Bob Jones named new chairman of The First Tee

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By Staff Brunswick Beacon

Bob Jones, of Ocean Isle Beach, has been named the new chairman of the board of directors of The First Tee of Brunswick County.

He succeeds Mike Reaves, the former president of Brunswick Community College, who was chairman from 2006-08.

Rusty Petrea, founder of The First Tee of Brunswick County, said, “New leadership is a good thing. We anticipate a change in the position every two to three years. It is important to have the right leadership, and we have gotten that in the person of Bob Jones. He has the drive and the energy and the commitment to lead a complex organization like ours.”

The First Tee of Brunswick County is part of an international initiative to teach golf and life skills to children ages 7 to 17. There are 207 chapters of The First Tee worldwide, with eight chapters in North Carolina and five in South Carolina.

“I am really pleased and proud to have been named chairman, especially after a chairman like Mike, who accomplished so much for our First Tee kids,” Jones said. “I’ve served on the board of directors for a year now and have come to realize that The First Tee targets the most important segment of our society: the kids who will be the next generation of Americans.

“This organization gets things done; it shows results that are measurable and lasting. We have a hard-working, active, hands-on board of directors and excellent volunteers who offer their time and hearts to the hundreds of kids in our program.”

Growing up in a small town near Albany, N.Y., Jones was active in numerous sports programs and music through high school.

“Our family of six (my parents, my brother and two sisters) struggled to make ends meet. Thankfully, we lived in a caring community where we were helped out on many occasions by friends, especially through our local church. Our Christmases were great because ‘Santa’ always left $25 in our mailbox. To this day, we don’t know who that Santa was.

“When our mother was sick, the church provided hot meals to us. We learned wonderful lessons about life and the meaning of helping others.

“Our tiny home was on jacks, and I always thought that if we could ever live in a house with a foundation, we would be living the dream. I didn’t know it then, but we were already living the American dream. We had love, discipline and hope all around us. My parents were tough and strong but very soft on the inside. Going to church was not an option, especially since my father was the choir director for 25 years.”

Jones recalls that he was a small, feisty kid with a quick temper and not a lot of confidence.

“My dad taught me to box in the field behind our house. He said it might come in handy someday.” Jones chuckled. “I do know that I was never bullied in school.”

With the support of his parents and plenty of state-sponsored loans, Jones went to Hope College in Holland, Mich., a 750-mile train ride from home. He received a bachelor’s degree in psychology and upon graduation he was accepted at Western Michigan University, where he earned his master’s degree in industrial psychology.

All of his siblings also graduated from Hope College. Two sisters became teachers and his brother is in business.

Vietnam was in the background of his life during those years.

“Vietnam was scary,” he said, “and I was always one step ahead of the draft board, getting calls from them every month concerning my anticipated graduation date.”

As soon as his last thesis was complete and he received his degree, Jones enlisted in the Navy.

Jones served in the Mobile Riverine Force Attack Flotilla in the Mekong Delta, directing gunboats, working with the 9th Division Army and with Navy Seals. He does not like to talk about his experiences in Vietnam, although he received several commendations.

“The only heroes were those who were wounded and some of my friends who paid the ultimate price,” he said.

When Jones returned to the states, his career in human resources began with a six-month stint in New York State government.

After that, he was recruited by General Electric Co., a career that would last for 23 years and send him to six subsidiary businesses in six states, all in human resources. He served in executive roles for about 10 of those years.

“GE was a very high-pressure environment,” Jones said, “where excuses were simply not accepted, only performance with integrity. If an employee did not have integrity, performance did not matter. I learned many lessons from the top leaders, including Jack Welch, the chairman of GE.”

After GE, Jones accepted a position with Harman International as senior vice president of human resources for worldwide operations. Harman manufactures audio and electronic systems for automotive, homes, theaters, computers and stadiums.

“My 11 years with Harman were some of the most exciting and memorable of my business career,” he said. “We had plants and facilities all over the world, including North America, South America, Africa and Asia. I met some great people and visited plants in many cities as the business was growing and expanding around the world.

