Prestigious Salisbury Award goes to Gladys Mary Jones

The Salisbury Award Trustees present the Fruitland Community Center’s Mary Gladys Jones, seated, Karen Carroll and Alexis Dashield. From left are: Debbie Abbott, Art Cooley, Vic Laws, Dr. Stephen Franklin, Matt Tilghman and Stephanie Willey.

Saying she never liked surprises, but certainly wouldn’t complain, 98-year-old Gladys Mary Jones accepted the prestigious Salisbury Award for 2018 on Tuesday afternoon.

She was honored for founding the Fruitland Community Center in 1984 and teaching and mentoring hundreds of children after retiring from a 42-year teaching career at Morris Street Elementary School. Later, the school building was given to the Community Center by the town of Fruitland, which provided an after-school program.

“I’m overwhelmed. I don’t like secrets.

“I always tell my family I don’t want a surprise birthday party. I don’t like surprises, but this is a quite a surprise. Thank you. Thank you, so much. I will not complain,” she said, as she sat in front of the room at the Wicomico County Youth & Civic Center, where she thought she was going for a lunchtime Wicomico Rotary Club meeting, to make a presentation.

Everyone in the room stood and applauded.

Impeccably dressed in a black pin-striped pantsuit and white hat, Jones listened as Community Center co-founder, Alexis Deshield, and Brittany McLain of Barnes and Noble, told Rotary members about programs the children are learning.

Educational items are purchased from Barnes and Noble and McLain is liaison.

Afterward, Mat Tilghman of The Salisbury Award committee announced Jones is this year’s recipient and she quickly drew in her breath and said “Ahh.”

Deshield put her arm around her and McLain beamed.

“Will someone tell her I did not know,” Deshield said.

Laughing, Jones said, “Or she will be in deep trouble.”

Later, Jones told the Salisbury Independent she will display the Salisbury Award plaque in a room at the Community Center with other memorabilia that is archived and dear to her.

A graduate of Bowie State University, where she studied education, Jones remembered her parents paying for her to stay in Wicomico County, so she could study at the Salisbury Colored School on Lake Street.

The family lived in Worcester County, but there weren’t school buses for African-American children at the time. Nor was there public transportation in Worcester, so they saw that she was educated in Wicomico.

“I remember my father saying, ‘I have never spent this much money on a woman before’ and I told him, ‘Dad, you will not be disappointed,’” Jones said.

The mother of two foster daughters, Jones still teaches at the Community Center, stressing the motto, “Good, better best, never let it rest, until good becomes better and better becomes best.”

The Center established a Boy Scout Troop, Girl Scout Troop and 4-H club. Deshield implemented a STEM program to help children strengthen science, technology, engineering and math skills.

Jones has volunteered thousands of hours at the Community Center and was recently named 2011 Volunteer of the Year by the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.

The only surviving teacher from Morris Street Elementary School, Jones told Rotary Club members she is “two generations behind” when it comes to technology children use today.

“I believe in the basics and in educating the entire child,” she said.

That includes instilling confidence, helping them reach their full potential and teaching respectfulness and kindness.

“I try very hard to have something to make them happy because you have no idea how hard it is for some of these youngsters to just survive,” Jones said.

She urged Rotary members to visit the Center, spend an hour each week with a child or buy for them at Christmas.

“They are the most precious resource we have,” she said.

During his remarks Tuesday, Tilghman praised Jones for having “dedicated her entire adult life to the education and well-being of children.”

“She had a 42-year teaching career in Worcester and Wicomico counties. After her retirement, she, with the help of a good friend, transitioned the former Morris Street Colored Elementary School, where she was once a teacher, into the Fruitland Community Center Tutorial Program.

“And the rest is history. She has been the cornerstone of the Center ever since. She continued what she loved doing, teaching young people and giving them the dream of success,” he said.

“Twenty-eight years later this remarkable woman continues to be a driving force for the Fruitland community and the Fruitland Community Center. She gives of her talents, time, and financial support to foster the educational success of the children.

“She has kept the doors and her arms open. If you visit the center, you will see her in action, providing students with much-needed love, academics, accountability, discipline, and most of all, a safe place to be,” Tilghman said.

“This extraordinary woman’s past honors include Citizen of the Year by the Fruitland Chamber of Commerce, Outstanding Senior Citizen of Maryland by the Jaycees of Maryland, All-Star Volunteer by Shore Can, the Maryland You Are Beautiful Award and an Unsung Hero by Shore Living Magazine,” Tilghman said.

The Salisbury Award was established in 1926 by local businessman G. William Phillips and is the community’s oldest civic award.  It was created to recognize “service that has been the greatest benefit to the happiness, prosperity, intellectual advancement or moral growth of the community.”

Phillips remained anonymous to the public until his death in 1950, Tilghman said.

“Through his will he endowed the award with a gift of $5,000 and designated the creation of a committee, composed of community leaders, to serve as trustees to be responsible for selecting future honorees,” Tilghman said.

Former Salisbury mayor and business leader Frank Morris, the 1991 recipient, further endowed the award. In 1993, the Board of Trustees established the Salisbury Award Fund at the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore.

The award may be given to an individual or for a specific achievement or body of work over time.

The first honoree was Fred A. Grier Jr., who in 1926, was recognized for establishing countywide volunteer fire departments.

The next year Dr. George Todd was honored for establishing the first regional general hospital, now Peninsula Regional Medical Center. His son, Dr. G. Nevins Todd Jr., received the award in 2000 for leading the development of the open-heart surgery at PRMC, Tilghman said.

Other recipients include Ruth Powell, James M. Bennett, Ralph Dulany, Charles Chipman, Avery Hall, Richard Henson, Frank Perdue, Dick Hazel, David Grier, Paul Martin, Virginia Layfield, Mitzi Perdue, Lewis Riley, Dr. George Whitehead, Tony Sarbanes, Norm Conway and Bob Cook.

Last year, the Greater Salisbury Committee received the award on its 50th anniversary.

Among organizations honored with the award are the Home-Front War Organizations in 1943 and 1944, Trinity United Methodist Church in 1969, Ben’s Red Swings in 2005 and the Community Foundation of the Eastern Shore in 2009.


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