The Gentlemen of Jones
By Carol Bareuther
It's not snow or icicles, but festive lights, glittering garland and dazzling decorations such as stars, reindeer and candy canes, which deck the streets and alleyways of Christiansted at Christmastime. It wasn't always this way. In fact, up until the early 1950's the historic town didn't boast the warm holiday glow it does now. But, back then was when a benevolent group of gentleman, full of seasonal spirit, first illuminated the town with its spectacular ornamental trimmings. Thank the Gentleman of Jones for this holiday highlight.
The Gentleman of Jones was born out of a tight knit group of friends who met regularly at O'Reilly's grocery store to discuss the topics of the day over a cool libation. These friends included Arrol Steele, Lloyd Canegata, Cedric Canegata and David Canegata. Millard Jones, a vocational education teacher, walked into one of these informal gatherings and soon be- came a regular. Jones later opened a bar called Jonesey's Lounge, which was then located on Queen Cross Street, and the men migrated to this locale.
In 1952, the town of Frederiksted hosted its first Old Timer's Parade as part of the Crucian Christmas Festival.
David Canegata tells the story, "We had decided to form a troupe and enter the parade. There we were, matching down the street with top hat, tails and walking canes, although my brother Lloyd was dressed as a Gendarme (police officer), with Lloyd's Jeep driven by Cedric and filled with food and drink. When we got up to the ballpark, each group was to be called up on stage and introduced. That's when we panicked. We didn't have a name. It was then that Rexford Hodge, one of our col- leagues, stood up and announced us as 'The Gentlemen of Jones' to parade officials. We've been known by that name ever since."
The group has grown over the years.
"We are an eclectic group," says Senator James 'Jimi' Weber, Canegata's nephew. "Ages span from their 80s to 20s, new members as well as sons of the original founders, judges, community leaders, lieutenant governors, businessmen and just regular guys, black, white, Hispanic, you name it."
The one long standing and unifying goal of the group is community service.
"We meet once per month," says Weber," and have food sales throughout the year and an annual dinner dance with ticket sales to raise funds."
The Gentlemen of Jones members build a float each year to take part in the annual Christ- mas Festival Parade. Two years ago, the group started sponsorship of the Donkey Derby races, a cultural tradition, held at the Fourth of July. Earlier this year, they were among the many groups that donated to the earthquake relief efforts in Haiti. However, their perennial contribution to the community, one that now is almost a half century custom, is the Christmastime lighting of Christiansted.
"It started with just King and Company Streets and now we extend the lights west to Pueblo and east to Canegata Ballpark," says Weber. "Eventually we want to cover from the sea to the hills, north to south, and light up the whole town and hillsides."
Each year the group collectively thumbs through a big catalog to select and order ornamental fixtures to replace those that are old or damaged and to add something new too.
The stringing of the lights and fixtures takes two to three days in December.
"It takes a day to clean everything and check that all the bulbs are working and replace them if not," says Weber. "Consider that there's at least 60 fixtures with 200 to 300 bulbs each, not counting the garland, and it's probably 18,000 to 20,000 lights in all."
The group elicits the assistance of Vitelco, the territory's telephone company, or the Water & Power Authority, to borrow the use of a bucket truck. Everything, all the ornaments and string of lights are staged at the Basin Triangle intersection, run out to the truck, where they are lifted up and hung by members.
"It only takes two people to actually hang everything," says Weber, "but a lot more than that comes out as cheerleaders and encouragers. It's a sense of holiday spirit that started this lighting tradition and that spirit is still strong among us today."