Eugene Lee Jones arrived into this world July 6, 1934, the third of six children born to Delbert and Vola Jones. He was raised in Idaho’s picturesque Bear Lake Valley in the town of Montpelier. His childhood included memories of playing “red-rover” during recess, building “houses” from the colorful maple leaves that covered his yard in the fall, winter always brought an abundance of snow to play in, but the summers were the best and much too short! He would play in Bear Lake or the Hot Springs nearby and especially enjoyed adventuring in the canyons and mountains close to home. That love of adventuring continued throughout his adult life as he acquired big boy toys, often taking off for day trips with motorcycles or snowmobiles in tow.
World War II and the bombing of Pearl Harbor is one of his most vivid childhood memories. As little boys do, he and his friends spent hours in play combat, dressed in military uniforms and playing with their homemade walkie talkies of two tin cans with a string pulled tight.
His family owned a farm and grocery-meat market where he learned to work hard and run a business. He often recounted how much he hated milking the cow. He acquired a taste for different cuts of meat, much to his children’s displeasure, when he brought home cow tongue or liver for dinner.
In high school he was a natural leader serving as Freshmen, Senior and Seminary President. Friends, dances, and especially a love for football were a big part of those years. As a scrawny freshman of 135 pounds he was determined to play the game and play it well. He worked hard and put on 12 pounds and lettered that year. He would say that the opposing linemen had to be thrilled when they saw all 147 pounds of him lined up across from them.
A $50.00 scholarship to BYU was a defining moment in his life – Provo, Utah now became his home base. College life had its own new challenges. One of his first letters home he asked his mother to send recipes, “especially meat loaf and that one with egg noodles and tuna that I like so well!” He was also busy trying “to keep from showing his ignorance” as he served on the honor council “with top students who certainly have some keen minds.”
Two years into college he was called to serve as a missionary in the East Central States Mission. He taught the gospel in West Virginia, Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi. Early on he spoke of the “great desire he had to proclaim the restoration of the gospel.” And wrote of holding a “street meeting on a Saturday afternoon” where he “conducted, preached and gave out some ninety BOM.” A year into his mission he wrote home about the missionary’s universal concern, “I am losing a little hair, but I think its holding pretty steady right now. I have done just a little worrying about it.” In January of 1957 he was released from his mission and returned to BYU with most of his hair intact.
The next two years were his BYU glory years. He was a very active member of the Val Hyric fraternity where he made many lifelong friends. He served in student government where according to a BYU bio he was “BYU’s greatest” President of the Associated Men Students. In May of 1959 he was awarded a Bachelor degree in Business Management. Unfortunately, he was unable to attend his commencement as he had to report for military duty in Fort Ord, California. Luckily the world took some time off of warring and his years in the military were spent in the reserve with summer training.
Upon his release from the Army he returned to BYU to obtain a Master’s Degree or as he said, “a Mrs!” He entered into the casualty insurance business and found his Mrs when he hired his beautiful, dark haired secretary, Sandra Hugentobler, from Buhl, Idaho. In August of 1961 they were married in the Salt Lake Temple.
That same year he took a leap of faith, borrowed $2500 and went into partnership with his college roommate and bought a local ski shop. That decision turned into the Village Sports Den, a sporting goods and clothing shop, that spanned 14 years and 5 stores along the Wasatch front.
During this time, he and Sandy became homeowners and parents to first Chere and then Michelle. Thinking that a boy must be next, they instead became the proud parents of three more girls, Suzette, Claudine, and Stephanie. Proudly he taught his girls to throw a football in a perfect spiral, explained the game as they watched BYU football, and took them on numerous motorcycle and snowmobile trips. Tragically their first son, Christopher Lee, was stillborn. During these years Eugene served in the Church as a counselor in the Bishopric, Young Men’s President, Temple Worker, Branch President, and Counselor in the Language Training Mission Presidency.
After so many years of business success hinging on a snowy winter, he sold the retail stores and formed J2 Homes and Construction with his brother, CJ. Unbeknownst to him, the Lord had other plans in mind. In the spring of 1978, a son, Michael, was born and at the ripe old age of 43, he and Sandy were called to preside over the Arkansas Little Rock Mission of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints. This was a challenging but precious time proclaiming the gospel while helping mold and shape the lives of over 500 missionaries.
After returning home from Arkansas, another son, Brandon, was born. At this time Eugene was called as Bishop. Always thinking of the individual, he tried a unique approach in a ward filled with underused talent. Every year for the five years he served, he would completely reorganize the ward from the organization presidents down. He gained great satisfaction in seeing his ward members flourish as they served in many different capacities.
Not long after being released from Bishop he was called to be the Stake President of the BYU 15th Stake. Recognizing the need for the students to have greater opportunities to serve and be individually known, he tried a progressive and innovative approach of creating a council system in each ward with the goal of every ward member having a calling. This idea has continued throughout several generations of BYU stake presidents and is one of his continuing legacies.
He would consider his greatest accomplishment and joy his marriage of 58 years to Sandra, his eight children and their spouses, 28 grandchildren, and 4 great grandchildren and counting. When asked why they are grateful for their grandpa some of the responses given were: gives big hugs; fun to talk to; sees the positive; willing to help, forgive and care; and great leader, example and testimony.
Eugene’s words in a final letter to his missionaries, dated June 22, 1981 is a fitting conclusion to a remarkable life that touched the lives of thousands of God’s children and continues into the eternities. I am going to take the liberty of changing two words -
“Dear (Friends and Family) Fellow Missionaries:
From time to time our lives present opportunities for us to reflect on past performance, present position and future opportunities. Such reflections can be to our advantage if we resolve to move forward to achieve greater heights.
As I reflect on my (life) mission experience I sense some areas of growth in faith and understanding. I recognize some areas of failure that sadden me. I feel very blessed in my present position and feel confident that I will continue to enjoy much happiness and satisfaction in the future. The years ahead hold unlimited opportunities for growth and success. I am anxious for the challenge!
Take time to reflect from time to time before it is too late. In a few brief years we will each face the judgment bar of God. At that point in time may we each feel comfortable with the words of the great missionary Apostle, Paul, as he addressed Timothy, “I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith.” (II Timothy 4:7)
A viewing will be held Monday, February 8, 2021, at the Sundberg-Olpin Mortuary from 9:30-10:30 am at 495 S State Street, Orem. Funeral services will follow at 11:00 am. Due to Covid-19 restrictions, the number in attendance will be limited.
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