Art Jones”perhaps the most respected person in Forest Park” retired from his position as Executive Vice President of Business Development and Community Relations at Forest Park National Bank yesterday and is stepping down from the Main Street Redevelopment Association board today at the annual Main Street meeting.
As he and his wife Sally prepare to move to their home in South Carolina, the praise and expressions of gratitude that Jones is receiving from members of the community have been without qualification.
District 91 Superintendent Randy Tinder, who has worked on the Main Street board with Jones, himself a former Dist. 91 superintendent, called him the “consummate professional, always under control and in charge, a true leader.”
Scott Entler, who both taught fifth grade and was curriculum and special projects coordinator while Jones was superintendent, also recalled Jones’ professionalism.
“He was open and honest with what the district could afford,” he said.
“He was always well organized and anticipated problems before they could become a major concern. He was a person who truly believed in participatory decision making by all staff members.”
Entler remembered a time when Jones suggested to his staff at a meeting that they should all take time management courses so they could be more effective, to which one principal responded, “You work us so hard we don’t have time to take a course like that.”
That everyone laughed illustrated that Jones was able to balance high expectations with the realization that human beings have limits.
Peggy Gustafson, who once worked as Jones’ executive secretary, recalled a time when a staff member was reprimanded by a principal for not being courteous on the phone. Jones took the complaint seriously, she said, but he also took the time to listen, and was therefore able to respond with empathy.
“He always took any crisis in stride,” she said, “and looked for the best approach to solve them.”
Carl Schwebl, a long-time Realtor who worked with Jones on the redevelopment of Madison Street, pointed out that Jones is always dressed and groomed immaculately.
“He always looks like he just stepped out of GQ Magazine,” he said, “but that is part of his being a southern gentleman.” Jones, he said, dressed the way he conducted himself: conservative, classy and controlled.
So, no one was surprised when in 1985 Jones moved on to a better paying school superintendent’s position in Glen Ellyn and after that to be superintendent in Lake Forest, a position which Schwebl believed to be among the highest paid superintendent posts in the state.
What may have surprised Forest Parkers was that Art and Sally Jones never moved out of their home in Forest Park in all of those years. Why was a classy guy like Dr. Jones staying in this blue collar town with a lot of bars?
Those who haven’t lived here long may not understand that in the 1980s and early 1990s, Madison Street was a pretty depressing place to do business. There were so many empty store fronts that Schwebl asked one congregation to put some of their banners in the front window of a vacant store to make it look a little nicer. But Art and Sally Jones stayed.
When Jones returned to work at Forest Park National, no one could have imagined the renaissance the town would experience.
Schwebl, who has been one of Jones’ best friends for over 30 years, revealed that there is another side to Art Jones than what most people see. Schwebl agreed that Jones is the consummate professional, but said that if you understand where he has come from, you’ll have a better grasp of why he loves Forest Park.
“He comes from a coal mining town in West Virginia,” Schwebl said, “where people worked hard for a living. Art worked hard to get where he is. He was not too proud to caddy at golf courses to help pay his way through school. He recognized that same trait in many of the residents of Forest Park.”
Schwebl added that Jones grew up in a strict, upright, religious family. That formative experience caused him to see life not only in terms of the bottom line. Certainly, he is ambitious enough to want to advance his career, but his feet remain firmly grounded on values and having a purpose for his life that transcended financial success.
Schwebl said most people know the controlled, professional side of Jones partly because that is who he is but also partly because his very public positions have demanded that of him. He said, “In the school business you’re under a microscope. Being a southern gentleman, he remains in control. He doesn’t get to let his hair down that much because of who he is. But when he lets his hair down, he really is a character.”
Schwebl remembers that Jones finally was able to beat him in a tennis match back in the 1970s. Jones will drink a McCallams scotch with Bob Sennechalle from time to time, and when he is with a trusted friend and out of the public eye, he will admit that at times things get to him. “He’s a very competitive guy,” Schwebl said, “but he’s also a very sensitive guy.”
Simply said, Jones enjoys the people of Forest Park, because their unpretentious, pragmatic style was familiar and comfortable.
“We’ve been going to the same Italian barber in Schaumburg for 15 years,” Schwebl said. “Art and I make a day of it. Every five or six weeks we drive out there, get a hair cut, have lunch and shoot the breeze. Jesse the barber has given us a nickname…The Odd Couple.”
It’s been a good fit. Jones has, by all accounts, been good for this community, and Forest Park has been good for him and his family. That is why the Joneses are keeping an apartment in Forest Park to which they can regularly return from their home in South Carolina.