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Will Jones: A teacher who will be remembered

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By Tracy Harris

Countless good memories are buoying members of the North Oldham High community after the loss of an inspiring teacher.

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After waging a long battle with cancer, teacher Will Jones, 37, died early March 15.

Madeleine Ricks, a 2009 NOHS graduate, said she is finding solace in her memories of the human geography and world history teacher.

Ricks remembers Jones offering Laffy Taffy candy as a prize in class — if students would sing the 2006 hit song by the same name.

Students loved his light-hearted approach, but also excelled under his tutelage.

Jones taught the first Advanced Placement human geography class at NOHS during the 2007-08 school year. A student in that class, Ricks remembers Jones apologizing for the rockiness that comes with a new course.

Nonetheless, Ricks said almost all the students earned top scores on the AP exam.

Jones, a Georgia native, was diagnosed with metistatic neuroendocrine carcinoma in July 2009. He and his wife Katie had just announced they were expecting their first child, William Mark “Mack” Jones V, now 2.

Teachers and students mourned Jones by writing letters to his family and creating memorial posters.

“Will Jones left an indelible mark on this school community,” said principal Lisa Jarrett. “His legacy will live on forever in the hearts of each of us.”

Ricks, now a junior at Louisiana State University, kept in touch with Jones after graduation.

She still remembers Jones turning the Danity Kane song “Show Stoppin’” into a motto for students.

“Whatever it was, he told us to be show stopping,” she said. “I hope we can all find comfort in the little things he left to make us smile.”

Jones taught at the North Oldham campus for nine years, spending his first year as a middle school teacher before NOHS opened the following year.

As one of the first teachers at NOHS, Jones encouraged students to be positive about becoming a high school, Ricks said.

“There was no school spirit, no belief in ourselves,” she said. “But he never let us say ‘I hate this school.’”

Jones wanted the students to be proud of NOHS and wanted to see a school community develop.

“We really are North now,” Ricks said.

Jones continued teaching through much of his battle with cancer — his last day in the classroom was March 9.

Jones underwent a number of surgeries, radiation and chemotherapy. 

The beginning of his treatments came during summer break, but Jones continued radiation treatments during the fall semester.

Jones told The Oldham Era then that he didn’t know if he would be able to make it through the school day because of nausea and other side effects from treatment.

But he continued teaching and coaching football, despite the aid of a walker and cane for several months.

In October 2009, the cancer in his liver and lungs had nearly disappeared and Jones was optimistic — although his optimism didn’t waver as his battle continued.

That month, “Walkin’ For Will” at NOHS raised nearly $5,000 for his cancer treatment. The walk-a-thon was held before the season’s last home football game, and many players, students, faculty and parents walked to support the assistant coach.

Students and staff wore “Walkin’ For Will,” “You, Me and Mr. Jones” and “WILL Power” T-shirts throughout Jones’ treatment.

Jones became both a recipient and purveyor of the faculty’s prayer list, a fact that caught the eye of teacher and documentary filmmaker Roy LeBlanc.

He interviewed Jones in February for an upcoming short film about the prayer list and showed that interview to faculty just after Jones died. LeBlanc plans to make the footage available to Jones’s family for use in memorial ceremonies.

Coaches handed out football jerseys Friday so players can wear them to the funeral.

School receptionist Lisa Lowrey describes Jones as a wonderful member of the NOHS family.

“North Oldham High School was lucky to have had such an inspiration and he will never know how much he will be missed,” she said.

Hundreds of former students, colleagues, friends and family posted on the “Support Will Jones!” Facebook group Thursday. More than 1,500 people belong to the group, which Jones and his wife, Katie, used to post updates.

Many students have changed their Facebook profile photos to the “Will Power” fist that adorns many posters and T-shirts.

Michelle Aubrey, a former student, said she had Jones as a teacher twice while at NOHS.

“Out of all the teachers I had he had one of the greater impacts,” she said. “His enthusiasm and joy was inspiring. He was never afraid to do something silly for a laugh and his unadulterated kindness and spirit is something that will stick with me for life.”

Jones was admitted to the hospital with pneumonia on Monday.

Katie posted on the Facebook group that Jones did not suffer in his final days and spent his last hours surrounded by family and friends.

“After a long, determined battle, Will could fight no more,” she wrote.

Many teachers and students heard the news before school began Thursday. Junior Will Conard led a student prayer circle Thursday during lunch attended by several hundred students.

Jarrett said the strength and togetherness shown by students and staff has been “truly remarkable.”

Students have written cards and letters to Jones’s family and are starting on a mural in the lobby. Jarrett said they hope to rename the football stadium after Jones.

In her final update, Katie echoed the impact the community had on her family’s lives.

“I have never witnessed such an outpouring of love and support in my life,” she said. “I will never be able to thank all of you personally or enough for all you have done for our family over the past two-and-a-half years. I know that it meant the world to Will, too.”

Originally from Marietta, Ga., Jones earned a bachelor’s degree from Hanover College in Indiana and his master’s degree from Bellarmine University.

Jones is survived by wife, Katie, and son, Mack. Services were Monday, March 19, at Northeast Christian Church. Memorial contributions may go to the “Will Power” student scholarship fund at NOHS or to the American Cancer Society.