Longtime Valley resident honored at 90th birthday party

Editor's note: Max Jones Sr.'s quotes were taken from transcripts of tape recordings by the family, which began in November 2005.

by Jo Rafferty

People Editor

Max L. Jones Sr. turns 90 May 13 and his birthday will be celebrated by family and friends with an open house and party which will be held on his birthday, 1-4 p.m. at the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Cultural Hall, Spruce Street at Deseret Drive, Gardnerville.

Jones came to Carson Valley when he was about 24 and in his years in the Valley he was deeply involved in the community. His contributions ranged from serving as East Fork Township Justice of the Peace for 10 years, member and founding president of the Douglas County Sheriff's Posse, a member and president of the Carson Valley Chamber of Commerce, a volunteer firefighter for 30 years, director of Douglas County Civil Defense, scout master of Boy Scouts of America Troop 140 for 10 years and on the scouts' board of review for 20 years, on the Douglas County School Board for two terms, member and president of the Carson Valley Active 20-30 Club and a charter member of the Carson Valley Lions Club.

Perhaps, what he was known for the most in Carson Valley was owning a grocery store, the Gardnerville Food Store, in Gardnerville from 1940 to 1963.

He got in the grocery business when he worked for Safeway in Reno for two years.

"I kept wrestling Safeway and finally they said there was a strike in Reno," said Jones. "(They said) 'Go there as a strike breaker and they'll put you on.' And I went there and got on and worked with them for two years."

Jones was sent to Carson Valley to act as a relief manager at the Gardnerville Safeway for two weeks. When his time was up, he was asked to stay on.

"The district manager pulled me aside and said, 'They're going to close this store in two years and I'll help you open your own store,'" said Jones. "And that's how we ... how we came down here to Gardnerville to live. That was 1940."

The Gardnerville Food Store today is Cheshire Antiques, 1421 Highway 395.

While he owned the store he joined the Merchant Marines.

"He couldn't be drafted because he already had three kids," said his daughter-in-law Honor Settelmeyer Jones, married to Max Jones' son, Max LaMar Jones Jr. "He didn't want to go into the Army, he was already walking in the grocery store 10 hours a day. His only option was to be a Merchant Marine."

Max Sr. owned and operated the Gardnerville Food Store for 22 years, but competition was close by, with the Carson Valley Mercantile selling groceries, hardware and mercantile goods just next door. He eventually decided to sell it.

"I went next door to the Merc one morning and Luke Neddenriep 'come' over," said Max Sr. "He says, 'We're not getting anywhere, the two of us. You either buy me out or I'll buy you out.' I said, 'I'll sell 'cause I don't have money to buy.' And he said, 'OK, how much do you want?' And I said, '$50,000' which was a tremendous amount of money. And he said, "OK, we'll pay so much a month.' And I said, 'fine.'

"And I picked up my tools - butcher tools - and went home."

Max Sr. was worried that his wife, Lura Miller Jones, now deceased, wouldn't approve of the sudden sale, but when she found out how much he got for the store, she softened.

"And we took a full year off from work 'cause I'd been workin' 80 hours a week ever since I opened that store," said Max Sr. "We traveled all over the United States."

Max Jr. was in the Army during this time, but the Jones' three daughters, Lura Lee, Eileen and Mary Jane, all went with their parents.

"The minute I said, 'Let's go to Alaska,' the girls said, 'No, we've lived out of the suitcase long enough,'" said Max Sr. "So we went home and I had a good horse named Casey and a Stensen airplane. So I'd fly and maybe go to Elko, Winnemucca, Battle Mountain with the ranchers that I knew and I'd help 'em for free with their cattle 'cause I just loved it.

"And that's how I got envisioned with the airplane and the horse," he said referring to how everyone came to know him as with either his Stensen or with Casey.

During the interim between selling the store and starting his own Farmers Insurance business was when Jones started helping the ranchers.

"He was known as the weekend cowboy," said Honor. "During calving and branding, they need extra help so they'd call upon him to do it."

"He started the wild horse program here when the horses got snowed in on Bald Mountain," said his daughter, Mary Jane Lake, the youngest of his children at age 59. We would fly after wild horses, then come back and get on horseback and chase wild horses. Sometimes we'd get yearlings and train them and give them to people."

Max Jr. said his fondest memory of his dad is their time together in the Boy Scouts.

"We went camping up at Lake Tahoe, at Glenbrook, said Max Jr., now 68, the eldest of the Jones children. "I remember going up there camping when nobody lived there."

Lake recalled a time when it flooded on Gilman Avenue.

"All the townspeople were there, including the Boy Scouts," said Lake. "He made these boys cross this rope across the flood."

Max Jr., Tommy Mack, Chuck Bohlman and Royal Crowell were among the local boys holding onto the rope, Lake said.

While he was scout master, he started a Carson Valley Days tradition.

