Dodie Jones was a person you could never forget. She was larger than life and she played an important and influential role in life in Pleasant Hill. Although she never lived here, she worked at the Pleasant Hill Community Center for nearly 40 years. She left a legacy of enthusiasm, happiness and joy that touched generations. She passed away on February 9, 2017 at the age of 96, but her spirit lives on.
Dodie, or Doreen Royston Jones, started at Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District as a preschool teacher. A mother of three, Dodie was attuned to the joy and excitement of discovery and learning. She told me once how she taught the children at Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District Preschool about dinosaurs. She showed the children pictures and described the prehistoric animals and may have said, “dinosaurs lived in places just like Pleasant Hill!” She asked them to look around, “maybe you can find a dinosaur egg right here in Pleasant Hill Park.” I can picture the twinkle in her eye, as she watched the kids squeal with delight as they found their treasure – a dozen baby cantaloupes that she had hidden earlier in the day among the lawn and shrubbery of the park.
I met Dodie at Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District in the fall of 2000 when I was hired to help with communications. She was the communications manager in charge of all the community outreach for the District. She also managed the programs for adults offered by the District. She was a friend to the dance instructors, art teachers, computer class leaders, cooking teachers, financial services professionals and all sorts of others who taught classes for the District. She orchestrated an inviting and enriching schedule of classes that produced income for the District, while enriching the lives of the community that participated.
One of the first big events that she and I worked on together was in 2001, the 50th Anniversary of Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District. Dodie invited me to be a part of a committee of important persons who shaped the District and the community. Together we planned a celebration, sponsored by Realtors Don and Norma Flaskerud, that would be open and free to all.
I especially enjoyed the planning meetings, and the creative group that included Len Shapiro, Dave Mascaro, Ted Fuller, Peggy Blake, Jim Utz, Juli Gianti and Helen McLaren. I still have three pages of Burma-Shave-like rhymes we wrote to promote the event:
Sticks, stones once
Littered the land
But Rec & Park
Has made it grand
Think you’ve got a
Try our Rec &
Park side freebee
If you need an
Rec & Park has
It’s 50 years
Time for a lark
With Rec & Park
Held at the Community Center, the celebration featured music by Tom Rigney & Flambeau plus Donnie Fitsimmons Mobile DJ. There were classic cars from the 50’s, bobby soxer photos in the soda fountain, old-time softball exhibitions, historical photos and Las Juntas “artists in action.” Local restaurants and caterers came out too, like the Left Bank, Lesley Stiles Catering, Outback Steakhouse and Wilma Lott Catering. There were booths and games managed by many of the District-sponsored clubs, like the PH Dog Owners Group, the Pleasant Hill Tennis Club, Society of Young Magicians, the Hiking Club, Camera Club, Guild of Quilters, PH Baseball Association, and the Historical Society.
It was a fabulous day that brought the entire community together and focused us all on the role that Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District played in our lives.
Unlike many other local recreation departments, Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District is not part of the city. It was established in 1951, ten full years before the City of Pleasant Hill, by residents in the huge Gregory Gardens subdivision who wanted parks and playgrounds for their children.
Over the years, Dodie and I represented the park district at Earth Day celebrations, Fourth of July parties in the park, farmer’s markets, job fairs, chamber of commerce business fairs, and many other community events.
During most of this time, I never gave much thought to how old Dodie was. She had a youthful spirit and an innate joy of life. It was such a pleasure to work with her. In fact, when we worked at Earth Day at the Concord Pavilion, she totally out did me although she was 37 years my senior. We toted our canopy out to our booth space in the middle of a sunny parking lot, brought loads of Spare Time Spotlights, flyers and Pleasant Hill Rec giveaways. We worked like we always did, engaging the public with questions about recreation for their kids or themselves, and encouraging them to take a new class or sign up for swimming, golf, or tennis, or any of an endless set of opportunities. After about six hours out in the warm pollen-filled hills, the event was over, and I had a bad case of hay fever. I was over heated and headed home to a cool shower and a place on the couch. Dodie, however, went back to the Community Center and worked for another few hours! At this time, Dodie must have been 82 years old.