“My favorite place was Buenos Aires, Argentina, a truly beautiful city with strong family values.”

In each place where he and his family lived, Jones was active in community organizations.

“I worked with nonprofit organizations, including the YMCA, food banks, homes for battered women, homeless shelters, scholarships and Little League Baseball,” he said.

Jones recalls one of the highlights of coaching baseball occurred when he took over a team that had not won a game against any other team in New Hampshire for seven years. Three years later, it won the state championship.

“We were undefeated that year and earned a chance to go to the Williamsport Little League World Series,” Jones said. “Throughout it all, I had a great learning experience through a kid named Carlos. He never seemed to get anything right, was always in trouble and had a zero-confidence level. They told me not to pick him for the team, but I was stubborn and took a chance on Carlos.

“One day I had to leave practice early, so I asked Carlos to take charge until I returned. From that day forward, Carlos changed and became the most motivated leader on the team. One day he hit a home run to win a big game for the championship, and as I flipped the baseball to his father, he had a large tear in his eye. I believe it all happened because someone trusted Carlos, believed in him and gave him responsibility. That experience showed me how one small positive action can change the life of a child. That is one of the reasons I am so excited to be part of The First Tee program.”

Jones explained that community activities have been a strong part of wife Monica’s life. They have been married for 37 years, and during that time she has helped in many of his efforts, and on her own has been involved with hospital auxiliaries, Girls Clubs of America, church groups and women’s clubs. Their children, Michael and Susan, live in Tampa, Fla., and Indianapolis, respectively. Both work in human resources for corporations and both are active in community affairs.

“Most of my volunteer experience was wonderful, but I did learn the importance of community support for funding the hard way,” Bob said. “While in Bloomington, we had to close a homeless program and shelter because we didn’t have sufficient funds. It was a very sad time for me.”

After buying a vacation condo in Ocean Isle Beach in 1983, Monica and Bob Jones dreamed of the day they could retire and move here.

“Ocean Isle Beach was our family vacation spot,” he said. “Our two kids jumped up and down for two weeks before we got in the car and drove here each year. Golf, beach, great people: What more could we want?”

In looking at the future of The First Tee of Brunswick County, Jones sees the organization entering an exciting period of growth.

“We have a wonderful foundation, a strong base built by our founders, Rusty and Carol Petrea, and Mike Reaves,” he said. “We need to follow the mission of The First Tee, to teach life skills and values to our youth.”

A goal Jones has set for The First Tee in the next year is to build even stronger partnerships with parents and school leaders.

“In addition, we must aggressively pursue funding to help our kids reach their dreams,” he said. “Experts say that the average kid spends six hours a day watching television, playing video games or on the computer. What values are they learning? Parents have a tough job today. The influences of the environment, the need to work, the needs of their children, make it very difficult for them.

“The First Tee can help parents teach their kids core values. We get them outdoors into a healthy environment. We give them the chance to interact with other kids and responsible, caring coaches and mentors.

“We can have a tremendous, profound effect on this generation by teaching them the Nine Core Values of The First Tee: responsibility, honesty, perseverance, sportsmanship, courtesy, judgment, integrity, respect and confidence.”

Another goal Jones has set for The First Tee is to reach more kids in the community.

“The challenge is to get more kids into the program, to reach kids of every economic and ethnic group,” he said. “This program is all-inclusive. There is great diversity in Brunswick County, and we want to mirror it and embrace all kids as we teach golf and core values.

“I am delighted that Mike Reaves will be continuing on the board of directors, leading our efforts to expand and grow The First Tee of Brunswick County.

“Every person or organization leaves footprints. Some are in sand and quickly wash away when the waves come up. Others are firmly etched in rock and impact future generations. The First Tee is an organization that leaves prints on the rock of time by developing the minds and enriching the lives of future generations.”

ELSA BONSTEIN is a golf columnist for the Beacon. Reach her at elanbon@atmc.net.