Legacy means much more to Ron Jones than a business or a heritage. For him, it is more about family, particularly his family’s connection to Baylor.
Ron’s father, Johnny Graham Jones, was born in Hubbard, Texas. His mother, Wilma Richter Jones, was born in Leroy, Texas. Both attended Baylor, as did all of Ron’s aunts and uncles. His mother’s family was German and spoke only German in their household.
“She came to Baylor and had only been speaking English for a while and graduated with a degree in English,” Jones says. “She was adamant about donating to Baylor.”
Jones family members have been gracious Baylor benefactors for years—a legacy that began with the elder Jones, who was a Lariat editor before being called into the U.S. Army for World War II.
After the war, Johnny and Wilma Jones settled in Austin, where Johnny purchased the printing assets of an insurance company. That was the beginning of The Whitley Company, which was named for the family that helped Johnny finance the acquisition.
“He would sell printing during the day and print it at night himself and then deliver it,” Ron says of his father during the company’s early days.
Ron remembers his mother, who was a second-grade school teacher, asking for unused cardboard boxes from a local grocery store. She would trace his shoe on the cardboard box.
“She would cut the cardboard slightly smaller and put it in the bottom so there wouldn’t be holes in my shoes,” Ron says. “We really knew what poor was.”
As The Whitley Company grew and prospered, the Jones family found opportunities to share the company’s success. Johnny decided to provide college registration and tuition expenses for any employee’s child who graduated high school and was accepted to college.
“We had, at one point, 16 kids that we were paying the registration and tuition,” Ron says. “One was a girl that actually graduated from medical school, and she was the first person from her family to graduate from high school.”
Their assistance extended beyond company employees. The Jones family financed the drilling of water wells and the building of food stations in Malawi, one of the most economically challenged countries in the world. They also helped Trinity Center, a ministry to the homeless in Austin, provide housing for those in need. Currently, the Jones family supports missionaries in several countries.
Ron joined his father in the family business in 1968 and became president in 1986. His son Matt also joined the business. The Whitley Company merged with Wallace Imaging to form The Whitley Printing Company in 1997.
Five years later, the Jones family sold the company to longtime Whitley employee Kevin Cassis and the private equity firm Teakwood Capital. The company now is known as TWG Plus.
“Our family has tried to determine what our legacy should be,” Ron says. “My father gave me a wrinkled-up piece of paper three days before he passed away. The note said, ‘To those whom much is given, of them, much is required.’ With this impression, we wanted to find the best ways to make a difference through Baylor.”
Ron is president of RGJ Family Investments LP, through which the Jones family supports several Baylor entities, including significant support for McLane Stadium. He also is president of the Whitley Charitable Foundation, where two of his children serve along with him: son Matt and daughter Stephanie Jones Dent.
“My family believes that faith in God gives meaning and purpose to life,” Ron says. “Baylor helps so many people in so many ways.”
The Jones family’s generosity to Baylor began with Wilma and Johnny, for whom the Cashion Academic Center’s Student Commons was named. Johnny was a recipient of the Founders Medal, while Wilma received The Herbert Reynolds Service Award and The W.R. White Award. Johnny and Wilma established four scholarships which benefit the Hankamer School of Business, George W. Truett Theological Seminary, and athletics; they also established an endowed lectureship in education.
In 1992, Ron received the designation of Alumnus Honoris Causa.
“I stood there on stage with Drayton McLane, a man I admired for a long time. I saw him looking at me and realized he was probably wondering who I was,” Ron says. “I felt like a biblical character found in Luke. You know, the widow that had but one mite to give.”
“My family believes that faith in God gives meaning and purpose in life”
Growing up, Ron dreamt of playing football at Baylor following greats like Don Trull, Lawrence Elkins and Ronnie Bull. He arrived at Baylor an excited freshman in 1963, but says his Baylor football career lasted one day.
“The walk-ons met with one of the coaches after the first day of practice,” Ron says. “He explained that there were only three things keeping me from being a football player at Baylor. He said that I wasn’t big enough, I wasn’t strong enough, and I wasn’t fast enough. Other than that, he didn’t see any problems. I retreated to my dorm room and took an unbiased look into the mirror. The coach was right, I needed to pick another sport.”
Ron decided to become Baylor’s No. 1 cowboy. He has won four American Cutting Horse Association (ACHA) world championships and was a 2012 ACHA Hall of Fame inductee.
A leg injury after his first year at Baylor forced Ron to stay in Austin, where he attended the University of Texas at Austin. He then transferred to Wayne State University in Detroit, hoping to take advantage of the school’s printing degree program.
Ron and his wife, Kimberly, have been blessed with six wonderful kids. They have inherited Ron’s competitive spirit. His oldest son, Matt, graduated from Baylor in 1993. He too was too small to play football; however, he won two World Championships as a race car driver.
Stephanie, his oldest daughter graduated from Hollins College in Virginia and settled in Memphis, Tennessee. Her husband Elliott Dent is a successful head coach at Memphis University School, where his teams have won 12 state championships.
With Ron’s son Jenner, it was time to contribute to the Baylor football team. Jenner, BSEd ’13, played linebacker and received the Big 12 Honor Roll designation. He is married to Jill Obenoskey, BA ’13.
Another of Ron’s sons chose Baylor years before he officially became Ron’s son.
Kaeron Johnson, BSEd ’13, was an all-state honoree at Cuero High School before coming to Baylor in 2009. The 6-foot, 2-inch, 305-pounder played 37 career games at fullback and defensive tackle before a back injury derailed his senior season.
Kaeron and Ron’s son Jenner were roommates, and Kaeron developed a close relationship with the Jones family that ultimately turned from friendship to family.
To affirm this relationship, Ron worked with Kaeron’s mother to adopt him after his playing career was ended by a devastating injury. Ron remembers the emotional adoption proceedings at the courthouse fondly.
“The judge says, ‘In the eyes of State of Texas and the United States of America, you are now father and son.’” Ron says. “We turned around, and all these people were standing up—the women were tearing up, and the men were clapping. I didn’t realize how special it was until that moment.”
In addition to Matt, Stephanie, Jenner and Kaeron, Ron’s family includes son Jace Richter Jones, who has served with distinction in the U.S. Army in Afghanistan, and daughter Carsen Sydney Jones, who is passionate about her work with animal rescue operations.
“This is my family. It is my hope that in continuing the tradition started by my parents, we can create a legacy that may make a difference,” Ron says, adding that his family always found it important to provide scholarships at Baylor.
“We knew none of us would find a cure for cancer or diabetes or solve the plight of the hungry or homeless,” he says. “However, maybe someday, someone with the opportunity we make possible will be successful in those endeavors.”