Text And Photo By Linda Grashoff
When Oberlin's revered naturalist and native son, George Jones '20, turned 100 on August 27, 1997, the event escaped neither local nor national attention.
The most public notice George received came that morning, when NBC weatherman Willard Scott congratulated him during the Today show's birthday segment. A week earlier, the Oberlin News-Tribune had run a story about George and his wife, Mary Burwell Jones '23, who would celebrate their 73rd wedding anniversary on George's birthday. And on the afternoon of the 27th, family and friends gathered at the couple's home for a birthday celebration, during which biology professor David Miller, George's next-door neighbor, presented the Joneses with an Oberlin City Council proclamation commemorating the day.
Although George Jones (right) was retired when David Benzing (left) joined Oberlin's biology faculty in 1965, he showed the new professor around Oberlin's prime field areas and for years helped collect specimen's for Benzing's botany classes. George's great-granddaughter, Talia Doucette (center), was either enthralled by the botanists' birthday-party reminiscences or hoping for a taste of one of her great-granddad's gifts--an extra-large chocolate bar.
George's long teaching career at Oberlin College began during his days as a student, when he worked as an undergraduate assistant for his father, Lynds Jones, who taught at Oberlin for nearly 40 years. George joined the College faculty as a botany instructor in 1924, and quickly advanced through the ranks to full professor. Although he retired from the faculty in 1963, he continued to teach for many years, curating Oberlin's herbarium and accompanying professors and students on field trips. His legendary Sunday walks through local natural areas and his popular and informative tours of the trees on Tappan Square during commencement-reunion weekends continued to attract crowds of participants until just a few years ago, when he had to give them up.
One local Sunday-walk devotee, Doug Hill, talked about George with College staff writer Betty Gabrielli for her profile of the Oberlin legend ("Sunday in the Woods with George," Fall 1991 OAM). "If the United States were to inaugurate a practice of designating living treasures," he said, "George might be one of the first appointees."
linda grashoff is editor of the Observer, Oberlin's faculty and staff newspaper.
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