By Janice De Jesus
PLEASANT HILL -- The story of Dodie Jones' early life can be likened to an epic movie for the big screen.
Her teenage mother left a privileged life in England to elope with Jones' father and live in the United States. Jones' had her own dramatic entrance -- "almost born in a taxicab" on the way to the hospital in San Francisco in 1920.
When Jones visited her grandmother in England, she and other Americans had to board a ship escorted by U.S. Navy destroyers back to the United States at the brink of World War II because their vessel had been followed by a German U-boat. Even then, she dressed in an elegant gown and got invited to dine at the captain's table.
Jones' later life may not have been movie star glamorous but, in her mind, it was, and continues to be, just as adventurous.
Even after her retirement from the Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District this winter after 40 years, Jones said she's on to new adventures.
"I was honored to provide wonderful classes for people to benefit from," said Jones, an Oakland resident who spent the last 32 years as the district's programs supervisor.
Her more than 40 years in recreation can be summed up in one word: potential.
"Everyone has potential," Jones said. "I think the joy of my work lies in encouraging the growth of an individual by providing the tools for growth."
Recreation has always been a huge part of her life. Growing up in the Morgan Hill area, Jones got into volleyball, gymnastics, tap dancing and piano.
"My father believed I needed those activities in my background whether I used them or not," she said.
After marrying Ralph Jones in 1942, she raised two daughters and a son to embrace recreation and the outdoors.
"We were camping all the time," Jones recalled. "Where did we go? The question should be, 'Where did we not go?'"
Jones was still working for the city of Alameda's Recreation and Park Department when Tom McHale, a Pleasant Hill Recreation and Park District board member, "borrowed Dodie from Alameda and never gave her back."
McHale and Jones' friendship goes back 48 years -- he dated Jones' daughter at the time Jones was playground leader for Alameda recreation.
Jones was responsible for McHale's involvement in recreation, he said.
"When I got out of the service, I needed a part-time job so she referred me to Alameda recreation. I worked as a playground leader, day camp counselor, backpack leader in Yosemite, teen leader and coach," he said.
He decided to get a degree in recreation at Cal State Hayward.
In 1968, Jones had hired McHale as recreation leader for Alameda recreation before he later went on to take charge of the Pleasant Hill Recreation's preschool program and hired Jones as recreation leader for the local district's Tot-Time program. Jones said they were each returning a favor.
By 1980, Jones devoted her recreation career with the Pleasant Hill district.
"I give credit to Tom McHale because he's the one who brought me to Pleasant Hill," she said.
McHale said it was Jones' dedication to her job, her humility, her thoroughness, her sensitivity to all she deals with that made her an asset to the district.
"I admire her fairness, her decisions, kindness, positive nature and her ability to act creatively," McHale said. "She is always looking for new ideas and is open to the new ideas of others."
Jones later went on to organize and implement several district programs, including a Multicultural Celebration, the district's 50th anniversary and Literary Women, and was in charge of the recreation summer school.
"She was not just a co-worker but a person who truly cares about people and getting to know that person," said Bob Berggren, the district's general manager.
Longtime district employee and friend Thora Harshman said Jones was one of the few in the district who genuinely, patiently listened to people.
"She always looked to the future without disregarding the successes of the past and accepted change where warranted," said Harshman. "She is one of the main reasons this district has been so award-winning."
Jones received Pleasant Hill's Community Plus Award in November 2002. Co-workers also lauded Jones' ability to put together the district's programs catalog, the Spotlight, with finesse and aplomb.
Life for Jones beyond the district includes reconnecting with her favorite pastime -- reading. She remembers as a young girl she visited the library in San Martin and "read the whole library over a period of time because, what does a young girl do during summer?"
She's at work writing her memoir.
"Hopefully, we will all be here to celebrate her 100th birthday," said McHale. "I know she plans on it."
For now, Jones said she'll let the future take care of itself.
"I can't tell you what I'm going to do but, I'll tell you what I'm not going to do -- ziplining and parachuting."