Samaritan, historian and businessman Chat Jones leaves lasting legacy

By Pete Zamplas –

The late businessman and good samaritan Chat Jones cherished and honored local history, chronicling businesses and other landmarks of yesteryear with photos and press clippings and in giving talks.

Chester Allen “Chat” Jones died at age 63 on Friday, Oct. 12. His brother Donnie Jones said the medical examiner cited accidental carbon monoxide poisoning as cause of death. He said investigators determined a faulty furnace at Jones Auto Sales leaked fumes via heating ducts into the office where Chat was that evening. Donnie said that Chat returned there, after dinner, presumably as he often did to work on his history hobby. His wife Judy Jones found Chat’s body in the garage.

Chat Jones ran Jones Auto Sales of pre-owned vehicles, at 1111 Asheville Highway/U.S. 25 North near Hendersonville High School, for 8 years. Donnie Jones told The Tribune that Jones Auto Sales is closing, though the family hopes to have another business in there. He said “we don’t want to stay in the car (sale) business.”

Eighth-generation county native Chat Jones sold cars for 43 years, starting in 1969 with Boyd Auto. He took over Jones Auto years ago from brother Gary, who shifted to commercial real estate.

Chester as an infant was called “Chat” as a take-off of “Chet,” by his aunt. The name suited him. He was hailed as outgoing and upbeat. He recently told The Tribune he prided himself in staying even-keeled. He said, “I get people coming back who’ve traded with me for years.” Donnie said, “he was relaxed with customers, and put on no pressure.”

Donnie said he will continue with his auto repair and detailing. He has done that for 40 years — 18 at the current site. He will stay in his spot, just north of the Jones Auto office, on the “Jones Compound.” Gary’s office is in back. Donnie’s office is unmarked, small, modest. The larger Jones Auto structure “doesn’t suit me. I don’t need office space.”

Such comments reflect the Jones brothers’ humility. They are driven by civic duty. Chat received the 2011 Clifton Shipman Award last year, from the Hendersonville Merchants and Business Association. He was very active with the Hendersonville Kiwanis Club for nearly 40 years, and Henderson County Education Foundation, among groups.

He gave huge price breaks to poor people needing a car for work, his wife Judy noted. Chat bought car seats for money-strapped families to use to drive home newborns. He also provided diapers for babies of single female students of Balfour (alternative) School.

Chat helped Donnie Jones start the Special Needs Baseball League in spring 2011, lining up Kiwanis as the sponsor and securing non-profit status. “He jumped right in,” Donnie said. The league has eight teams and 170 players, mostly wheelchair-bound who get a chance to play organized ball. On Saturday the morning after his brother died, Donnie attended season-ending games. He said it was therapeutic.

“That was the hardest thing I’ve ever done,” said Donnie, 58. “We just ‘played ball.’ Just being with those kids felt good.” He added, “People ask ‘why you do all this work?’ Just watch these children smile. That pays you. Their parents tell me their kids look forward to it, all week long.”

Historic Collector

Less known about Chat Jones is how extensively and passionately he researched local history. Historian and retired teacher Tom Orr, who teamed with Chat for historical talks, can relate. “Every time you come across something new, you’re excited about it. What I admire most about Chat Jones is he wanted to share what he learned, and make everyone aware how rich our local heritage is. If people got as excited as Chat did, we’d all be refreshed about such an exciting adventure.”

Chat Jones since age 7 absorbed stories of early days of Main Street and Henderson County, such as from famed architect Earle Stillwell. Chat has told the Tribune about then-Mayor Sam Bryson getting gunned down by a jealous husband, around 1925 at what was a Shell station near the rail depot on Seventh Avenue.

Jones turned his back office into an historical library. He posted about 65 postcards of landmark structures on his bulletin board, among his estimated 14,000 photos of historic people and places. He had early high school yearbooks. Jones filed press clippings, photos and notes into such categories as Hendersonville, Local People, and Racing.

A photo shows Fireball Roberts racing in the Fifties, on the track by where East Henderson High emerged in 1960. Chat’s father David Nathaniel “Dee” Jones raced locally. His 1959 micro midget division racer is displayed in the Jones Auto garage. So are Dee’s father’s 1956 Ford pickup truck, and a 1967 Bridgestone motorcycle just like Chat’s first vehicle when living in Dade City, Fla.

Frankie Sitton, 77, who owns Sitton’s Inc. Auto Sales, was in Jones Auto Sales this past Friday. He relished in Chat’s stories about the latest historic photo given him. “He’d show it to me, and ask ‘do you remember that?’”

The front office area has a large sky view of Hendersonville and several framed photos. One shows the first brick City Hall that was built by 1895. City historical records note this 300-seat Town Hall and Opera House lasted some 30 years, until torn down in 1924. It then was the first Curb Market, later J.C. Penney. It was on Main’s east side, between Fourth and Fifth. Its flags included color-coded ones, to signal the day’s weather forecast, according to Kermit Edney’s weather book.

A 1967 Edneyville High School football schedule is among artifacts in Chat’s office. He played that sport and baseball, for EHS. His family’s yard was as a tree-less sports field, lit by two streetlights his father installed. Chat married Judy in 1970, a year after graduating from EHS and first selling cars. He supported all local schools and athletics, funding banquets and trophies.

Chat was the eldest of Jones siblings, followed by Diane Grant, Gary, Donnie then Gail King. Chat and Judy have three grandchildren, and another on the way. Their daughters are CPA Michelle Mullinax and X-ray technician Lucy Brevard.

Chat’s niece, Donnie’s daughter Julie, will oversee Chat’s historic photos along with photo restorer John Paul Jones and Tom Orr, Donnie said.

Chat recently snapped pictures of every business on Main Street, to go with photos of those sites “even before Main was paved,” Orr said. This was for before-and-after multi-media shows. He did them with historical speaker Orr Oct. 8-9, at Carolina Village then First United Methodist Church that Jones attended.

“Some called it the ‘Chat and Tom Show,’” Orr said. They exchanged stories and historical tidbits. Orr, also an historical playwright, lauded Jones as a dedicated researcher and exuberant performer. “Chat was very easy to work with,” Orr said. “It’s very important to have a mutual respect and exchange — a comfort zone —when sharing the stage.”

Main Street Advisory Committee Chairman Orr said he hopes these historical presentations — perhaps given in City Hall — can precede tours of Main Street. “We connect stories from the past,” Orr said. “People can see what Main Street looked like before and today.”

Through such programs, Chat Jones’ historical legacy surges on.

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