"He would round up seniors and bring them to the (Minden) park," said Honor. "The scouts would serve the seniors."

"They dug holes and would cook the meat all night," said Lake.

For 30 years of service in the Boy Scouts, Jones received the Silver Beaver award, as did his son. He received the Pine Nut Award and the Duty to God award in the church because of his activity in the scouts.

Max Sr. said he thinks his biggest contribution to the Valley was being a volunteer fireman.

"I was a fireman for 32 years," said Max Sr. "And when that whistle would blow at night," he said making a whistling sound, "we'd always get up and there was a fire department that wasn't very far from where we lived. So I 'prit' near always was one or two - the first or second person there."

Max Sr. said his one regret was when his daughter's house burned down in 1987.

"There was one tragedy though," he said. "The wind was blowing one night and sparks from a wood stove ignited the roof on a home, my daughter Mary Jane's home, and it engulfed the whole house. It took the fire truck a long, long time to respond, too long, and when it got there it drove right by, missed her turn. Lost the whole house."

Max Sr. was the founding member of the Douglas County Sheriff's Posse, which he served for 10 years. He was one of the first people on the scene at the March 1, 1964, crash of Paradise Airlines at the top of Genoa Peak during a snowstorm, claiming 87 lives. He recalls dropping groceries from a plane to snowbound miners in Placerville, chasing mustangs from the air and combing the mountains on horseback looking for the lost.

"We went over to Smith Valley to find a lost boy and we found him," said Max Sr. "He'd been out all night but it was warm. Jean Lekumberry and I 'was' riding horses and we came around a turn and here's this little boy sittin' on a rock. He said, 'Could I ride that horse?'"

While serving as Douglas County Civil Defense director for two years, he evacuated both the towns of Minden and Gardnerville.

"That's when we expected Russia to drop some atomic bombs on us," said Max Sr. "We used the route on the County Road to go out that way and then we used another route to go south."

His work with the church was high on his list of accomplishments, and among other assignments, he was the first presiding elder for the Carson Valley branch of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. He was the driving force behind fundraising for the new church in Gardnerville, earning money by constructing and selling a house, cleaning yards and newly built homes and growing Christmas trees.

"I sprayed bugs under houses, without protection. We didn't know any better," said Max Sr. "George Silk and me cleaned 10,000 bricks and sold them for 35 cents each. We cut wood donated by the sawmill, that was unsuitable for construction. We split up 65 cords of wood from my back yard and sold it for $35 a cord. I'd start before daybreak never noticing lights were going on in the neighbors' houses and one day the sheriff stopped by and told me the neighbors was complaining and not to start so early."

Max Sr. has seen lots of changes since he came to the Valley more than six decades ago.

Honor quoted her uncle, Fred Settelmeyer, who said, "I'm a stranger in my own hometown," when talking about changes her father-in-law has seen.

Max Sr. said growth has had both the most positive and most negative impact on the Valley.

"Growth has really changed the community from when I got here. It was a sleepy agricultural community then, 'bout 1,200 population," said Max Sr.

"Bently coming in and starting his business that employs 1,200 people. It brought positive diversification from agriculture."

On the negative side, Max Sr. said, "(Growth) has overcrowded our schools, our traffic, our sewer and our water. You don't know everyone like we did back then, there is more crime."

Prior to living in Carson Valley, he experienced more than many people do in a lifetime, working at odd jobs since he was a young boy. From the age of 4 and 5 he had chores to do on the farm and he was riding horses by the age of 6. He has been a janitor, a paper boy, a wood splitter and miner, among other things.

He was one of 16 children borne to Mary Jane Thomas and Daniel Jones, whose ancestors both immigrated from Wales. The large family lived in a two-room house in Malad, Idaho. They could only take one bath a week, but washed their feet every night since they had to sleep staggered in the bed, said Honor. His grandfather on his mother's side was chief of police in Malad and his grandfather on his father's side was a sheep herder. Max Sr.'s father was a sheep farmer.

His biggest heartaches in life have been losing members of his family.

"I haven't had too many (heartaches) except when Mom (his wife, Lura) died," said Max Sr. "When 13 of my brothers and sisters and two infant siblings died, brought heartache. My three grandparents 'was' buried, my parents 'was' buried. I'm the only one living now."

In 1950, the Jones family decided to go to Idaho to visit relatives for the holidays, which ended in a disaster. On the return drive to Gardnerville, just outside of Touelle, Utah, they got into an auto accident. Lura had the worst injuries, her neck had been broken in three places, and she spent three weeks in the Touelle hospital.

"While she was in Touelle, she received 105 cards, flowers and telephone calls," said Max Sr. "And when we landed at the airport, every dignitary in the Valley was there. I said, 'This is our Valley, this is home."

Max Sr. then came up with the saying that has since become familiar to his friends and family, "I love this Valley and the people in it."

n Jo Rafferty can be reached at jrafferty@recordcourier.com or 782-5121, ext. 210.


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