Wednesday, January 16, 2013 8:08 AM
No rest in retirement for Merck manager
Ken Jones dedicates his days to improving community
By Rochelle Moore | Times Staff Writer
Ken Jones has watched area leaders, like Betty McCain and Henry Walston, make a difference in Wilson through a sincere interest in improving the quality-of-life for area residents.
That inspiration is one of the reasons Jones has become more involved in the Wilson community since his retirement in 2011. Jones, who grew up in Virginia and New York, retired as the plant manager of the Merck Manufacturing Division in Wilson. During his career, he worked in supervisory roles related to plant operations in the pharmaceutical industry for close to 36 years.
Jones has been involved in community service for years but doubled his efforts following retirement. "When I came to Wilson, I met a lot of good people who helped me understand Wilson so when I retired, I said I was going to commit myself to community service,” Jones said.
He’s served on boards involved in education, others that focus on work skills and help the poor and he’s been involved in the development of cultural opportunities and economic growth for the area.
Most recently, he served as the Wilson Chamber of Commerce board chairman. As the outgoing chair, the chairmanship is now under the leadership of Joseph Evans, the president and chief executive officer of The Heritage Bank.
In 2012, the chamber faced new challenges, celebrated some victories and faced a time of transition. Chamber leaders became engaged in the fight to keep the Eastern North Carolina School for the Deaf in Wilson, they joined the opposition and stood against the location of Sanderson Farms in Nash County and also took as stance in opposition of tolls on Interstate 95. Late in 2012, Bruce Beasley, the chamber’s president of 28 years, announced his retirement that took effect on Dec. 31.
In all, it was a busy year for the chamber.
"The School for the Deaf was one of those highlights personally for me and I felt connected to that,” Jones said because of the potential to negatively impact educators, students and the community.
"That was about continuing to enhance the growth of this community. The Sanderson Farms position we took (was because) that was not the best thing for our community. The things that effect the economic health of Wilson we’re concerned about.”
Jones plans to continue his involvement with the chamber and will continue to assist the new board chairman and others through the transitionary phase before a new president is named. A president could be in place within the next two to three months, Evans said.
Still, his days are filled with volunteer service and he’s considering other ways to be more involved.
He’s motivated by the interest he sees in others to make a difference in the growth and development of Wilson. He’s watched as McCain, the former secretary of Cultural Resources, remains engaged in the community and Walston, the president of the Wilson Downtown Development Corp., has emerged as a leader in downtown revitalization and the development of the future Whirligig Park.
"I like working in the community and being able to see things happen,” Jones said. "I enjoy work better than vacation. When you do things, you see you’re making a difference. It’s such a good feeling.”
Jones is a member of the Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park planning committee, vice chairman of Wilson 20/20, past chairman of the Wilson Community College Foundation board, a member of the WCC Board of Trustees, Barton College Board of Trustees, a board member and volunteer with the Wilson Opportunities Industrialization Center, a member of the Oliver Nestus Freeman Round House board, chairman of the Diversified Opportunities board, a member of the Preservation of Wilson board and a board member with Habitat for Humanity.
He enjoys working with Habitat for Humanity because of the opportunities it creates for homeowners, some which are able to own their own house for the first time.
"It starts a cycle of new anticipation,” Jones said. "Habitat provides an avenue of hope for families so when you build one house, it creates hope in the minds of people in that family about what they can achieve.”
He’s involved in several boards related to education because he believes education, including job skill training, is the key to lifting people out of poverty. He’s concerned about the high school drop out rate as well as the poverty many face in the Wilson area. He became involved with the Preservation of Wilson because he sees the organization as improving housing, which can revive communities. The Vollis Simpson Whirligig Park project is also creating job opportunities, he said.
"Even with the Vollis Simpson project, it’s about jobs in Wilson and creating new skills,” he said. "That’s why I got involved. Having that downtown will help with downtown development. It creates job opportunities. There’s nothing else we have here that’s going to transform downtown like the Whirligig Park will.”
Jones believes downtown development will occur from a mix of opportunities, events and activity and not just from the addition of stores and restaurants. Downtown needs to have a blend of stores, restaurants, cultural events, the arts and residential areas, he said.
"Every community should have something vibrant if they want to attract high-level, highly skilled people,” Jones said. "You have to have something that will attract companies to Wilson. The way you do that is through a good educational system, good neighborhoods and cultural activities and Wilson is growing in that direction. We have to find ways to get people downtown and to live downtown.”
The development of the U.S. 301 corridor is also another area of interest. Jones believes that development can occur by focusing on one major intersection at a time and building it up in an effort to draw interest and investment. He also believes that education and job skill training would help people living near the corridor to be more prepared to find work.
"U.S. 301 needs revitalization and that doesn’t mean just go through and pave the road,” Jones said. "We need to take major intersections and make them economically attractive for the private sector so they’ll want to invest in them. We also need to work on the overall appearance of 301. It’s very old looking. It doesn’t change overnight. You just do it, one intersection at a time.”
Jones plans to continue his efforts in Wilson, with an interest in seeing more people working together to improve the community.
"I want more of the community to come together to work on things that are important to the growth of our community,” he said. "What I really want is to help shape a community where people work together to do things that are best for all the community, even though we have differences.”
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