By Kevin Callahan
Leon Jones returned to Mt. Holly from the Korean War with a Purple Heart. The distinguished military medal was awarded after he was wounded in action.
Those same caring hands Jones used to protect his country while serving in the Army would soon be used to provide for his family.
Jones, who now lives in Southampton, became a union bricklayer soon after he returned to the United States in October of 1952 and he spurred three generations of his family in the trade.
“Never, I could’ve never imagine it,” Jones said if he ever thought his son, Leon Jr., and two grandsons, Kyle and Lance, would follow him.
“It’s nice,” Leon Sr. said. “It’s great.”
The Bricklayers and Allied Craftworkers Union of New Jersey (BACNJ) represents trowel trades workers, including bricklayers, stone and marble masons, cement masons, plasterers, tile setters, terrazzo and mosaic workers as well as pointers, cleaners and caulkers.
Leon Sr., who is 88, retired in 1994, but he stays active with those giving hands.
“I still do mason work,” Leon Sr. said. “I’m very lucky. I’ve built four houses.”
He has worked laying bricks with his grandsons and his son. When asked if he ever passed on tips, he said, “to just work hard.”
When asked who is the fastest bricklayer, he said, “Well, you know I am.”
And do you have the strongest grip still, too?
“Yeah right,” Leon Sr. answered.
Leon Jr. is now a Bricklayers Local 5 union leader. He also recognizes the physical benefits he received for over three decades now.
“That’s another thing with the brick layers, you do have quite a grip,” Leon Jr. said with a laugh.
Leo Jr. joined the union in June of 1982, starting as an apprentice. He plans to keep going strong like his dad.
“My father built a brand new house when he was 72,” Leon Jr. said. “He still pours concrete and splits firewood.
“He is in great shape.”
Leon Jr. 55, lives in Easthampton. He attended Rancocas Valley High School before joining the bricklayers union and building for a living.
“I’m very proud, my father taught me the trade,” Leon Jr. said. “I’m very proud and very humbled that everyone is working in the trades and working with their hands and for everyone to be given the opportunity to join the union because it has been a very good trade for my father, myself and now my boys, especially with the benefits, the health care and the pension pretty soon.”
Leon has two sons who are bricklayers and one who is an IBEW member. His son Kyle joined the union in September of 2004.
Kyle, 32, lives in Lumberton. He also went to Rancocas Valley High School.
“It has helped me a lot,” Kyle said about working in the union. “To have steady work and to do what the family did.”
The youngest of Leon Jr.’s three sons Lance, 28, is a member of Local 7, the tile setters, and he lives in Maple Shade.
“It’s a family tradition, it feels like a legacy in the family,” Lance said.
Like his brothers, Lance is very proud of his grandfather.
“I’m hoping to do all that when I’m my grandfather’s age,” Lance said about his grandfather’s active building life after retirement. “He’s someone to look up to.”
Meanwhile, Jason Jones, who is the mayor Mt. Holly, is a member of I.B.E.W. Local 269 out of Trenton.
“I grew up doing little jobs with them and my grandfather has built every house he has lived in and we always subbed out the electrical and that was something that interested me because it was something I never got to learn,” Jason said.
Jason, 35, entered the Local 269 after graduating from Rancocas Valley, enrolling in a five-year apprenticeship program and training as an electrician. The Mt. Holly resident certainly holds a lot of respect for his bricklaying brothers, father and grandfather.
“It’s not an easy job, they don’t get a lot of inside work, they battle the weather so for them to be able to do it as long as they have and provide for their families is pretty remarkable,” Jason said.
With his three sons all graduating from Rancocas Valley, it is fitting that Leon Jr. worked on the school’s renovations.
“I was very proud to build the performing arts center and the gym there,” Leon Jr. said about working with D’Andrea Masonry out of Berlin.
Jones Jr. spends most of his time at the Bricklayers Local 5 offices on Route 206 in Bordentown. He has been a field representative for the last 12 years.
As a family, the Jones give back to the community and unions.
“We do a lot of volunteer work,” Jones Jr. said. “We’re working at the Florence Fire House with a 911 memorial.”
When asked if he would like to follow his father into a leadership role, Kyle said, “Possibly down the road.”
Lance said he promotes working in trades.
“I just talked to a couple of friends of mine,” Lance said. “I explained to them the excellent medical and the pension you’re able to get when you retire.”
Lance recalled he was around 11-years-old when he realized his grip was stronger than his friends because of working with his father and grandfather.
“You get that firm grip from holding the block and brick,” Lance said.
When asked if he could lay bricks faster than his grandfather now, Kyle laughed and said, “I don’t like it, he makes me look bad.”
Well, can you beat your grandfather in arm wrestling?
“I don’t think so,” Kyle said.
What the three generations of Jones know is the union work has been good to them and their families for three generations now.
“I feel very lucky” Leon Jr. said, “very blessed,”