By: Wendy Thompson (former SYRCL River Monitoring Program Coordinator)
The name Don Jones will always bring a smile to the faces of those who knew him. Don’s retired life revolved around the Yuba River. He became a stalwart volunteer-of-all-trades as one of SYRCL’s first and foremost River Monitors in 2000, and did everything he could to help SYRCL gain Wild and Scenic status for the Yuba!
Don loved gold panning up and down the North Yuba, and chose to monitor there at Site #1 (Union Flat) above Downieville for many years. Past River Monitoring Program Coordinator, Wendy Thompson remembers Don on one of those wintry monitoring days back in 2008. The rocks were covered in slippery ice and the temperatures were frigid. The two most elderly guys in the cadre of volunteer monitors, boasting ages of over eighty were heading out! Frank Wright and Don Jones arrived layered with warm jackets, heavy boots, carrying walking sticks and had a determination to monitor the river no matter what! This was their primary pleasure of the month and no one could take that away from them! They always returned with smiles and warmed hearts from completing their mission of protecting and restoring the Yuba River, no doubt with a helping hand from their younger teammate, Jerry Dubesa.
Jerry shares that it was just a wonderful experience to work with Don as a river monitor for almost 10 years. The ride up to the site and back was filled with lively conversation about politics, philosophy, geology and astronomy, to name just a few topics du jour, and it was nice as they shared many similar points of view. They had their own theories to rival the Big Bang, and thoroughly enjoyed espousing them.
One time Don spoke about his experiences at Poker Flat, where he did some mining in the old days. Many of those old miners he met were pretty colorful characters that would fit right in with the 49’ers. On one occasion, Don found the road rougher than usual and he high-centered his pickup, and of course this was back in the day before cell phones. Evidently, Don had to hike out quite a ways to get help, and was quite late getting home probably giving his wife, Dorothy, a few gray hairs on that adventure.
Jerry recalls one other favorite story that Don shared with him about his early days when he and a friend were fishing in the Long Beach harbor. They saw a very large sea plane taxiing away from a large building right on the docks. The sea plane slowly picked up speed and eventually became airborne. It wasn’t in the air too long and did not get very high, but it was most historic nonetheless and must have been a thrill for Don. It was the “Spruce Goose” in its maiden, and only, flight with Howard Hughes in the pilot seat. Don must have been in his mid-twenties then because that was 68 years ago, in 1947.
Another previous SYRCL staff member, Carlyle Miller, has very fond memories of the fun she had when Don took her and her grandfather gold panning at Bridgeport, just one of the ways Don offered moral support to SYRCL staff members. Kayle Martin, former Volunteer Coordinator at SYRCL, saw the joy and devotion Don held for the river in his appearance in the beautiful documentary by Gregg Schiffner, “Stories of the Yuba.” Janet Cohen, former Executive Director of SYRCL recalls that Don was unstoppable in taking on virtually every volunteer job, starting back in the early 1990’s – helping at mailing parties, letter writing and phone calling campaigns, lobbying for the Yuba’s Wild and Scenic status at the State Capitol in 1999 and helping at all SYRCL’s parties and events. He even used to deliver SYRCL’s former newsletter, the Sierra Citizen, down to Penn Valley says Kathy Dotson, SYRCL’s previous River People Director.
Don’s activities are legendary and inspirational. Don loved his life, he loved the Yuba and SYRCL. The memories he has left behind will stay in our hearts for many years to come!
A memorial gathering for Don will be held on June 28th from 11am to 2pm at the North Star House (12075 Auburn Road, Grass Valley, CA 95949).