Jane Peal is an Alameda-based therapist.
Paying Tribute to Two Great Alamedans
What do Playboy magazine founder Hugh Hefner, mob enforcer Tony “The Ant” Spilotro and Alameda’s “Energizer Bunny” Jim Franz have in common? All three attended Steinmetz High School on the Northwest Side of Chicago.
While attending Steinmetz, Franz played in the concert band. In his senior year, he performed in jam sessions with many jazz greats. He produced his first concert at The Blue Note, one of Chicago’s premiere jazz clubs. The venue showcased nationally renowned musicians, including Count Basie, Duke Ellington and Benny Goodman.
Franz graduated from Steinmetz in 1960 and formed a band called “The Kasuals.” Four years later he joined Dick Clark Productions as musical director for the Dick Clark Caravan of Stars. From 1966 to 1976, Franz (“Jimmy” to his fans) played with The Mob, a band that did not include Tony “The Ant.” Among the band’s hit songs was “Disappear.” Listen to the song at: www.youtube.com/watch?v=23T89NqSjHs.
As time went by, Franz diversified. He managed the Flying Karamazov Brothers. Then he ran a butcher shop and delicatessen in Berkeley. His next gig, delivering groceries, brought him in contact with the Alameda Food Bank, where he volunteered to serve on the board of directors. Franz moved to Alameda in 1981, where he got a job with the Red Cross and volunteered again, this time for a seat on Alameda’s Social Service Human Relations Board. His involvement in community affairs so impressed his fellow Island City dwellers that they named him “Man of the Year” and “Humanitarian of the Year.”
In 2011 — the same year Franz retired from the Red Cross and began working for the city — The Mob reunited to celebrate their induction into the South Dakota Rock ’n’ Roll Hall of Fame. At the ceremony, fans recalled how The Mob came to Sioux Falls. Jimmy and his fellow musicians always packed the Midwest’s premier nightclub The Mocamba. In 2014, Franz and Hefner were inducted into Steinmetz High School’s Hall of Fame. Tony “The Ant” didn’t make the grade.
Franz retired last evening. He was serving as the city’s community development coordinator. The city gave him a royal send off. “I’m sure we haven’t seen the last of him,” a high-ranking city official told the Alameda Sun on condition of complete anonymity.
If you’re a long-time Alamedan, you know him. He might have been your teacher, therapist or coach. Perhaps you recognize him as a two-time City Council candidate, a competitive master swimmer or abstract painter. If you’re newer to the Island (and still brave driving down Park Street on a weekend day), you know him as the imposing white-haired figure with the booming voice, holding a Black Lives Matter placard at the corner of Santa Clara every Saturday at noon.
Ashley Jones’ activism began more than five decades ago, and his rebellion even earlier. At the age of five he’d already developed an instinctual distrust of authority, and “since then any authority that has not measured up, I’ve been rebellious against.”
An experience that served to solidify this distrust and disgust occurred when Jones was in the fifth grade. Four of his classmates were suddenly removed from class and disappeared without explanation. The students were of Japanese descent, and later discovered to have been incarcerated at Manzanar Internment camp with their families. The visceral feeling of not knowing where they went or why this had happened haunts him to this day. As he puts it, “You can’t erase hatred.”
As Jones tells it, the pivotal point came in 1964. “When I first saw Mario Savio standing on top of a cop car with a megaphone in Berkeley, that was it! It opened me up. I realized I’d been living too comfortably.”
That same year Jones joined the NAACP. At that time the residents of the Estuary Housing Projects were being effectively displaced and pushed out of Alameda. On a Sunday afternoon Jones and fellow protestors began a three-day camp-out in Franklin Park to protest. They endured the city turning on sprinklers, racist shouts and threats from neighbors. But an ensuing City Council meeting resulted in a positive outcome, and the protest was considered a victory.
Throughout the years while Jones served in the Navy, protested the Vietnam War and fought for civil rights, his 48-year marriage served as ballast. He and Lynn, a Jungian Psychoanalyst, bought their Alameda home in 1955 and raised four daughters. Jones lives there to this day. Lynn passed in 2003.
There are now six grandchildren and a new great-grandson. Jones says of Lynn, “She shared my beliefs and convictions, but she was the introvert, while I’m an extrovert.” Jones moved to the Anderson Valley for a time after Lynn’s death. There, he built a studio, got serious about his painting, and enjoyed the quiet lifestyle before returning home to Alameda.
No one could be more rooted in Alameda. Jones taught history at Alameda High School for more than two decades. He’s taught at Haight Elementary School and run programs for Island High School. He’s served as swimming and water polo coach to several generations. As a licensed psychotherapist he counseled countless individuals and couples in his private practice, and ran encounter groups for teens. In 1967 he ran for City Council, and again 40 years later in 2007. He smiles and shrugs as he recounts, “I got 4,000 votes each time. I needed 10,000.”
Today, Jones’ activism revolves around the same core issues. He notes, “I always take the side of the oppressed. It’s always the same. Those who have, don’t know how to share.” At 86, Jones is still substitute teaching at Alameda High School, and swimming half a mile a day. I suggested the title for this piece might be, “Where there’s Ash, there’s fire.” He countered, “Well, it’s a cute pun, but ashes imply the fire is out. And that is not the case!”