Gordon E. Jones
ONEONTA — Gordon E. Jones, former director of Planting Fields Arboretum in Oyster Bay, and a former resident of Penn Yan, Oyster Bay, and Stanley, died on Dec. 16, 2013, at his home in Oneonta. The love of his life, his wife of 66 years, Thelma or “Thelm” as he affectionately called her, was at his side together with other family members.
“Gordie,” as he was called by his Alpha Gamma Rho fraternity brothers at Cornell, regretted missing his 70th reunion this past spring. Cornell played an important part in his life. It was there that he formed deep friendships with his fraternity brothers which would last a lifetime, studied ornamental horticulture, where he met Thelma on a blind date (engineered by her beloved sister, Alice, and Gordon’s fraternity brother, Jim) and where he participated in ROTC.
After graduation he served in the U.S. Army in the European theater with the 17th Airborne Division, flying by glider with artillery equipment onto the Continent behind German lines and acting as the aide to General Joseph V. Phelps. Upon leaving the Army with the rank of Captain, he joined Robson Seed Company in Hall, and was in charge of flower seed research and seed trials. This explains how our family happened to appear in Robson Seed Catalogs chomping down sweet corn in advertisements.
In 1957, he became the Director of Planting Fields Arboretum. He loved Planting Fields: the camellias, rhododendrons, azaleas, and green houses filled with orchids. All were his pride and joy and his ability to provide the Latin name for every tree and flower as he walked the grounds continues to amaze. The synoptic garden there, which he designed, bears his name.
But his real passion was his own vegetable garden. He loved nothing more than to walk behind his cultivator pushing it furrow by furrow, reaching down to sow the seeds of his vegetable crop by hand, seeds with names such as Seneca Chief, Bodacious and Sugar Baby, looking forward to the harvest and bringing fresh food to the table.
He played leadership roles in numerous plant and flower societies: The Holly Society of America, the American Rhododendron Society, the American Association of Botanical Gardens and Arboreta, the Hortus Club of New York — to name a few and received numerous horticultural awards including the Gold Medal Award from the American Rhododendron Society and the Gold Medal of Horticulture Award from the NY State Nurseryman’s Association.
He grew up in rural Jefferson County. After moving to Long Island, his horizons broadened and he developed a serious interest in international exchanges and foreign travel. Exchange students from Norway, India and France, who lived in the Jones household, found a second father in Gordon. A devoted Rotarian, he led a team of Rotarians on a trip to India and immensely enjoyed the fellowship which comes with this organization and attending meetings in Beijing, Hong Kong and other foreign cities so as not to miss a meeting.
He was also an active member of St. Paul’s Methodist Church in Oyster Bay, the Seneca Castle United Methodist Church and the First United Methodist Church in Oneonta, and was often asked to take up leadership roles due to his quiet humility and good judgment. While living in Stanley, both he and Thelma enjoyed delivering Meals on Wheels for many years.
He is survived by his loving wife, Thelma; children, Susan (James) Gradziel, Thomas (Liping) Jones, Robin (Jose) Medina, Peter (Gabriele) Jones; grandchildren, Lisa Gradziel, Michael (Joy Liu) Gradziel, Kailin Jones, Kairei Jones, Molly Medina, Leia Medina, Kathryn Jones, Sarah Jones, Lillian Jones, Emma Jones; great-grandchild, Norman Gradziel; predeceased by, parents, Edwin and Edna Jones; grandson, Kaiwen Jones; and daughter-in-law, Elizabeth Walsh Jones.
In his honor a beautiful rhododendron, the “Gordon E. Jones,” was named after him, a fitting tribute to a man who loved the earth.
A memorial service will be at 2 p.m. Saturday, Jan. 4, 2014, at the Plains Heritage Building at The Plains at Parish Homestead, 163 Heritage Circle, Oneonta, NY 13820.
In lieu of flowers, the family suggests that donations be made to the Planting Fields Foundation to support the development of the new sensory garden (www.plantingfields.org).
Arrangements are with the Lewis, Hurley & Pietrobono Funeral Home, 51 Dietz St., Oneonta.
Expressions of sympathy may be sent to www.lhpfuneralhome.com.