John Henry Jones isn’t shy about speaking.
Friends and family of the 84-year-old Korean War veteran say he constantly stops to say hello to strangers and ask about their day. In the Golden Age Club, a group for senior citizens in Greenbelt, he’s known for calling the estimated 130 other members on their birthdays to sing “Happy Birthday.”
However, when he was named Greenbelt’s Outstanding Citizen of the Year on Aug. 31, he said he was at a loss for words.
“I felt honored,” Jones said. “They say, ‘John Henry always has something to say,’ but when they told me, I was speechless.”
A Greenbelt committee reviews nominations and selects the recipient of the honor, which goes to a resident who has provided voluntary service to the community, said Robert Zugby, the committee’s chairman. Jones, Zugby said, received “a number” of nominations.
“He is gregarious and open, and is giving of himself to the community,” Zugby said.
Greenbelt Mayor Judith “J” Davis said Jones has become known around the city for his friendly nature.
“He is constantly welcoming people, greeting people,” she said. “He is extremely outgoing, and that is why we call him our ambassador.”
Jones, who has lived in Greenbelt for 41 years and is involved in the American Legion and Community Garden Club, said he realized he had been chosen for the award when he saw his son, Nathan Jones, 37, at the Greenbelt Labor Day Festival, which is where the recipient of the award is named annually. His son is in the military, stationed in Fayetteville, N.C., so Jones figured he was there for the award.
As Outstanding Citizen of the Year, Jones was presented with a joint certificate from the Greenbelt Rotary Club, which is the major sponsor of the honor, and the festival committee. Jones also received proclamations from the mayor, Prince George’s County Council member Ingrid Turner (D-Bowie), Prince George’s County Executive Rushern L. Baker III (D) and Prince George’s County Legislative District 22.
In addition, he received a fruit basket from the Greenbelt Co-Op Supermarket and Pharmacy, a T-shirt from the Greenbelt Nursery School and gift certificates from area merchants.
City Council member Emmett Jordan said Jones deserved the honor because of his civic involvement and community service.
“His warmth and spirit make him a pillar of our community,” Jordan said.
Jones, who retired 15 years ago, said his work as a vocational rehabilitation specialist at Saint Elizabeth’s Hospital in the District inspired him to be active in the community.
“After working for 40 years in the mental health profession, it is natural for me to reach out to people,” he said.
Jones’s passion, especially since retiring, has been gardening. His father taught him to grow flowers and vegetables as a child on their farm in Houston, Pa. He brought that enthusiasm to Greenbelt’s community garden, a portion of which has been named “Henry’s Hollow” in his honor.
Jones has been married to his wife, Elaine, for 42 years. In addition to Nathan Jones, they have two other children, Nicholas Jones, 40, and Corita Jones Waters, 34, and six grandchildren.
Elaine Jones said she is less outgoing than her husband but that they balance each other.
She is glad Jones is so involved in the city, she said.
“John Henry chose the city over 40 years ago to raise his family, and it’s been an exceptional place for us to do so,” she said.
Cathie Brannan of Greenbelt, president of the Golden Age Club, said Jones finds a way to make people feel special, especially through his calls to members on their birthday.
“I am from Scotland and my kids are all over the world, so I don’t always hear from them on my birthday. It’s very much appreciated,” she said.