Bob Jones delights elementary school students with a woodworking project...and
has a passion for flying.
Written by Nancy Sokoler Steiner
“Builder Bob! Builder Bob!” calls the pint-sized student to
70-year-old Bob Jones on the playground of Soleado Elementary School in
Palos Verdes. “Do you remember me?!”
“You’re the one who built the toolbox,” Jones responds.
The child grins. “You remember me!”
In truth, Jones couldn’t have distinguished the youngster from most
of his peers. But Jones figured he’d be safe mentioning the wooden
toolbox since every second grader at the school has constructed one.
Jones would know: He designed and supplied the materials for the project.
For the past four years, the Palos Verdes resident has gifted Soleado
Elementary School with his woodworking talent, generosity and enthusiasm
by designing projects for students to complete and building items for
It started when his three grandchildren were in kindergarten and Jones
made wood blocks for each of their classes. Then he built a bookcase and
some shelves for the kindergarten and transitional kindergarten classrooms.
He also created wooden stamps the students could use to decorate T-shirts.
You could say wood is in his blood. Jones and his brother co-own and recently
retired from running Jones Lumber in Lynwood. One of the largest distributors
of building materials in the Los Angeles basin, Jones Lumber was founded
in 1923 by Jones’ grandfather and later run by his father. Today,
Jones’ son, niece and nephew are involved in the business.
When his grandchildren were in second grade, Jones approached teacher Kristin
Biggins about doing a woodworking project with the three second grade
classes. Biggins agreed, and Jones suggested the toolbox.
Rather than using a premade kit, Jones, who has an engineering degree from
California State University Long Beach, designed the box and hand-cut
each of the pieces. He didn’t want the children to use nails, so
he designed it with pegs instead.
Because each piece is unique, Jones physically built each box to make sure
everything fit together, then disassembled it. He painstakingly labeled
the pieces with colored tape to guide the children with assembly. Then
he bagged the pieces, along with a small container of glue, and wrapped
each kit in twine.
“You can do any wood project for anybody at any age. It depends on
what state of completion you give it to them and if it’s prepped
properly,” Jones says. “Developing the projects is tough and
time-consuming, but it’s also the fun part.”
Jones coached his grandchildren so they could instruct their classmates
how to build the toolbox. He, his wife, Olga, and longtime friend Gary
Lopes accompanied the children, but they were the ones teaching their
fellow students. The toolboxes were a hit.
Afterwards, Jones asked the principal whether any other classes wished
to make the boxes. Fifteen classes responded in the affirmative.
“He prepped every one of those kits,” Biggins marveled. “We
figured if it took half an hour to make each one, and he made enough for
333 children, that would equal 9,990 minutes or 166 hours or about seven
full days. That’s the kind of person he is.”
Since then, Jones has done numerous other projects for the school. He designed
and built an arched entry and raised planter boxes for the garden. He
built trebuchets—catapults that use a long arm to launch projectiles—for
a lesson on force and motion. He was in the process of making backpack
shelf units to go outside the second grade classrooms when the school
closed due to COVID-19.
“Any needs we have relating to building, Bob is there for us,”
says Soleado’s principal Michele Marcus. “If you ask him for
something, the next second he’s there with plans and ready to build.
The students, the parents and the teachers all love him. He means the
world to us.”
“Bob is one in a million,” adds Biggins. “He understands
the kids and talks to them in a kind and encouraging way that’s
appropriate for their age. He has this wonderful combination of fun and
enthusiasm along with his engineering abilities. He brings excitement
Outside his projects with Soleado, Jones keeps active. He enjoys riding
his Jeep and bicycling, especially in Big Bear, where he and Olga have
a second home. The couple take their grandchildren camping twice a year.
Jones owns a Cessna 182 airplane and takes trips to Baja to go spearfishing.
For more than 30 years, he and Lopes have flown every Saturday to a California
airport to have breakfast, either at a restaurant on the premises or with
their own picnic fare. Destinations include Camarillo, Chino, Hemet, Kernville
and Mojave. COVID-19 concerns have grounded him for now, but he looks
forward to resuming the tradition.
Whether he’s helping out at the local elementary school or sitting
behind the controls of his airplane, Bob Jones’ zest for life continuously