New centenarian Ed Jones has spent about 80 of his years in Swarthmore, and given much of his wisdom any energy to the leadership of its civic and community institutions. The members of two of these — the Rotary Club of Swarthmore and the Centennial Foundation — recently honored him with celebrations of his April birthday. Before the cheers subsided, the Swarthmorean talked recently with Ed and his wife Donna Kay Croddy in their home at 221 Haverford Avenue.
Ed: I’ve lived in this house only since I got married. My father designed and built the house next door, 227. He took the plans into an architect in Philadelphia, asked him how much it would cost, the architect said $10,000. So he brought the plans back, and was his own architect. We moved there in fall of 1931.
The Swarthmorean: So you’re not a native?
Ed: I came to Swarthmore in the 8th grade, so I’m a newcomer. I was born on 28th Street in Chester, so they tell me; I was not recording these events. They jumped me ahead so I graduated in 1935. Went through all four years of Swarthmore High School, at the corner of College and Princeton avenues in what is now the elementary school.
TS: Did the town look different then?
Ed: Chester Road was a grade crossing, no underpass, with gates and a watchman on duty. Lots of train traffic, freight as well as passenger. I was present when they dedicated the underpass. They cut a ribbon; I was prepared with the scissors and cut a piece off. I gave that to the Swarthmore Historical Society.
TS: Where else have you lived in Swarthmore?
Ed: I was overseas in the Army when I got a letter from my wife [Lyn, Ed’s first wife of 72 years, died in 2013], saying ‘Come home and live in the house I bought.’ It was a twin stucco house on Hillborn, and we lived there about 3 or 4 years until our eldest child was ready to start school. I was having lunch down in Chester one day when I heard a Realtor sitting at the next table describing a house that he had for sale. I walked over to him and said, ‘I’ll buy that house.’ It was on the 300 block of Cornell Avenue, near the grade school and just what I wanted for my children. We lived there until my father got quite old and infirm, and we moved to his house. Then I ended up getting married to Donna Kay [already living at 221] and moving here.
TS: Were you always a Quaker?
Ed: I was born, baptized and confirmed as an Episcopalian in Chester. We moved from Chester and when I got old enough I went to the minister in Cheater and said, “I want to transfer my membership from the Episcopal Church to the Quaker Meeting. My wife’s a Quaker.” He said, “no, once you’re an Episcopalian, you’re always an Episcopalian. You can’t transfer out.” That irritated me, I said, “If I don’t make it to heaven as a Quaker, I’ll fall back on what you’ve got.” That was my last conversation with him.”
When they put the addition on the meetinghouse [Whittier Hall] some years back, I was the clerk and signed the note to borrow $100,000 to build the addition. This was the biggest note I’ve ever signed. That was a real act of faith, and they paid it off in a year’s time, with contributions.
TS: You are speaking this week at the Rotary Club of Swarthmore. How long have you been a Rotarian?
Ed: I joined Chester Rotary first, about 1945. When I came out of the service, one of the first things I did was see if I could become a Rotarian. They put me in charge of handing out all the name cards. I became the acting president. GE had a big firm in Eddystone and their workers were on strike. I invited management to come speak to Rotary about their problem. They declined. So I called the head of the union and asked him to come tell us what it’s all about … [A newspaper story on the talk appeared], and the next day I got a phone call. Management wanted their own Rotary program. An agreement was reached.
TS: What was your job in the Army?
Ed: Training clerks in Aberdeen, Maryland, [and then in England and France] I was a junior officer in a heavy automotive maintenance company … I’d been assigned 6 men to locate vehicles. We drove them … into Paris and we saw the victory parade go down the Champs Elysee, with General Eisenhower sitting in the back of an open car. I knew it was going to be worth seeing.
I got assigned to the war crimes branch in Weisbaden. Every POW who was released into American hands was interviewed on release as to anything they might have seen or heard, and those interviews were stacked up. It was our job to go through them. I was already a lawyer at this point. I stayed until the Nuremberg trials began. I was in that job for six months or so.
TS: Then what?
Ed: Then back to my father’s law office in Chester, a member of the Delaware County Bar, the firm was Jones and Jones, he was the third generation. When I got back to my father’s law firm, he made me responsible for building up deposits in the Chester Federal Savings and Loan which later merged with Bryn Mawr Trust.
Now, I’m pretty near retirement. I developed quite a practice of writing wills and settling estates and I found that people who have wills written, by and large they expect to live for a good many years. But it doesn’t bring me new clients.
TS: What was your role in creating the Centennial Foundation?
Ed: I had a wealthy client and told her that this was a place to put her wealth when she died. We started it while she was still living, and set out to define its purpose. I invited all former mayors of Swarthmore to lunch, where I invited them to become members of the first board of directors. The donor was interested in parks, and scholarships, and its mission has remained consistent.
TS: You were also mayor, right?
Ed: Yes, I was mayor and then went to state legislature. I finished a term for someone who died, them was elected to a two year term. I had to spend so much time in Harrisburg, I rented a one room apartment, when our children were still at home.
TS: Tell us about your family at that time.
Ed: My first wife’s name was Adalyn, but she went by Lyn. Our first child is Linda McKee; she lives in Lancaster, she and her husband were in the winery business. It’s interesting that they ran a winery … I don’t drink. My next daughter is Alida; she lives in Hartford, Conn. I was in the army when she was born. My commanding officer was also awaiting a child’s birth, but he could not deny me leave to go see my baby. My youngest daughter is Nancy, who lives in Ohio. One of her daughters has become a doctor.
We had a son, Edmund, who was murdered in front of our house. It was a terrible time when my son died.
TS: Was it difficult to live in Swarthmore after that?
Ed: No, I didn’t blame it on the town. I blamed it entirely on the family who let their son go out with a big knife on him. The whole town was rocked by this. The memorial service was held in the meetinghouse which was filled and put up a lot of chairs outside. The next door neighbor started a foundation to fund the memorial scholarship in memory of Edmund A. Jones at Swarthmore College.
TS: Were you active in government after the Legislature? Delaware County?
Ed: I’ve been involved in Delaware County Council, and served on the SEPTA board of directors. I’ve always been a rail buff. And when Blue Route was in planning, I and others went to Washington to meet … [and] the highway went on the other side of the Crum.
TS: What has most changed in your time in Swarthmore?
Ed: The way it looks? The largest single change was the railroad underpass. The train crossing was not a mechanical operation. And I think the roundabout is a good way to keep traffic under control.
TS: Like the Blue Route, that was a big debate.
Ed: But an informed debate. This is a town full of intelligent people with diverse sets of skills and knowledge. If you want to get something done in Swarthmore, you can probably find someone who knows how to do it.