Cliff Jones died on November 22, 2023. He was a member of the Kappa Kappa class of ’81. Many of you knew Cliff or knew of him. And to many of you, he was known as “Ferd’. When he was diagnosed with cancer in October, over 100 brothers from numerous eras communicated with Cliff in some fashion. That’s because he epitomized many of the traits we strive to attain to be a good brother. He was unfailingly supportive of house functions, as well as individual brothers and he was always good-natured.
In his early years, Cliff grew up on a grain farm in the tiny town of Bourbon which is thirty miles south of Champaign. He attended Chaminade College Preparatory in St Louis for high school where he was an outstanding athlete in football and basketball, he was a member of many Christian and social action groups, and he traveled to England for a special student interaction program.
At Illinois, besides being a member of Sigma Chi, he played on the U of I football team as a kicker. A lasting memory to his brothers was that immediately before each kick-off, he always held up a special hand signal for their benefit. Cliff was one of the last of the straight on kickers. He wore a square toe, kangaroo skin, tied-up kicking shoe which can be seen in the picture. In those days a tomahawk sticker was awarded to him for each touchback achieved by his kicks out of the end-zone. His helmet was filled with the stickers. He was also the assistant rush chairman, assistant social chairman, and the assistant magister at Sigma Chi. Further, he was an assistant manager at the renowned campus bar, Kams.
He remained in the Champaign area where he was involved in the farming industry in several capacities for almost forty years. He was an avid Illini fan, at all times being up to date on Illini news and attending 100’s of events over his lifetime. And being very social, he will always be remembered for hosting numerous parties and cook-outs for his friends and Sigma Chi brothers. During his college years, he hosted the memorable “Jones Jam”, so named after Willie Nelson’s “Farm Jam” of the time. It took place for several years at the family farm in Bourbon where hundreds of pork chops were served.
He was involved in an eclectic mix of activities; he served on the board of the U of I Varsity I Association, he was a member of the Knights of Columbus, he was a woodworking hobbyist, he owned a boar named ‘Butkus’ that was used for breeding, he liked to travel and he set foot in almost every state in the continental U.S., he worked in several roles at St. Vincent de Paul Catholic Church, and he was a youth coach at the Champaign Park District. In addition, he attended almost all the events for his daughter and son at St. Matthew Catholic School and The High School of St. Thomas More. As Brother Dave Hoffman ’80 whimsically stated after reading his obituary, “Cliff wasn’t only a great guy, he was a Renaissance man”.
In his final month and after his death numerous stories surfaced that remembered Cliff as being positive, enthusiastic, and always having a smile on his face.
Pledge son, Robb Sackett ’83 recalls that “Cliff was always supportive and uplifting and would repeat the same quote on numerous occasions, ‘what are you going to do’. In other words, that whenever bad things were happening that were outside of my control, to keep moving forward and you’ll be able to work things out.”
Kevin Young ’82 emailed “one of the earliest memories I have of Cliff was at halftime of a football game when Ferd’s then girlfriend who was an Illinette and I brought food down to the sideline for him. He came over to us and acted like we had just done the cleverest and nicest thing in the world. It was the middle of a Big Ten football game and he was thanking me many times for doing that (though he was no doubt mortified and may have thrown it in the trash because of possible player rules).”
Casey Welch ’84; “I’ll always remember a gloomy late February afternoon when I was a pledge heading back to the house from class. Walking by Kams I saw Cliff, who I barely knew. He was heading into Kams to work and he invited me to come in. We talked off and on for over an hour and he was sincerely interested in everything I had learned about the house to date and he gave me all kinds of constructive advice regarding pledgeship. From that point on I never hesitated to seek his advice and I made a lifelong friend.”
Frank Simonetti ’83 recalled that at informal rush, “Ferd was the first Sig I met. I was early, so Ferd, came up to me, introduced himself and took me to lunch. He didn’t have to do that. He then introduced me to several Illini cheerleaders and football players. He was such a stud to me as a high school senior and still is a stud to me today.”
There were countless other stories that brothers recalled. Many of us will remember our own. Those of us that were lucky enough to know him will always remember Cliff.
Cliff was the son of the late Bill Jones KK 1953, he was the brother to Chip Jones KK 1983, and an uncle to Daniel Gartrell Eta Omega 2018.