After that, I started wondering how old Dodie was. When I learned her age, I was astonished. A couple of months later on the Fourth of July, Dodie and I were preparing the booth in the park for the celebration after the parade down Crescent Drive. We crossed paths with a handsome young police officer who stopped in his tracks and greeted Dodie. They gave each other a warm hug and chatted for a while. You could tell that they were truly fond of each other. I learned that he had been a teenage instructor a couple of years before for Recreation Summer School, a program that Dodie established in 1978. I remember saying to Dodie, “NOW I understand why you continue to work for the District!”
She had a passion for learning and eliciting the creative spark in persons of all ages. She established Recreation Summer School to be six weeks of enrichment for youth grades 1-8. There were no requirements for math or remedial reading. It included classes three days a week that were purely fun. There were sessions for art, music, theater, swimming, nature, ecology, photography, magic, karate, cooking, and story telling. She often referred to it as “like a charter school.” She assembled a team of instructors – some teens and some adults. She interviewed each one and carefully taught the teens what a job interview is like and what it’s like to have a job. Over the 34 years she managed the program, she brought even more joy to the youth of the city.
Dodie was known for working long hours at the Community Center. Although she was not an early riser, she stayed late, and often was the only one at the Center, except the janitor.
Dodie and I worked together producing the Spare Time Spotlight three times a year. Since it contained all of the latest classes and activities, we seemed always to be working against a tight deadline over weekends and nights at the communications office. Cathy Corum was also a member of the communications team. Cathy was the daughter of Dodie’s associate teacher, Jean Holm, in her preschool teaching days. In fact when Dodie had explored the catering business, she tapped a teenage Cathy to be her helper. She taught Cathy how to create a beautiful platter of cold cuts that was both artistic and tasty. The two of them had a strong bond that lasted to the day that Dodie died.
When we worked those long hours, we would share stories of our lives, and Dodie’s stories were the best. She shared how her mother had been an upper-class English lady who married for love and left the privileged life in Britain for life on a farm in Morgan Hill, California. Dodie was the only daughter the couple had, and her mother insisted that she learn the finer parts of life, like playing the piano and learning French. Dodie’s brothers were allowed to run free outside and Dodie had to find time for her studies before she could figure out a way to slip outside. At one point in her adolescence her grandmother must have been worried about her upbringing, because she insisted that Dodie come back to England to live with her. I’m not sure how long that lasted, but Dodie had an appreciation of English tea, spoke French and played the piano.
She was married to Ralph Jones, a famous landscape architect in the Bay Area. She told me how she and Ralph liked to make pottery. They used to take their Karmann Ghia up to Arnold, California in the gold country to buy a special kind of clay. They bought so much, the little car could barely make it over the bumpy road on the way home.
Dodie was the mother of three; two daughters and a son. The family lived in an old Victorian home in Alameda and Dodie was working for the recreation department at the city.
Tom McHale became a friend of the whole family when he was in high school. He said, “Dodie was the first ‘hippy-mom’ I ever met. She encouraged her kids to eat natural foods, enjoy the outdoors, speak their minds, read, and not watch television (they didn’t even own one).”
“There was always some craft on the kitchen table,” he recalled. “It might be clay, watercolor or acrylic paints, or even cake decorating.” Tom decided to join Marine Corps and spent one year in Viet Nam. When he returned home and was going to college, Dodie encouraged him to go into recreation. It was her good word that helped Tom get a job with the Alameda recreation department.
A few years later, Tom graduated from college and got a job with the fledgling Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District. Tom is proud of the fact that he was the one who hired Dodie at Pleasant Hill Rec.
Dodie’s life seems to be a series of circles like that, rich friendships and experiences woven together to form a beautiful pattern of life. She continued to work for Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District and bring young people together with art, music and culture. She created festivals and celebrations, like the ongoing Literary Women, Festival of Women Authors and Recreation Summer School.
After she retired from Pleasant Hill Recreation & Park District in 2012, at the age of 92, she moved to Davis to live near her daughter, Judy, and her husband, Wayne. She had a cute little home near a park, where she continued to have her afternoon tea and eat natural food. She also began the pursuit of reading all the books she didn’t have time to enjoy when she was working.
Tom McHale and Cathy Corum continued to visit and Dodie kept up with the rest of us via the telephone and email. She always made you feel so welcome and appreciated. She was free with her praise and would lift you up so that you could become the best version of yourself. I hope that all of us who were lucky enough to know her can live up to her 96-year legacy of living with a smile, twinkles in our eyes and a positive expectation for what is to come.