From his teens until his death at age 74, Bob Jones was immersed in local community theater, whether onstage or off, and greeted everyone with a genuine smile.
Whether directing, producing, acting, running the ticket booth, or scurrying behind the scenes, Jones, who died April 24 of a massive heart attack, sparked enthusiasm in others, encouraged involvement and always made thespians and audience members feel welcome.
His widow, Bette Jo Jones, said Bob knew and cared about everyone.
“I have always been convinced that his love for the theater came in before his love for me,” she said jokingly. “Theater was his love, his refuge, his pride. He cared about every aspect of a production, from the tickets to the scenery, and made sure that his cast was up to snuff and happy.”
Bette Jo Jones said his favorite roles were Billis in “South Pacific” and Hysterium in “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum.”
She said that for the 50 years they were married, they enjoyed watching so many musicals together, she felt she knew some of them by heart.
Bob Jones, a Dearborn resident, was active in several area theaters, and in 1992 was inducted into the Dearborn Theatre Hall of Fame for his work with the Dearborn Civic Theater, the Dearborn Summer Theatre and Players Guild of Dearborn.
He also was involved with the Southgate Community Players, mostly in the 1970s.
“I do remember he was Hysterium when SCP did ‘Forum’ in the late ’70s, but I know he had done other shows as well,” said current SCP board member Chris Rollet. “He served on the board back then, as well, I am sure.”
Cindy Turgeon said she met Jones when he directed “The Wizard of Oz” for SCP’s youth theater in the ’70s.
“Bob cast me as ‘Glinda’ and sparked my enthusiasm for theater,” she said. “We remained good friends, and he was a good friend of my husband, Mike. We will surely miss him, but have wonderful memories.”
Harold Jurkiewicz, who worked with Jones at SCP, DCT, DST and PGD, said he has worked with him onstage and behind the scenes since the 1960s.
“We went to England with ‘West Side Story’ for DCT,” he said. “When I directed ‘Jesus Christ Superstar,’ ‘Tommy,’ and ‘A Little Night Music,’ Bob was my producer, and always had my back.”
Jurkiewicz said Jones was a talented actor and director.
“I was lucky to have talked to him the day before he died, talking about the old days and our fellow theater family,” he said.
PGD member Richard Moore said Jones made everyone feel like a part of the theater family.
“Bob was the ‘Walmart greeter’ at the Guild long before Walmart,” he said. “He made you feel welcome, and a part of the Guild family. Many members stayed because of his warm, kind and smiling way.”
Moore said he produced shows that Jones directed because they complemented each other’s skill sets.
“You came away from each production with more than memories of the show – Bob helped you create new, long-lasting friendships,” he said. “He was also a driving force to get high school and college age youth involved in productions.”
His wife, Amy Moore, said Jones always was around the Players Guild of Dearborn, and was always smiling.
“Bob Jones asked me to join the chorus of ‘Man of La Mancha’ because he needed additional female voices,” she said. “Little did he know I would break my foot opening night, while on stage. He continued to allow me to be in the show, with my foot in a wrapped cast. It added authenticity to my role of a tortured prisoner in a dungeon!”
Moore said when Jones played Hysterium for the PGD production of “A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum,” she filled in for him in the box office.
“I made sure I was able to watch each of his scenes from the back of the theater,” she said. “What a treat. He had wonderful comedic timing and was perfect as Hysterium.”
Moore said Jones used to joke that the bars in the box office window were to separate him from the patrons in the lobby on stressful show nights.
However, whether Jones was in the box office or elsewhere in a theater, Rich Bulleri, who knew him through community theater for more than 50 years, said Jones was always a friendly face.
“He always had something nice to say, and was always pleasant,” he said. “It was always a pleasure to go to the ticket booth.”
Guild member Anna Hnatiuk Dewey, who played “Antonia” when Jones directed “Man of La Mancha,” said when he talked to someone, Jones made you feel like you were the most important person in the world.
“It was an invaluable gift, and I loved his joyful spirit,” she said. “He always had an amazing vision for his shows, and they always came true.”
Guild member Paul Bruce said Jones made the Guild a priority in his life, and promoted the shows and the people working on them with pride.
He said he met Jones during the summer of 1987, when he was helping choreograph a summer production of “West Side Story,” which Jones was producing.
“Those were pre-air conditioning days at the Guild, and it was a record hot summer on top of it,” Bruce said. “We did some of our rehearsals in the parking lot, because the combination of the heat and extensive dancing made it unbearable to be inside. I remember Bob regularly unlocking the pop machine so we could help ourselves, because he could see how we were suffering.”
Bruce said Jones shared the strange and humorous stories about things that had happened at the Guild, and had a great sense of humor.
“He made it fun to come to rehearsals,” he said. “At the end of the run of ‘West Side Story,’ he and a few others did a spoof of the show, and he played Anita, complete with a rainbow clown wig and a balloon chest. He was hysterical.”
Valerie Mangrum Haas, who met Jones when she joined the Players Guild in 1992, said Jones had a self-deprecating sense of humor as well. When he directed the musical “Hair” that summer, he cast her in the ensemble.
“It was a topic of some humor that Bob was such an old hippie, except that he, the director of ‘Hair,’ now had no hair of his own,” she said.
Haas said Jones would tell tales of the Guild’s salacious stories as well as its rumored ghost.
“He loved most people he met at the theater,” she said. “He was never hateful. I don’t think he had it in him. He was frustrated sometimes, but never mean or grumpy. He was ditzy sometimes – a bit like ‘Hysterium’ in real life.”
Haas said Jones loved community theater, and dedicated his life to it.
“We lost Bob suddenly, and the fact that we cannot gather, either at a memorial service or just at the Players Guild to honor him, is devastating in its own way,” she said. “We will do that eventually. Until then, we remind each other, through social media, how much we miss him, and how much he meant to all of us. I am lucky to have had him in my life. We all are.”