Bill Jones was left “speechless” last week.
He then spoke for nearly 15 minutes after receiving the Perry County Community Foundation’s Humanitarian of the Year award during the group’s fifth annual banquet last Thursday at the Robinson Event Center in Perryville.
“As if this wasn’t going to be tough enough, it’s become a lot tougher,” said Jones, who was presented with the award following an introduction by city administrator Brent Buerck and a video presentation by many his colleagues expressing their admiration and detailing the reasons why he was deserving of the honor.
“When I first found out about this, I was speechless,” Jones said. “I am still speechless and therefore I don’t have a speech — I have a series of notes with a few bold and italicized things.”
Jones, 58, has served the city of Perryville as an EMT and paramedic, a firefighter and a police officer for more than 30 years, spending the past 33 years as assistant police chief and more than two decades as assistant fire chief and the city’s emergency management director.
In addition, Jones is an active member of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Perryville, where he serves as a church elder.
All that time spent in service to his community left him with plenty of people to thank and recognize.
“The accomplishments, the goals that I set, the things that I’ve done, it’s not me,” Jones said. “It’s only by the will of God that I’ve been able to do that, by God’s will and grace. He’s surrounded me with three types of people — those people that lead from the front, those who have pushed me from behind, and those that have stood by me and stood by my side and we’ve worked as a team.”
That team effort, Jones said, was particularly true when applied to the city’s police and fire departments.
“They’re the most dedicated folks that I’ve ever seen,” Jones said. “I’ve been on the state firefighters board, I’ve been on several other boards of directors that deal with fire and EMS, and I’ve never seen a more dedicated group of police and firemen anywhere.I would put them up against anyone and I would work with them anytime.”
Jones also praised those in leadership roles.
“The chiefs of the department have been awesome,” Jones said. “The staff has been awesome. They truly care about the community. They truly care about the citizens.”
He reserved special thanks for his wife, Paula, who works as a paramedic with the Perry County Ambulance Service, sharing the story of the time she found out that, in addition to being a police officer, he was now an active firefighter.
“When I got on the fire department, she was not overly thrilled,” Jones said. “She’s already married to me as a police officer and now she’s married to me as a police officer and a firefighter, two jobs that have inherent dangers built into them. But, I assured her, I said I only joined the fire department to be the fire inspector.”
That wouldn’t last long, Jones said. He and two other firefighters were caught in a ceiling collapse during a house fire, and when the three made it outside, Jones spotted his wife with the ambulance crews that also responded to the fire.
“We have our names on the back of our coats,” Jones said. “So when I walked out, I kept my back away from her and I had I had my face piece on.”
Jones said he hoped that one of the other medics would be responsible for checking him out.
“I felt a tug on my mask and my mask came off, my hood came off, my coat came off,” Jones said. “And my wife looked at me and she said, ‘Are you all right?’ ‘Yeah, I’m all right.’ ‘Are you feeling fine? ‘Ok. Well, we got some talking to do.’ “
“So thank you, Paula, for understanding. Thank you for accepting the fact that we do take risks, and thank you for always standing by my side.”
In addition to receiving the award, Jones was also presented with a $1,000 grant from the Community Foundation to present to a charity of his choice. He chose to give the money to Immanuel Lutheran School.
“Bill is such a wonderful guy,” said Perryville Mayor Ken Baer, who also serves as a board member for the community foundation. “He’s the quintessential first responder, three times over. He has sacrificed his own personal safety many times over for us, in service to us. All first responders, all police officers, all firemen are the same, but Bill is a good representative of them. He brings to light everything they do and he does it exceptionally well. They all do it well, but he’s kind of their representative. That’s why we gave him the award. It’s kind of an award to the entire first responder community.
“The people of Perry County, we all owe him a huge debt of gratitude for his service.”
The Community Foundation also presented a $1,000 grant to the Center for Life, described as “a Christian ministry committed to the care of individuals and their families by providing care, consultation, parenting classes, and support to pregnant women in crisis; promoting spiritual growth; affirming the sanctity of life; and bringing peace in a time of crisis.”
On hand to accept the grant were Shirley Moore and Sara Steiger Rahn.
Earlier in the evening, attendees were treated to a talk by guest speaker Shawn Askinosie, who left a successful career as a criminal defense lawyer to become the founder and CEO of Springfield-based Askinosie Chocolate, which produces small-batch chocolates made from 100 percent locally sourced cocoa from farmers on four continents.
Askinosie, author of Meaningful Work: A Quest to Do Great Business, Find Your Calling, and Feed Your Soul, spoke about finding one’s passion by looking “where it hurts.”
“If you unmask your own sorrow, go to the place where it hurts and serve someone out of that spot in your own broken heart,” Askinosie said, “in those moments, you’ll know what it means to be joyfully alive. And, maybe, your feet won’t touch the ground.”
The Perry County Community Foundation was founded in 2013 and has a stated mission of enhancing the Perry County community’s quality of life through philanthropic activities by encouraging, guiding and facilitating others “that aspire to engage in efforts that move our community forward in the areas of culture, aesthetics, education and leadership.”
Since 2017, the foundation has created a tornado relief fund to benefit county residents impacted by the tornado that struck Perry County on Feb. 28, 2017, leaving a 15-mile path of destruction across the northern part of the county, raising more than $170,000; applied for and received a $10,000 grant to help fund the Coalition for Heroin and Opioid Prevention; and helped facilitate a $10,000 multi-county grant to promote and continue education for government leaders about natural disasters.