Friends, mentors remember a literary leader

Dr. Robert C. Jones

Dr. Robert C. Jones

Written by Muleskinner Staff

(WARRENSBURG, Mo., digitalBURG) – The city lost a literary leader and mentor in June.

Dr. Robert C. Jones
Dr. Robert C. Jones

A small, soft-spoken and friendly man, Dr. Robert Jones touched the lives of many people he worked with, student or otherwise.
“He had a very unique gift,” said Rose Marie Kinder, a former member of the Warrensburg Writers Circle, a writing group that Jones led twice a month at Trails Regional Library.
“He could take a poem, especially, and tighten it. He could eliminate wordiness and sharpen an image in almost any writing.”
Kinder worked with Jones on Pleiades, then a student journal and now an international literary journal at the University of Central Missouri, and was familiar with his published writings.
“He was well traveled and well read, and his poems reflected that,” Kinder said. “He would tie together a level of sophistication and travel and philosophical meaning into his writing. He didn’t require it of other people. And in his professional teaching, he was almost totally supportive.”
Anita Love, a former student of Jones’, said he never gave up on anybody.
“He was just a delightful man,” Love said.
Jones was a modern literature and creative writing professor at UCM from 1961-1991. As a professor, Jones taught Love how to try new things and get out of her reading ruts.
“He was my young adult literature professor,” Love said. “It was a very good class. I was very impressed with it.”
    Dr. Robert C. Jones
Dr. Robert C. Jones

Love said the best thing Jones taught her was to embrace the diversity of young adult literature.
“Everything is out there,” she said. “Sample a little bit of everything, even if you don’t like it, just try it out and get your hands dirty.”
Sandra Wayne, a former student and self-proclaimed disciple of Jones, fondly remembers her first encounter with her favorite professor.
“I walked into the English class and there was this short guy there named Jones,” Wayne said. “He said, ‘I’m not gonna give you a grade. You have to decide if you want the grade. What you do depends on you, yourself.’”
Like many of his other students, Jones made an impression on Wayne.
“What I learned from him was how to look beyond yourself,” she said. “He would say, ‘Write about what you know, what you experienced,’ and you would critique yourself.”
Kinder described Jones as a constructive teacher.
“He wouldn’t use grades to threaten or evaluate a student’s writing,” she said. “He would use grades to encourage.”
Jones was a teacher not only in a classroom, but also in the Warrensburg Writers Circle, where he was respected and admired for his ability to critique kindly without being too easy on the members of the group.
“The writers group meetings were a lot like being in a classroom with him,” Kinder said. “You came, you read your work, and Bob critiqued it… There was always a suggestion, always something that could be done. He was always encouraging and always critiquing, but it was in a kind way.”
Wayne said everything you said had value to him.
“The group gave inexperienced writers the courage to keep on going, no matter how old or young,” she said.
Kinder said the group provided a positive and supportive space for individuals who had just begun exploring the world of writing. It gave them a chance to read their works aloud to be praised and critiqued.
“It wasn’t just giving back to the community,” Kinder said. “He was community-minded. Any writing professor or writer who could keep a writers group going for 24 or more years, twice a month in the library, for anyone to come if they want to…that’s a loving and extreme contribution to the community and should be appreciated.”
Love, though she was never a part of the writers group, observed and worked with the group as a library staff member.
“The most fun I’ve had from working with this group is the excitement of the writers when they got published,” Love said. “A lot of the writers would donate to the library once they got their books published.”
Kinder described the group as strong and “always fluctuating,” listing off local published authors who used the group for feedback and pointers, including Lucille Gress and Donn Irving Blevins.
“(Jones) owned the Mid-America Press, and he actually published writings from local authors,” Love said. “That was really great because a lot of these people were having a hard time being published. I don’t think any of the books were like amazing best sellers, but at least they could go to other publishers and say, ‘Hey, I’ve been published by Mid-America Press.’ That let them kind of get their foot in the door so that they could go on and get noticed by other publishers.”
Kinder, part owner of two small presses of her own, Cave Hollow Press and Sweetgum Press, said that she and Jones would refer writers to one another when appropriate.
“One of the people he published was John Mark Eberhart,” Kinder said. “A longtime writer for the Kansas City Star.”
Jones was connected to the library outside of the Warrensburg Writers Circle. He was a member of the Friends of Trails Regional Library, a group of people in the community who come together to support library activities.
“His wife, Nancy, with his support, was the president of the friends group for the Trails Regional Library,” Love said. “He and Nancy would organize mainly adult programs, like author signings. The friends group does the cookies and punch part. They’d advertise and talk it up and bring a lot of people in.”
Love said there was much interest in continuing the Warrensburg Writers Circle at the library.
“The group was very positive and all hope it continues beyond his death,” Love said. “But no one wants to face the responsibility of filling his shoes.”