Debbie Jones: Return Day, Civil War history are ongoing passions

GEORGETOWN — It’s not every day someone is born into this world with the same name as that of an iconic Hollywood movie star.

And not many people keep a Civil War-era cannon in their home.

Debra Jones gets check-marks on both accounts.

A Sussex County native, Ms. Jones, now 63, is a quality assurance supervisor at the Sussex county Emergency Operations Center in Georgetown.

She is a huge history buff. The Civil War and Sussex County and its unique Return Day celebration are among her greatest passions.

She’s a member of PACS (Provisional Army of Confederate States) and belongs to the 2nd Company Richmond Howitzers, a re-enactment organization she founded.

“I actually own that organization,” said Ms. Jones. “And I own the 12-pound field howitzer cannon that it uses.”

Where on earth does one keep a Civil War cannon that fires 12-pound rounds?

“Inside the front door. I keep it right there at home,” she said, “Just the tube of my cannon alone weighs over 800 pounds.”

She’s also a member of the Order of Confederate Rose, a group that supports the Sons of Confederate Veterans. “They do living history presentations,” said Ms. Jones. “They go out to memorial services at the cemeteries and those kinds of things.”

And then there is Sussex County Return Day, the county’s one-of-a-kind, two-day post-election celebration that marks the end of Delaware’s political season.

She became Return Day Committee president in 2016, assuming the reins from longtime committee member/president Rosalie Walls, who still remains active with the committee.

Debbie Jones waves as she rides in the 2016 Return Day Parade.

In early December prior to the Georgetown Christmas Parade, Ms. Jones was honored by the town of Georgetown as its Volunteer of the Year.

“It came as a complete surprise,” said Ms. Jones.

Raised in Milton, Ms. Jones graduated from Cape Henlopen High School in 1972.

Widowed, she has a son Jerry and a grandson Jackson.

Ms. Jones was born into this world Debra Reynolds.

“My name is Debra, but I go by Debbie. So, my name was Debbie Reynolds,” said Ms. Jones. “It was funny; when I got married and we were standing there waiting to go into the church, my dad said, ‘You know I gave you a name like Debbie Reynolds, and now you’re going to throw it away for something common — like Jones!”

In this week’s People to Meet spotlight, Debra “Debbie” Jones.

Your job as quality assurance supervisor?

“I work with the dispatchers and I also pull calls from them and review them to make sure that they got the right questions, the right responses, those kinds of things.”

Previous employment?

“I’ve been at the EOC since 1988. Prior to that I worked for a private ambulance service … in Sussex County.”

Other civic or community organization ties??

“Early on, I was a member of the Jayncees, the wives of Jaycees. I had belonged Millsboro VFW Auxiliary. I ran as an EMT with the Millsboro VFW ambulance. I was a member of — when it was here in Georgetown — the Mothers Against Drunk Drivers. I was member of Hope Rebekah Lodge in Milton, which is female of the Odd Fellows. I do lot of work with Georgetown Historical Society and the Marvel Museum. In the past I have belonged to Anona Council, the ladies of Red Men. And of course, I’ve been with Return Day for a lot of years. And I belong to living history and civil war re-enactment organizations.

Sussex County Return Day Committee president Debbie Jones and vice president Jim Bowden.

How long have you been involved with Return Day?

“Since at least late 80s, early 90s — several decades. I love the history. And to think that this is something that is only done here now. Again, we try to keep that alive. It’s getting harder and harder every time because less people have horses and carriages. We try to very hard to keep it back like it was with that in mind.”

Planning for Return Day?

“We’ll start our meetings any time now. Usually, we start in January or February. Most of the people come back and they have their committee. One of the great aspects is even though we try to recruit new volunteers, we have groups that they can learn from so that this will continue to carry out. As we bring in new people, we try to get them on a committee that will enjoy. We try to find out what their interests are and then they can learn from the ones already there, so we can continue this great tradition.”

How is the Return Day presidency going?

“It’s a great group of people that work on the Return Day Committee. Most of us have worked together for years and year. So, the transition was not very hard. It was a great an honor to think that they instilled enough trust in me to be the president of that organization.”

Sussex County Return Day Committee president Debbie Jones speaks at a gathering on the grounds of the Old Sussex Courthouse.

Any new twists for Return Day 2018?

“Every Return Day year we try to look at adding something. We try to do something or a feature. This last time we weren’t able to get the carriage and horses we usually do to carry the hatchet up to The Circle. We had a stage coach. The folks all dressed up. It was fun. Each year trying to bring something to interest the crowd. We know everybody has their favorite band and everybody has their favorite thing. We try to keep people coming to be interested about the history.”

Your Civil War passion?

“I love that era, both the architecture and craftsmanship. I love the fact of mannerisms. We don’t do a lot of those things anymore, so it I think is really important that when I give talks or when I do living history displays that we talk about those things. Like the family coming together and eating at table, not just at Thanksgiving but every day. The fact that you communicated. You sat there and talked to one another. Manners: people respected one another, whether you agreed with their lifestyle or politics or whatever, people respected one another. So, I think just because of time and a different era, things have changed. I think that sometimes looking at that and giving people a perspective of a simple thing, like a garment would have been used or remade or handed down until it was just nothing and then it was made into a quilt or something. Where today, if we get a stain on a shirt, we just go to the store get a new one. Just bringing those kinds of things to show people how people lived back then, I think, is my greatest passion.”

How about living history re-enactment?

“When I portray a female, I wear the all layers. And it would be (period) accurate. From the skin out, it would be accurate. When I work the gun, I wear a uniform.”

Your 2nd Company Richmond Howitzers?

“I don’t own the people; I own the organization. People volunteer and join the organization to do the same thing, to portray living history or work the gun on the field.”

Where does living history/re-enactment take you?

“I am at Gettysburg three or four times a year. My unit does demonstrations for the National Park Service there twice a year. I go all over. My gun was in the Hunley funeral. They had a gun from each of the states do a salute when they buried the CSA (Confederate States of America) Hunley, a submarine. We went to Charleston, South Carolina and participated weeklong in the ceremonies for the Hunley crew.”

“We do Cedar Creek battlefield in Middletown, Va., and New Market, Va. And we do some more local things for living histories, from time to time.”

Closing thought?

“My biggest passion is my family. Spending time with them would be most important to me.”

News Editor Glenn Rolfe can be reached at grolfe@newszap.com

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