The Rev. Kenneth S. Jones, a former pastor of the Mount Vernon United Methodist Church who led missionary groups to Africa and Russia, died Friday of complications from cancer at the Asbury Village health center in Gaithersburg. He was 98.
Born in Glen Rock, N.J., and raised in Baltimore’s Mount Washington neighborhood, he was the son of Howard Kenneth Jones, a commercial photographer, and Bessie Belle Appelgate. He was a 1937 graduate of Baltimore City College.
While in high school, he was elected president of the Young People of the Methodist Church of West Baltimore. He also campaigned for Republican candidates and supported Alf Landon and Wendell Willkie. He shouted, “We want Wilkie,” from the balcony at the 1940 Republican convention.
In 1938 he was photographed with the Republican national chairman as part of a Baltimore Sun interview after he was featured in a Life magazine story about “a typical American youth.” He later changed party affiliations and became a Democrat.
He sold life insurance and worked at The Sun before becoming a program director with radio station WITH-AM radio. He attended the University of Baltimore School of Law.
He was drafted into the Army in 1942 and served in Europe with the 16th Armored Division. His unit liberated the town of Pilsen in Czechoslovakia.
After the war, he served four months as the military mayor of Wurtzburg in Germany.
“My father tended to volunteer while in the military and take on tasks. It gave him a wealth of experience,” said a son, the Rev. Jeffrey W. Jones of Damascus. “He found that one of his obligations as mayor was to oversee the burial of the dead civilians found in bomb shelters.”
After leaving military service, Mr. Jones earned a bachelor’s degree at American University and became an assistant pastor at Metropolitan Methodist Church. While in Washington, he met his future wife, Edlea Janice Kelly. They married in 1948.
He then earned a master’s degree at the Yale Divinity School. He was assigned to St. Luke Methodist Church in Woodlawn. While at the church, he oversaw completion of a new fellowship hall. He also founded an ecumenical nursery school and kindergarten for Protestant, Catholic and Jewish students.
“Through some of his broadcasting contacts, he and Edlea created and hosted a weekly television show, ‘The Parsonage,’ in their living room,” his son said. “He invited key religious leaders to share in a talk-show format.”
His son said that one of the show’s guests was Newell Booth, a Methodist bishop, who recruited missionaries for what was then the Belgian Congo.
“My parents were inspired to sign up, and in 1956 they sailed by ocean liner to Belgium for a year's preparation before entering the African nation to serve as missionaries,” his son said. “They were assigned to a mission station just outside of Kindu, a port town on the Congo River. They were caught in the fighting of a civil war in the newly named country of Zaire, when they were serving in Elizabethville, and had to be evacuated by the U.S. government in the middle of the night.”
Mr. Jones then served as director of public relations for Bishop John Wesley Lord in Washington, D.C. In 1967, he was named pastor of Faith United Methodist Church in Rockville. In 1977, he returned to Baltimore as pastor of Mount Vernon Place United Methodist Church, the landmark structure at the Washington Monument on Charles Street.
“Again, by hosting a weekly half-hour Sunday morning radio program, he built up and revived that inner city congregation, and became a close friend of then-Mayor William Donald Schaefer,” said his son.
“The church really bloomed during his time there,” said his associate, the Rev. Arthur Dan Gleckler. “He was a very positive person. I recall him saying, ‘The Lord always finds a parking place for me.’ He was a progressive man and was not afraid to go where other persons would not. He was adventurous, disarming and tremendously kind.”
Mr. Jones was named one of "Baltimore's Best" by a civic recognition program. He was elected president of the Charles Street Association and opened the church for the FlowerMart. He also instituted a Sunday luncheon program. While Mount Vernon’s pastor, he also published two books, “Twelve Came Riding” and “Angels Up Ahead.”
In 1984, he was superintendent of the Annapolis District of the United Methodist Church. He retired in 1986 and became an interim pastor at St. Paul’s United Methodist Church in New Windsor.
In retirement Mr. Jones was a fundraiser for United Methodist Volunteers in Mission for the Northeastern Jurisdiction. His son said he led more than 25 volunteer trips to the Caribbean, Russia, Europe and Africa. He founded a library at the United Methodist Seminary in Moscow.
He was the 2004 president of the City College Alumni Association. In 2009, he was inducted into the school’s Hall of Fame.
He drove until he was 97 and owned a Mini Cooper. He drove then-Rep. Chris Van Hollen in Gaithersburg Labor Day parades.
After the death of his wife in a 1989 auto accident, Mr. Jones married Larocca Tewell “Rocky” Swain in 1992. She died in 2016.
A memorial service will be held at 2 p.m. Nov. 10 at Faith United Methodist Church, 6810 Montrose Road in Rockville, where Mr. Jones had served.
In addition to his son, who is pastor of North Bethesda United Methodist Church, survivors include two other sons, the Rev. Dr. Bruce A. Jones, pastor of La Plata United Methodist Church, and Kelly S. Jones of Hudson, Ohio, a medical insurance specialist; 10 grandchildren; and seven great-grandchildren.