HANCEVILLE, ALA. – Wallace State baseball lost one of its biggest fans and family members on Thursday as Donald Jones died at the age of 76 after a long battle with cancer.
Jones served as the Wallace State baseball public address announcer since the late 1990's, but that only scratched the surface of Jones's impact on the program, which has won seven conference championships and made six NJCAA Division I World Series.
"Donald Jones was a servant. He was almost like he was placed on this earth to help people and to serve people. It's a sad time for the Wallace State baseball family," said Wallace State baseball coach Randy Putman. "I feel like I've had two very good friends on this campus in Bobby McCracken and Donald Jones, and they both passed away with cancer. Donald was just true and loyal to our baseball program. He was loyal to these players and always had a helping hand to serve them in any way possible."
Hours after Jones's death on Thursday, former Wallace State players expressed their condolences and sorrow through multiple social media outlets.
Former Wallace State pitcher Derek Holland, who is entering his seventh season with the Texas Rangers, posted the following about Jones on his Instagram page: "Donald Jones was a great guy who was around the team and in the press box for us. He was a very vocal man and a great person to the baseball community and to the community of Cullman and Hanceville. He will truly be missed and prayers are with him and his family. God bless a truly great guy."
Jones was a family figure to Wallace State's baseball players throughout the years and volunteered in multiple ways. He traditionally organized travel arrangements on the road for the Lions and loved conducting weekly Bible studies on Wednesday nights for those players who were interested.
"Donald Jones was like a grandfather to our players. He was always there to lend a helping hand and give advice if someone needed it. The players loved Donald to the point where he was a member of our baseball family, but he was actually a member of their family in the sense they were very hurt and disturbed when he passed away," Jones said. "There's no telling how many texts, emails, phone calls I've received from former players about how much Donald touched their lives."
Wallace State President Dr. Vicki Karolewics also witnessed first-hand the positive influence and impact Jones had on the baseball program.
"There are people who leave indelible imprints on the lives of all the people around them. Donald Jones was that kind of man and mentor. He played a huge role in the lives of players like Craig Kimbrel and Derek Holland who have become famed major leaguers, but also in the lives of countless young men who have become professionals, husbands and fathers --- men of character shaped by the devotion of Donald Jones," Karolewics said.
Wallace State and the Alabama State Board of Education passed a resolution last April to name the press box at James C. Bailey Stadium in honor of Jones, officially making it the Donald W. Jones Press Box.
"Having the press box named after me is one of the greatest honors I've ever had besides the love and pride I have for my family. I've never dreamed of anything like it," Jones said before the dedication last April. "It's simply hard to put into words what this does mean to me. It makes you feel maybe you did something right. It's a real blessing."
A slew of former Wallace State players returned to campus for the dedication of the press box on that beautiful April morning---just another indication of the impact Jones had on their lives.
"I was so glad Donald could appreciate that day and see his name on that press box. I was very excited about it when it happened and excited Dr. Karolewics pushed to make it happen," Putman said.
Before becoming the voice of Wallace State baseball, Jones served in education within the Cullman County system as a high school teacher, coach, principal and board of education employee.
"Donald Jones was always there to serve and he did a little bit of everything. When I was principal at Holly Pond and he was with the board of education, he wanted to serve the best way he could," said Bill Lay, a long-time educator in Cullman County. "Donald Jones was a great man and was always fun to be around.
He could be cutting up one day and serious tomorrow. He was always willing to help with anything he could."
After Jones retired from the educational system, he wanted to stay busy in retirement. Jones worked in public relations as vice president of the school bus division of a trucking company, but always made sure to stop by James C. Bailey Stadium on game days to monitor the progress of Putman and the Lions. One afternoon, Jones was asked by Cullman radio personality Jimmy Dale Burgess to provide some extra commentary on the radio broadcast and also handle the public address announcing. Jones had provided color commentary for radio broadcasts of high school games off and on for years, so he had experience behind the microphone.
Jones turned that opportunity into a lasting legacy.
Wallace State's baseball team opens the 2015 season on Thursday against Motlow State at James C. Bailey Stadium.
Putman knows there will be a huge void around James C. Bailey Stadium from now on without Jones's presence.
"It seems different with Donald not stopping by the office. It seems different with him not stopping by practice. It's going to seem different at the games without him in that press box. Donald will be with us though. He'll be looking down upon us. I'm sure he'll have a microphone in his hand in heaven," Putman said. "Donald will always be remembered and never forgotten."
The funeral service for Jones is Monday at 11 a.m. at Grace Episcopal Church in Cullman. The family will receive visitors before the service from 9 to 11 a.m. In lieu of flowers, it was Jones's wish that donations be made to Hospice of Cullman County or the Wallace State baseball team.