SAN ANTONIO — On warm evenings under bright lights, kids crack bats and chase pop-ups on the ball fields. At dozens of community dinners a year, people line up for chicken dinners to raise money for things like the county fair and the Catholic church.
That's life in this rural community, and Jack Jones was a big part of it.
Mr. Jones died Tuesday (Jan. 25, 2011) at his home, surrounded by his family, including Diane, his wife of 60 years. He had been battling lung cancer. He was 82.
He was known as "the pilau man" (which folks here know is pronounced like "purlew"), cooking up the savory chicken and rice dinners by the hundreds. When the city celebrated its centennial in 1981, Mr. Jones made 800 dinners and had only a quart left over, his family said. The Knights of Columbus Catholic men's group, the Pioneer Florida Museum, the Pasco County Fair Association and the Kumquat Festival in Dade City all swelled their coffers and boosted their memberships through Mr. Jones' culinary recruiting. The races at this year's Kumquat Festival, set for Saturday, have been dedicated in his honor.
"Pilau is a big thing in town," said Barbara Sessa, the city clerk.
Bigger still is the Dixie Youth League baseball program. Mr. Jones founded the local league with Art Schrader in 1954 with just 27 players. The boys had been playing in Dade City Little League, Mr. Jones wrote in 2009. But transportation was a problem and the San Antonio players were being split up on different teams because "no one could beat us."
Mr. Jones and Mr. Schrader, also deceased, both served as coaches and had sons and grandsons who played in the league, which now has more than 300 kids.
"He always was community-service oriented. It was never about him," said Jack Vogel, who played on Mr. Jones' first team, the Cardinals.
The boys called him Jackie. "We all kind of idolized him. He was just a neat guy," Vogel said.
Mr. Jones was born in San Antonio and attended St. Anthony's School and St. Leo Preparatory School, which evolved into Saint Leo University, and served in the Marine Corps. He worked at his parents' sawmill and later in the office of his brother's bar and restaurant. He also was a founding member of the San Antonio Jaycees, the group that launched the Rattlesnake Festival, the city's signature event now in its 45th year.
In 2009, after the city named one of the baseball fields after him, Mr. Jones wrote, "I feel this has been the greatest legacy I could leave, seeing the hundreds of children over the last 54 years learning the art of baseball, sportsmanship and learning to be part of a team."
Molly Moorhead can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (727) 869-6245.