CHAMPAIGN — As a young teacher in southern Illinois, Murial Jones saw fellow female teachers having a pretty good time helping others through their sorority.
“They invited me, and I thought, ‘I can do this.’ It was fun,” said the now-retired educator of her initiation into Alpha Kappa Alpha Inc. in Cairo.
And oh, has she done this.
At 68, the Champaign woman has done just about every job there is for her Epsilon Epsilon Omega chapter, making her the logical choice for the chapter’s Living Legend award.
She and other Winding Ivy award winners will be honored tonight at the group’s Pink Panache Scholarship Gala at the I Hotel in Champaign.
“The goal is, when you join, you are a lifelong member,” she said of the service group.
In her 33 years of membership, Jones has held elected positions such as president, vice president, recording secretary, corresponding secretary, treasurer and financial secretary.
She’s served on and chaired numerous committees, but her favorite, she said, has been the Social Action and Justice committee, formerly dubbed “Connections.”
“We are nonpartisan but about getting information out. We register people to vote,” she said, adding that she is a deputy registrar.
That committee has partnered with the League of Women Voters to encourage voter registration and other causes. During the pandemic, members did webinars together on topics such as how to get young people to vote. They’ve also spread the word about the importance of participating in the census.
Echoing a familiar refrain among retirees, Jones wonders how she ever had time to work.
She met her former husband decades ago while attending her grandfather’s funeral in Cairo. They married and ended up settling there, a bit of “culture shock” for a woman who had grown up in Chicago and gotten her teaching degree there.
In the late 1980s, a friend of theirs took a job as principal at Edison Middle School, luring the couple to Champaign. With her husband’s family in Cairo and hers in Chicago, Champaign was a nice middle ground.
Jones’ first job locally was at Champaign’s Jefferson Middle School as a special-education teacher and a co-teacher of learning-disabled students and those with emotional/behavioral disorders.
She stumbled on to that path years earlier when she thought she wanted to be a nurse.
“I realized, ‘I don’t think I want to be a nurse.’ I didn’t want to give shots,” she said with a laugh.
A part-time job at a hospital working with sick children as the “play lady,” doing crafts and games with them to keep their minds off their illness, turned her attention to teaching.
She got her undergraduate education degree at Northeastern University in Chicago, went on to get a master’s in educational leadership at the University of Illinois-Chicago, then years later, after being tabbed by former Urbana Superintendent Preston Williams for a district-level position, she obtained a second master’s in educational administration at Eastern Illinois University.
In her first Urbana post, she acted as a liaison between students and classroom teachers to “help students make better choices in the classroom. It was a resource for students who needed support.”
Later in Urbana, she became the emotional/behavioral disorder coordinator for all students in kindergarten through 12th grade.
Having worked as a principal at Kenwood Elementary, at Jefferson and Edison middle schools and Champaign Central High School, as well as Urbana High School, Jones knows a lot of people and understands the community. She also had a stint as an elementary school principal in Decatur.
She retired in 2011 and since then has immersed herself in a number of causes in addition to her Alpha Kappa Alpha work.
“I work with the NAACP, the youth division, helping students to be their best selves,” she said. “I also work with the National Council of Negro Women and my church, Mount Calvary Missionary Baptist Church. I’m a mentor with C-U One to One. I have a student at Garden Hills.
“It keeps me busy. It keeps me out of trouble,” she said with a giggle.
She said she was “excited” about her honor from her sorority chapter.
“I have been blessed,” she said. “And because I have been blessed, I need to make sure I pass it on to other people.”