Walla Walla youth baseball tips cap to Gerwyn Jones


WALLA WALLA - Figuratively speaking, Gerwyn Jones' ashes are spread all over this valley.

Jones, who died last November a few months shy of his 100th birthday, had his fingerprints on almost every facet of life in Walla Walla and the surrounding area for the better part of eight decades.

As a community activist, he was a mover and shaker of the highest magnitude.

From the Fort Walla Walla Historical Society to the Rotary Club, from the YMCA to the Red Cross to the Christian Aid Center to School District 140, Gerwyn's name can be found somewhere in all of their past histories. Veterans Memorial Golf Course, Whitman College, Walla Walla Community College, Walla Walla Parks and Recreation and the Chamber of Commerce - they're all on his list, too.

And many, many more.

Check out Gerwyn's obituary in last year's Nov. 22 issue of the Walla Walla Union-Bulletin. Just be sure to give yourself more than a few minutes to read it all.

But, as Brian Jones, Gerwyn's middle son, always points out, "baseball was his passion."

As if any of us who knew Gerwyn didn't already know that.

Gerwyn played baseball at Wa-Hi and at Whitman. He coached the game. And he got behind it and pushed it forward with all of his might.

He's considered the father of Little League baseball in Walla Walla. He helped organize the Pony/Colt baseball program here in town, and Bronco baseball in College Place.

And he was one of the founding members of Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball, an organization created with the express purpose of helping fund youth baseball programs in the valley.

Dennis Poffenroth was another member of that original group, and he fondly remembers how - and why - it all got started.

"This was back in 1987," Poffenroth related. "I was part of a group of concerned parents who had been through the experience of having kids play in summer baseball programs and saw the disjoining of those programs.

"We saw the lack of consistent volunteerism, particularly after Little League, and difficulties getting people who were willing to coach, and getting umpires. And we had a lot of disjoining with the high school programs.

"And one of the big problems was fund raising."

The biggest problem, as Poffenroth remembers it, was financially getting from one season to the next. Gerwyn was the keeper of the coffers in those days, and he somehow made it work. But it wasn't easy.

"I can still remember Gerwyn having a shoebox in his office where he had a couple of thousand dollars," Poffenroth recalled with a chuckle. "He had it planted in his office, and that was the league money we had to get from one year to the next. It was all we had in reserve."

Even back then, buying baseballs and purchasing new uniforms before player fees were collected no doubt put the league in the red.

"So that's how (WWVYB) evolved," Poffenroth said. "And Red Golden, Dick Cook, Put Jungmann, Chuck Cochrane, Gary Sirmon, Gerwyn and myself were the instigators."

In addition to the Pony/Colt baseball program - which eventually made the switch to Babe Ruth - Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball also took the American Legion baseball programs under its umbrella as well Senior Little League softball.

To generate the dollars needed to help underwrite these programs, one of the organization's first steps was to establish a major fund-raiser. The annual Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball Dinner-Dance and Auction became that important tool.

"The dinner-dance has always been a well-received event," Poffenroth said. "And it has gotten bigger and bigger. But it still didn't give us enough money to carry forward and do all that we needed to do. So we started looking at the potential of raising money in other ways."

By that time, Jock Edwards had come on board. And Edwards was also involved in the Sherwood Trust.

"We started talking about an endowment," Poffenroth said. "Getting enough money together that would carry the program for the next 20, 30, 40 years."

With Edwards' help, the organization received a $125,000 pledge from the Sherwood Trust provided the group could match that amount. It took about five years, Poffenroth said, but the matching dollars were finally acquired through a variety of personal and corporate contributions.

"We now have an endowment of $250,000," Poffenroth said. "That was our goal, and that money is still there today perpetuating."

According to Jim Johnson, who also became involved in Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball during its infancy, the purpose of the endowment is for "special requests" rather than the day-to-day operations of any of the programs that fall under its umbrella.

"Walla Walla Youth Baseball is on pretty good footing," Johnson said. "The dinner-dance has grown substantially so that we are able to fund most of the (routine) requests that we get."

However, little has been done to build on the endowment in a number of years, Johnson said.

"Honestly, the effort hasn't been that great," Johnson said. "It is something we need to do. We need to work a little harder."

According to Poffenroth, it was always Gerwyn's goal to have a million dollars in the endowment. That vision considered, Walla Walla Valley Youth Baseball has moved forward with long-discussed plans to recognize the endowment in Gerwyn's memory.

"We all felt that because of the contributions Gerwyn has made to youth sports in this community, it would be fitting to name the fund in his memory," Poffenroth said. "We originally announced the plan several years ago at one of our dinner-dances, and we have now formally done that. It is now the Gerwyn A. Jones Memorial Endowment Fund.

"I guess what spurred us to make it more formal was Gerwyn's passing."

It's a good decision, well-deserved recognition for Gerwyn's lifetime of dedication to his passion for baseball.

And one more line in a legacy of service that seems to go on forever.


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