Born in 1928, Loyal Jones grew up on a mountain farm in western North Carolina. He graduated from Hayesville North Carolina High School in 1945, earned an undergraduate degree in English at Berea College in 1954, and received his masters in English (and became certified to teach) from the University of North Carolina in 1957.
Having served as Director of the Appalachian Center at Berea College from 1970-1993, Jones currently lives with his wife, the former Nancy Swan of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, in Berea. The two met while in college and they are the parents of three children: Susan, Carol, and Scott.
Jones was born in Marble, Cherokee County, and lived there until he was 12, when his family moved to Brasstown in Clay County. “We were farmers, living on rented land,” he said. One of eight children, Jones served a brief stint in the Navy after high school, and then worked as a farmer and horse trainer before enrolling as an undergraduate at Berea College.
Loyal Jones tells his story in his own words
Jones began writing in college, but did not publish until several years later. He has been a prolific writer with literally dozens of published articles concerning Appalachian culture and its people to his credit.
One characteristic of Jones’ writing is optimism about the resiliency of mountain people and their culture, says Ron Eller, former director of the Appalachian Center at the University of Kentucky.
Jones’ message has been that Appalachia should be judged by its own values—family, land, traditionalism—rather than mainstream values of accumulation, wealth and power, Eller said.
“In many ways, he represents the best of Appalachia, the part of Appalachian society that values people for what they really are.”
In his years of writing and speaking about the region, Jones has become one of its best-known and best-loved figures. In addition to the numerous articles he has written about Appalachia, he has also authored nine books, including multiple volumes on regional humor.
His books include text for:
- Appalachia: A Self-Portrait (1979)
- Radio’s ‘Kentucky Mountain Boy’ Bradley Kincaid (1980, revised 1988)
- Minstrel of the Appalachians: The Story of Bascom Lamar Lundsford (1984, revised in 1988, reprinted in 2002)
- Reshaping the Image of Appalachia (1986)
- Appalachian Values with Warren Brunner (1995)
- Faith and Meaning in The Southern Uplands (1999)
- Country Music Humorists and Comedians (2008)
- My Curious and Jocular Heroes: Tales and Tale-Spinners from Appalachia (2017).
With Billy Edd Wheeler, Jones coauthored:
- Laughter in Appalachia: A Festival of Southern Mountain Humor (1987)
- Curing the Cross-Eyed Mule: Appalachian Mountain Humor (1989)
- The Preacher Joke Book (1989)
- Hometown Humor (1991)
- More Laughter in Appalachia: A Festival of Southern Mountain Humor (1995).
He also edited the Humor section and numerous entries in Encyclopedia of Appalachia, edited by Ruby Abramson and Jean Haskell, and published in 2006.
Records include notes to:
- Music from South Turkey Creek (1976)
- Co-producer and writer of notes for Celebration! Old-Time Music at Berea (1976)
- Co-producer and writer of notes for Buell Kazee (1978)
- The Ballad Tradition (1986)
- Sheila Adams Barnhill: Loving Forward, Loving Backward (1988).
Before coming to Berea College as director of the Appalachian Center, Jones served two years in the United States Army as teacher and educational specialist; was a teacher in Jefferson County, Kentucky, public schools; and was Associate Executive Director and later Executive Director of the Council of the Southern Mountains in Berea.
Most of Jones’ life has been spent in the Southern mountains, and nearly all of his writing is connected to the region.
Over the years, he has been active in many organizations, including:
- Member and chairman, Berea Area Human Relations Committee, 1965-1970
- Board member, chairman, and treasurer, Kentucky Foothills Development Council, 1970-78
- Member, Governor’s Task Force on Education, 1975
- Member, Governor’s Task Force on Welfare Reform, 1979-80
- Member, advisory committee, An Appalachian Experience, program in Oak Ridge, Tennessee, 1978-80
- Member, agenda or program committees, Appalachian Studies Conference, 1980-84, 1986-89, chairman, 1989
- Member and chairman, Hindman Settlement School Board of Directors, 1978-present
- Director, annual Celebration of Traditional Music, 1973-1993
- Co-director, Festival of Appalachian Humor, 1983, 1987, 1990.
He has also served:
- As a Board Member for White House Clinics, Health Help, Inc. in McKee, Kentucky
- On the advisory committee for the Kentucky Music Hall of Fame and Museum
- As a Trustee for the Berea College Appalachian Fund
- Additionally, he is a long-time member of Union Church in Berea.
Among the numerous honors accorded Jones over the years are:
- Thomas Wolfe Award (WNC Historical Society)
- Mountain Spirit Award (Christian Appalachian Project),
- Laurel Leaves Award (Appalachian Consortium)
- President’s Medallion (Berea College)
- Appalachian Educator Award (Carson-Newman College)
- Appalachian Treasure Award (Morehead State University)
- Cratis D. Williams Appalachian Service Award (Appalachian Studies Association)
- Award of Special Merit (Berea College Alumni Association)
- Service to Appalachia and Berea College Award (Berea College Appalachian Fund)
- Outstanding Contributor to Appalachian Literature and Culture Award (Appalachian Writers Association)
- Denny Plattner Award for poetry (Appalachian Heritage)
- Special W.D. Weatherford Award (Berea College)
- Service Award (Berea College)
- Jim Wayne Miller Award (Hazard Community College)
- Culture and Arts Award (East Kentucky Leadership Foundation)
- W.D. Weatherford Award for Faith & Meaning in the Southern Uplands (Berea College)
- Willie Parker Peace History Book Award (North Carolina Society of Historians)
- an honorary doctorate in humane letters (Union College).
Most recently, in 2008, the Berea College Board of Trustees passed a resolution to rename the Appalachian Center at Berea College the Loyal Jones Appalachian Center in recognition of his distinguished career and notable accomplishments as the Center’s founding director.
Gregory, Ron. “Jones, Writer, Teacher, Folklorist.” The Appalachian Log 1.3 (1992).
Haukebo, Kirsten. “Mr. Appalachia.” The Courier-Journal (1993).