Alaskan Pioneer and longtime Homer resident Wayne E. Jones, 89, died Thursday, May 8, 2014 in Homer.
Wayne was born in Syracuse, N.Y., on Nov. 19, 1924, to Vinal and Etta (Nash) Jones and, as described in his father’s diary on the day of his birth, was a “well-built little fellow.” He was born while his mother accompanied his father on a business trip, and they returned to their River Edge, N.J., home the following week.
In 1929 tragedy struck Wayne early in life when his mother, Etta, died of complications from an appendix surgery when he was only 4-years-old. Wayne had a younger and older brother, and with the devastating loss of his mother, and his father grief stricken, it was decided that he and his younger brother, Byron, should live with his aunt Alta in Los Angeles, Calif. Wayne traveled via the Panama Canal to Los Angeles and lived there for five years before returning to the east coast in 1935 and living in Pemaquid (Bristol), Maine, reuniting with his family.
Living in Maine, Wayne learned to hunt, fish and had a great interest in archery and marksmanship. In May 1943 Wayne was drafted into the Army and reported for duty. As an infantryman sharpshooter in the Army during World War II in the South Pacific, Wayne made beach landings at Leyte Gulf, Guam and Okinawa, and is well known for his war stories. Upon his return from the war back to Maine in January 1946, Wayne read “A Call of the Wild,” by Jack London, and had his heart set on Alaska.
In May 1946, Wayne and his older brother bought an old Ford truck and started out for Alaska, arriving in Seattle and then completing the journey to Anchorage by ship by the end of June 1946. Wayne, his brother and other WWII veterans walked the beach from Ninilchik to Homer to select a piece of land to homestead. A waterfall caught Wayne’s eye on the beach walk to Homer just north of Happy Valley, and he decided that “if there is water, then I could survive.”
Life on the homestead was rough, but Wayne’s skills from his childhood in Maine, and his ability to persevere through the war saw him through, but life was lonely on the homestead. Wayne’s older brother met a German girl during the war in Germany, and the girl’s sister wrote to Wayne after the war, starting a love-letter writing campaign that lasted for six years.
On Feb. 14, 1954, at the Anchorage airport, Wayne met Dora Mattheus, the German girl he was writing to for the past six years. Wayne and Dora were married four days later. He did not know German and she did not know English; it was love at first sight. Wayne lived on the homestead with Dora, and they had one son a year later. Wayne then started his career as a heavy equipment mechanic with the Civil Aviation Administration in 1955 before it became the Federal Aviation Administration in 1958. He traveled all over Alaska for the FAA, but eventually settled into a stationary position at the Homer FAA station in 1962 when his second son was born and he bought the well-known little blue house on the hill. A daughter soon followed in 1966, and he remained with the FAA in Homer until his retirement, a career lasting 30 years.
Wayne enjoyed tinkering, inventing and science, which is evident with the construction of his own cannon that he used to start the sailboat races at the end of the Homer Spit back in the 1960s, as well as the hand-built waterwheel and generator next to his house, his half-track backhoe, a modified snow blower for which he received an award and many other projects too numerous to list.
Retired life brought time for Wayne to tinker, travel and enjoy time with his wife, as well as his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren on his beloved homestead in Happy Valley. Wayne took pride in being a husband, father, grandpa, pioneer Alaskan and WWII veteran, and was always eager to bend an ear at the coffee table.
Wayne was preceded in death by his wife of 57 years, Dora A. Jones, and his first son, Vinal Jones, and older brother Gordon B. Jones.
He is survived by his daughter, Etta (Jones) Toci, and her husband Angelo, and grandchildren, “AJ” and Amanda, all of Anchor Point; his son, Dwayne Jones, and his wife, Kimberly, and grandchildren Isaac and Simon, all of Kenmore, Wash.; granddaughter Mariah (Jones) Simpson, and great-grandchildren Justice, Titus, Tobias, and Liberty, all of North Carolina; and his younger brother, Byron K. Jones, of Anchorage. He is also survived by many in-law family members in Germany.
A public memorial service is being planned and will be announced soon. Wayne’s ashes will be laid to rest next to his wife and oldest son in a private ceremony on his treasured homestead north of Happy Valley.