Leon Jones, a longtime Forsyth County businessman and community leader who helped run Lanierland Music Park for more than 30 years, died on Monday. He was 76.
A fixture in the Chestatee community where he was born, Jones overcame humble beginnings — he never finished high school — to start and run Leon Jones Feed and Grain, a trucking company with a fleet of more than 100 vehicles, for the last 54 years. The company primarily hauls chicken byproducts.
Jones was also an early partner in Lanierland Music Park, a prominent country music venue in the 1980s that hosted some of the genre’s top performers. His family managed the venue for much of its existence until it closed in 2006.
Jones was also a partner in Country Land Golf Course as well as AMPRO Products Inc., which sold to Tyson Foods in 2018.
His array of ventures belied Jones’ modest upbringing, but it didn’t change him.
“To my daddy, he didn’t put anybody on a pedestal,” said his daughter, Cindy, a member of the Forsyth County Board of Commissioners who represents District 5. “... People that would drive up in a Lamborghini are the same to him as the people who drive up in a 30-year-old pickup truck.”
Jones was born in Forsyth County on Oct. 2, 1942, to Charlie and Madge Jones. By 13, he was working part-time at the North Georgia Rendering Company, which later became American Proteins and sold to Tyson. At 14, Jones’ mother died. Two years later, Jones dropped out of Chestatee High School to work full-time at North Georgia Rendering to support his family, Cindy said.
Jones drove a truck for North Georgia Rendering and displayed enough work ethic that the company’s owner, Leland Bagwell, offered Jones the chance to start his own company. Bagwell loaned Jones the money to buy his first truck, which became the genesis of his company, Leon Jones Feed and Grain.
By then, Jones had met Brenda Heard at a high school basketball game between Buford and Chestatee. They married in 1961 and had three children — Cindy, Lisa and Chad.
That family became instrumental in making Lanierland Music Park, a prominent country music venue in north Georgia. The park opened in 1970, and Jones was asked to become a partner in 1971, along with C.E. Samples, M.L. Hamby, Tommy Bagwell and Jones’ brother, Robert.
Eventually, Jones and Bagwell became the sole partners, and Jones’ family helped run the show. Jones booked performers. Brenda co-managed the venue. Brenda’s mom, Lois, cooked for the star musicians.
The venue hosted many of country music’s most legendary performers, including Johnny Cash, George Jones, Dolly Parton and Kenny Rogers, as well as crossover stars like Jimmy Buffett and The Beach Boys.
“I think it was something he was passionate about. It was a hobby that he just had — it fulfilled that side of him,” Cindy said.
It was a new circle of society for Jones, and several called to share memories with Jones in his last days, Cindy said. Marty Stuart called, she said, and a former prominent disc jockey. But dozens of more “ordinary” visitors came day after day, Cindy said — family, friends, former employees and co-workers.
The stories she heard reminded Cindy of her own random encounters through the years with people who had benefited from her father’s generosity. One stuck out in particular: a resident had come to her about a local issue, a man who had grown up with her father and drove a truck in his company at one time.
Leon Jones, he said, had encouraged him to start his own business.
“He didn’t just take the kindness that he got from Leland Bagwell … he kept giving it to other people and helped other people get their start and beginnings, too,” Cindy said. “We need to always do that for other people.”
Jones is survived by Brenda, his wife of 58 years, as well as three children, seven grandchildren and three great-grandchildren.
Funeral services are scheduled for Wednesday, 3 p.m., at Oak Grove Baptist Church.