Buchanan’s oldest African American resident turns 90

Published 10:49 am Monday, April 15, 2019

NILES — Sitting on a gold throne and surrounded by black and white balloons, with a banner reading “The Mighty Chessman” above him, one of Buchanan’s most prominent community members celebrated his 90th birthday. 

Friday, a celebration was hosted in honor of James, better known as “J.W.,” Jones inside of the Niles Bell Building, 305 N. Fourth St., Niles. Jones, who will turn 90 on April 18, is the oldest living African American in the city of Buchanan. In honor of that milestone, City Commissioner and Mayor Pro tempore Dale Tourene presented Jones with a key to the city of Buchanan. Jones was also recognized by representatives with Buchanan Community Schools, the Buchanan Northside Community and the Buchanan Paper.

“[The city commission] wanted to recognize the African American community and all that it has done for Buchanan,” Tourene said of the presentation. “This was an opportunity to do that. … We think it is great that Jones is celebrating his birthday [Friday night].”

“In his long and productive lifetime, [Jones] has demonstrated in countless ways his dedication to those around him and has earned the respect of people from walks of life and all ages,” added retired Buchanan social studies teacher Ruth Writer, reading from a statement written by Mayor Patricia Moore. “In his quiet way, he has been a force for good and a positive influence.”

Jones moved to Buchanan from St. Louis, Missouri when he was 21 years old to look for a job. For 35 years, he worked at Clark Equipment in Buchanan, where he earned the nickname “The Mighty Chessman,” which was his CB handle at the time.

Over the last several decades, Jones said he made Buchanan his home through his work and his family. He said he has always worked to treat others with kindness and that he was moved by the reciprocal kindness showed to him at Friday’s celebration.

“I feel good,” he said. “This is all very nice.”

The celebration was organized by Jones’ grandchildren Rachel Haughee, Valerie Jones and Camerin Jones. All three said they believed that their grandfather deserved to be recognized for the good that he has done in the Buchanan community during his lifetime.

“[Jones] has been a staple in the community,” Valerie said. “He has fed the community. He plows snow. He has just done a lot for a long time.”

“He is a hard worker, and he has passed that work ethic down to his children, his grandchildren and the community,” Camerin added. “He is very loved.”

Jones’ grandchildren said they were pleased by the turnout Friday and the way the city leaders recognized Jones with a key to the city.

“It’s a good feeling, and I think [Jones] is excited and surprised,” Haughee said.

As he enters his 90th year of life, Jones said he plans to continue what he has always done: keep a clean house, raise a garden and help out others when they need it.

“That all keeps me pretty busy,” he said.