died Friday of an immune deficiency. She was 81.
Winona Nigels grew up in Palm Harbor, where her father grew citrus. She married Charley Jones, four years her senior, in 1944. They grew citrus and sold fresh-squeezed orange juice, "all you can drink" for a dime.
A hard freeze in 1957 decimated the Jones' 10 orange groves. "We lost it and never replanted," Mrs. Jones told the Times in 2006, tears in her eyes nearly 50 years after the event.
She went back to school, starting with the long-forsaken high school diploma. By 1967, she had a master's degree in library science from the University of South Florida.
Over the next 27 years, she worked for three Pinellas County schools as a librarian, the last five years at East Lake High School, picking up an advanced master's in broadcasting along the way. She lobbied legislators for better libraries, and performed so effectively that her peers in the American Association of School Library Specialists elected Mrs. Jones their national president in 1990.
Mrs. Jones never hesitated to meet with any politician, and always showed up armed with research.
"She was like Eleanor Roosevelt," said Pandorf, 57. "She would go into a situation knowing what the heck she was talking about."
The Joneses built a two-bedroom house on 30 acres, where they raised three children and Angus cattle. They replaced the home twice, building a white plantation-style house in the mid 1980s that now sits in the middle of a seeming preserve a stone's throw from suburbia.
"Mom wanted the big front porch, the porch on the second floor and the big columns," said daughter Sharon Allworth, 61.
As a mother, Mrs. Jones enforced "rest time," a sacred hour of reading. Later, she liked to sit on the downstairs porch of her dream home with a book and a glass of sweet tea.
She attended the births of her grandchildren, staying just long enough to help out. "She could sense it," Pandorf said. "She would say, 'Not only do you not need me to stay, you need me to leave.' "
When the grandchildren turned 6, she granted them all a weeklong car trip anywhere in the state.
Meanwhile, her activism to preserve the Florida of her childhood never waned. She fought to save Caladesi and Honeymoon islands from development, and helped rescue the home of Judge Thomas Hartley from the wrecking ball. That home is now the site of the North Pinellas Historical Museum.
"She was definitely one of the go-to people that one always thought of when you had a question about something to do with history in north Pinellas County," said Terry Fortner, president of the Palm Harbor Historical Society. Mrs. Jones published a book, Around Palm Harbor, in 2003.
Behind glass in the Winona and Charley Jones Exhibit Room of the museum, the fragile pages of a diary lie open, next to a blurry photo of author James C. Craver's post office and general store in Sutherland — the town that would later be renamed Palm Harbor.
A century later, Winona Jones was pressuring a county commissioner to put a traffic light in the same spot where Craver established his post office. Charley Jones, 85, remembers the conversation as fairly typical of exchanges between Mrs. Jones and public officials.
"She told (commissioner) Sallie Parks, 'A light needs to be where County Road 1 crosses Tampa Road,' " Jones said. "Sallie Parks says, 'Winona, don't worry. There will be a light there in two weeks.' "
Andrew Meacham can be reached at (727) 892-2248 or email@example.com.