‘Ken Jones is a giant’: Volunteer honored with leadership award

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Whether Ken Jones is donating to a local nonprofit, picking up canned foods and delivering to a family in need or helping build a home for Habitat for Humanity, it is obvious he serves the Wilson community with all his heart.

And that commitment to serving others earned him the Wilson-Barton Partnership’s Leadership Award on Thursday.

“Ken Jones is someone in the room where it all happens. He is a decision-maker and a helper,” said Barton College President Doug Searcy. “The audience tonight is a testament to the fine work he’s done in this community and the relationship he has with all of us. We can all say we are better because of the example he’s set in this community.”

More than 250 people gathered under a tent on Barton’s campus to honor Jones, who moved to Wilson in 2007 and retired as the plant manager for Merck in 2012. Searcy said the qualities required for the award include hard work and servanthood, along with a desire to make the community better, improve the economy and move Wilson forward.

“Ken retired, but he did not slow down,” Searcy said. “To our benefit, Ken recognized the needs in Wilson and started another career, if you will, as a steadfast servant to the Wilson community in many ways.”

Wilson 20/20 Community Vision Executive Director Paula Benson said armed with a flip phone and handwritten notes tucked away in a pocket, Jones is known for being an active member of any board on which he serves, “melting rivalries and creating friendships” while forming family-like bonds with many he meets.

“And, like any good family member, Ken, you have earned the right to call us out at times, and you have reminded us that as a community, we can always do better,” she said. “But with that reminder, Ken has always been the first to roll up his sleeves and dig in for the hard work ahead.

“... In my opinion, Ken, you truly believe ­— and you lead us to believe ­— there is not a single thing we can’t accomplish together, and that is the optimism we all want and need in any conversation”

Jones said it was a quote from Mahatma Gandhi — “The best way to find yourself is to lose yourself in the service of others” — that has been at the heart of all his volunteer efforts. He said after a 37-year career in the pharmaceutical industry, it was Gandhi’s words that inspired him to find a new identity after retirement.

Several community leaders shared their experience with Jones, describing him as a friend, a citizen striving to better the community, a superhero and a giant.

“Truly if the measure of a great person is how they treat others who can do nothing for them, Ken Jones is a giant,” said the Rev. Tuck Taylor of West Nash Street United Methodist Church. “He bows low before God and stands tall in the knowledge of who God created him to be and the work God called him to do. I’m sure every one of us knows that Wilson is a better place to live because of Ken.”

In addition to honoring Jones’ service, the event also was a chance for Oliva Rivera and Mark Santos, two members of Barton’s class of 2020, to share their stories about how the college and scholarships they’ve received have changed their lives.

“I cannot imagine the experience and opportunities that have enriched me existing at any other college,” Rivera said.