KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – When Australian Joan Jones, 91, first arrived in America in 1946, she was following her military husband back home.
More than 50 years later, she’s still in America – and …
KEYSTONE HEIGHTS – When Australian Joan Jones, 92, first arrived in America in 1946, she was following her military husband back home.
More than 70 years later, she’s still in America – and more-entrenched with the backbone of this country: the military.
While Jones has been married to one civilian and two soldiers throughout her life, she remains connected to the military by organizing one of the largest Wreaths Across America drives and her work behind Veteran Memorial Pathway in Keystone Heights.
“It took me 54 years after I arrived but I finally did it,” Jones said.
Jones said she had plans to give back to veterans in her area but she didn’t know how to do it. That all changed one night when she dreamed of a pathway in the Keystone Height Cemetery.
This pathway featured a sidewalk-like walkway made of cement adorned with bricks on both sides. The bricks were engraved with the names of veterans and lead pedestrians to the end of the pathway where a large gravestone-like monument stood just a few feet off the ground. That monument had the insignia of each military branch and, like the sidewalk, was surrounded by engraved bricks.
“It was a marvelous dream and I woke up immediately and wrote it down because I knew that it was what I wanted to do for them (veterans),” Jones said.
Jones went before the Keystone Heights City Council in November 2004 to pitch her idea and she received unanimous approval. The council also said it’d like to see the pathway built inside the local cemetery. Jones immediately got to work and about half a year later, the Veteran’s Memorial Pathway was ready for its inaugural debut on July 4, 2005.
From January to July of 2005, Jones collected donations to place 101 bricks into the pathway, each engraved with a veteran’s name. Not wishing to call it quits after the project was completed, Jones continued to collect bricks and donations to add another 100 bricks. She would go on to collect over 700 bricks.
“The calls and donations just kept coming in, so I kept going,” Jones said. “To be able to do something like this, something I had dreamed about for so long, I was enthusiastic. It was the best.”
Jones’ appreciation and subsequent work for veterans wouldn’t stop with the pathway though because years later, she would begin work on her biggest project yet: Wreaths Across America.
Wreaths Across America is a 501(c)3 nonprofit charity that spans across America. Its purpose is to place wreaths across military graves all over the country and there are drives held in the name of Wreaths Across America each year in every state.
Jones attended two Wreaths Across America events in 2012 and that’s when she fell in love with the organization.
“(These events) were so wonderful and I knew that I just had to get involved,” Jones said.
That same year, she started her own Wreaths Across America drive and held the event in Keystone Heights that December. More than 200 people attended and more money was donated to pay for wreaths. This year will mark the eighth year for the drive, and she’s looking forward to making calls for donations.
She’s raised over $70,00 in the last eight years, which has covered the costs of over 600 wreaths each year. Jones said that everyone will lay a wreath for a veteran, including more than 600 who are buried at Keystone Heights Cemetery. A guest of honor – usually a former POW or military official – is scheduled to speak.
“It’s a really big event and the entire community gets involved,” Jones said. “Military men and women, boy and girl scouts, residents, they all chip in to help make it happen and that’s why I continue to do it every year.”
Jones calls her Wreaths Across America beautiful and unique to Keystone Heights. It’s also one of the largest ceremonies in Clay County. This year’s will be held on Saturday, Dec. 14 at noon.
“This event, doing these kinds of things, it’s the love of my life,” Jones said. “I’m going to do it until the day that I die.”