WALLA WALLA — The man know as "Mr. Baseball" for his passion for the sport and his efforts to establish Walla Walla’s first organized youth baseball leagues died on Friday.
Gerwyn A. Jones, 99, helped establish the first Little League teams in 1950, and went on to help establish Pony and Colt leagues for older teens in the years that followed.
"He was kind of known as Mr. Baseball in Walla Walla for a while ... because he basically started youth baseball here," said Mel Haas, 82, Little League District administrator from 1977 to 2008, who worked with Jones in the mid-1950s to establish local leagues.
But baseball was only part of Jones’ activities to support youth sports. A basketball and football referee for a number of years, he also worked toward the creation of the city’s municipal pool and YMCA facility.
Born in 1910 in Wardner, Idaho, Jones lived most of his life here, graduated from Walla Walla High School and Whitman College and played baseball for the Whitman team. In 1934 he taught at Colfax High School, where he also coached baseball.
Jones’ son, Brian, described his father’s love of sports as "unreal," as well as his commitment to a variety of community services organizations.
"Trying to keep up with 99 years of your dad’s stuff is hard. If I can do half of what he did in his lifetime that would be more than most," Jones said.
Since 1932, Jones served on dozens of volunteer committees and boards. Many of those efforts centered on youth sports, and he helped establish the Veteran’s Memorial Golf Course and Borleske Stadium facilities.
"He loved them (sports). Baseball was his favorite ... He did it to give the youth an opportunity to do things," Brian Jones said.
But the man known as Mr. Baseball was also known for his support of education, including his volunteer work as one of the co-founders of Walla Walla Community College.
The college’s first president, Pete Dietrich, remembers how Jones was an optimistic friend who would encourage him during the first few struggling years of the college.
"He was probably the most optimistic person that I was in contact with during the time when we were having very difficult growing pains ... He was one of the people that understood it (the community college) and thought it would be good and that we should support it," Dietrich said.
Jones also served numerous terms on Walla Walla’s school district board, and served consecutive terms as chairman of the board through the 1950s.
Jones was also a downtown businessman, who co-owned and operated Cox-Jones Insurance from 1934 to 2000, when he retired, Brian Jones said.
Along with his love for sports and education was his love of history, said Fort Walla Walla board member Margaret Buchan, who recalled working with Jones on the Walla Walla Pioneer and Historical Society, as well as working with him to establish and run the Fort Walla Walla Museum in the early years.
"He kept it going. He oversaw the building. He oversaw the finances. He oversaw the fundraising," she said, adding that Jones’ volunteering was not limited to a single area.
"He is a Walla Walla icon in my humble opinion. He has done so much in the community ... He had his finger in everything. In every progressive movement in Walla Walla he was involved," she said.
Alfred Diaz can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 526-8325.