By Karen Middleton
Jeanette Dunnavant Jones came on as tourism director for the Greater Limestone County Chamber of Commerce in 2006 with a stated goal to make Athens a “destination” community for travelers.
Jones will officially retire Aug. 31 as co-president of the Athens-Limestone Tourism Association, a separate entity from the chamber since 2011.
She said Thursday during a retirement ceremony at the conclusion of the Alabama Mountain Lakes tourism meeting at the Event Center that Athens is now recognized as a destination community based on the numbers of out-of-state and foreign travelers who specifically come to “walk the beautiful streets of Athens and see its beautiful homes.”
However, that is not the only thing Jones can count among her accomplishments, according to Mountain Lakes President and CEO Tami Reist.
“Jeanette knew what her foundation for the future was when she was hired,” said Reist. “When she came on she had a budget of just $87,000.”
Reist said Jones saved money any way she could.
“Jeanette called me and asked me if she could get a ride to Montgomery with me,” said Reist. “I told her, ‘Sure you can. You can sleep with me, too.’”
She said Jones confirmed her husband’s charges that she snores.
Randy Paul put together a video of shots of Jones over the past seven years showing her taking part in many tourism functions. The video was accompanied by Eric Clapton’s “If I Could Change the World.” Between her laughter, Jones wiped away several tears.
“She now has a $167,000 budget and she went from being part of the chamber to her own building,” she said. “It is amazing what she has accomplished.”
Jones said that it was former chamber president Hugh Ball’s idea before retiring that the tourism office should separate from the chamber and become its own organization.
“Hugh had a vision and we ran with it,” she said.
Employees of the city of Athens Public Works Department renovated the city’s first electric department building across East Market Street from the chamber office and it is now the official site of the Athens-Limestone Tourism Association.
In February, AthensPlus owner Teresa Todd was hired as co-president and has been in training to take over the reins of the tourism office. Jones said she was relieved to leave the office in Todd’s hands, but she would remain on as secretary of the tourism board.
Jones said she began working at 17 for the federal government and at the time she retired at 46 was working on the so-called “Star Wars” defense program.
“If I had known sooner how great working in tourism was I would have come to it sooner,” she said.
Jones married Larry Jones six months ago and the couple hasn’t had a chance for a honeymoon, and she said she would like to spend more time with her husband and her grandchildren, ranging in age from 2 to 20. She also said they recently moved into a new house and she has never finished unpacking boxes.