Jones, who died Sunday at age 60 of pancreatic cancer, spent 36 years at Auburn High as a teacher, football coach and athletic director.
Selfless. Genuine. Inspirational.
The Face of Auburn High School.
Bob Jones was all of those things, and much more, to the thousands he touched during his 36 years as teacher, football coach and athletic director at the school. He died at home Sunday after a courageous battle against pancreatic cancer, first diagnosed in October 2013.
Jones, 60, was surrounded by his wife of 35 years, Sue, and their three children – Kyle, Eric and Taryn.
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“He was my favorite hello and he’s my hardest goodbye,” said longtime colleague and friend Nancy Zehnder, a former teacher and coach at Auburn who fondly recalls his great story-telling skills. “The wave of his influence will have an endless ripple effect.”
The effervescent Jones was known for his bear-hug greetings, always accompanied by a big smile. His tireless service to the school and community was well known and appreciated beyond district boundaries.
“His smile let you know he sincerely cared about you,” said Tony Davis, Tahoma football coach and athletic director. “He’s that guy that was everyone’s friend … When you think of Auburn High School, you think of Bob Jones.”
There has been an outpouring of support on Facebook and Twitter since the family announced Jones had passed Sunday – just five days before he was to be surprised by a dedication of the Auburn gymnasium in his name. The ceremony has been postponed. The family is also planning a celebration of life.
Kyle Jones, his oldest child who is head wrestling coach at Auburn Riverside High School (with Eric as his assistant), said his father “would have been blown away” by the gym dedication. And humbled, because Bob Jones was never about himself.
“He taught us growing up, and everything he exemplified was how can I help others,” Kyle said. “Day in and day out, that’s how he left his legacy.”
Jones even used his fight against cancer as a life lesson.
“He was all about teachable moments, and what teachable moments could come from this difficult time in his life,” Kyle said.
Kip Herren, former Auburn wrestling coach who went on to become principal and district superintendent, concurred.
“His battle with cancer was epic, modeling courage and inspiring all,” he said. “We will miss our friend and colleague but will honor his memory by carrying forth his great work.”
“He personified everything great about Auburn High School,” Herren added.
Terri Herren, Kip’s sister-in-law who spent 23 years at Auburn and is now principal at Auburn Mountainview High School, called Jones an incredible man.
“He is the legend that touched so many lives,” she said.
Jones, a Highline High School graduate who went on to Grays Harbor Community College and Western Washington University, came to Auburn in 1981. He first taught human survival, helping teenagers learn life skills, and was an assistant football coach for nine seasons before taking over the program in 1990. He handed the reins to current coach Gordon Elliott in 2002.
“Bob was an outstanding friend, mentor, educator and administrator, but is an even greater man,” Elliott said, adding his influence on students, athletes and staff is immeasurable.
Jones was also the school’s athletic director for 22 years – just last year joining the Washington Activities Coordinators Association’s Hall of Fame. He only stepped down in January when told the latest round of chemotherapy was not effective and doctors advised him to go on hospice care.
Even then, he found the energy to support Auburn athletes and his sons’ wrestlers at Auburn Riverside. He spent the morning of his 60th birthday at Mat Classic, the state wrestling tournament.
When first diagnosed with cancer, Jones asked Katie Henry – a 2006 education hire – to join him in the athletics and activities office and she has since stepped into his role.
“It’s hard to find words that explain who Bob is to us,” Henry said. “He makes all of us better people just by example. He taught me humility and compassion, but most of all he made me laugh. Every single day.”
Dave Lutes, Kent School District athletic director, knows the feeling.
“Bob was a wonderful colleague, friend, coach and most of all a giving and loving individual,” he said. “He will be missed but his legend will live on.”
A memorial is scheduled for Friday at 7 p.m. at the Auburn High gym. In lieu of flowers, the family is asking for a donation to the Auburn food bank.