The Jones family still has trouble grasping that eighteen years have passed since the morning of April 15, 1999, when Blake answered the phone at 7 a.m. as he dressed for a normal day at Fernandina Beach High School.
“When the U.S. Coast Guard told me the Miss Fernandina was in distress, I handed the phone to my mom,” he remembers. Fourteen-year-old Blake would charter a private plane and conduct his own search of the Atlantic Ocean, hoping against hope that he might find his father lost at sea.
As the largest shrimp boat in the fleet, the 85-foot Miss Fernandina was the pride of the Amelia Island shrimping community. Its owner, Captain Kenneth Jones, Sr., who had been working locally to support himself since age nine, was a veteran Amelia Island shrimper. By age 39, he’d already owned shrimp boats for 22 years and traversed the waters up and down the Florida coast, from Amelia Island to Panama City and as far as Galveston, Texas, following “the bite.”
The Miss Fernandina was built for this sort of travel, with its steel frame and huge freezers, which allowed the crew to fish for 30 to 40 days. “We only came in if there were no shrimp, we were at capacity, or something broke,” explains Blake, who, along with his brother, spent many summer months learning the trade with their daddy. With freezers that could hold two-and-a-half semi-truck trailers of shrimp, Kenneth and his crew were fishing deep in the Atlantic for Royal Reds – a deep-water shrimp they hoped to find off the coast of Cape Canaveral.
Kenneth, a hard-working family man, used a special antenna and his mobile phone to call his wife, Beatrice, anytime he had a signal. On April 14, 1999 around 5 p.m., he explained to Bea that his nets were caught in the wheel of the Miss Fernandina and the ship was listing to one side. He described the seas as rough, but he wasn’t worried and was awaiting a tow from another shrimper nearby.
When the shrimp boat answering the Miss Fernandina’s distress call reached the area, there was no sign of the boat. The Coast Guard conducted a three-day search. At one point, they spotted two unresponsive bodies, but the aircraft needed to refuel. The spot was marked, but upon return, all it found was an oil slick and debris. “The water was his world,” explains his wife, commonly known on Amelia Island as “Ms. Bea.” “He once told me, ‘the ocean will be my death.’”
On that fateful day, two sons, Kenneth, Jr. (Kenny) and Blake were left fatherless, a thought that terrified their mother, Ms. Bea, who had grown up without a father of her own. “At that time, I had no idea what would happen. I had a note on the boat, a mortgage on our home, three law suits from the families of the crew members, and my profession was a homemaker,” she shares. “But I’ve learned that when God moves one thing, he always replaces it with something else – in His time – and I give Him all the glory for what has happened since.”
Today, the same residence Kenneth purchased for his family 34-years-ago is home to Ms. Bea’s Preschool, a place where children gather Monday through Friday to learn how to read and write, and, most of all, to learn that God loves them and that Ms. Bea loves them.
“I hug my students before they leave every afternoon,” she explains. “This is something I never had as a child, and I have an opportunity to bless others and let these precious students know that I love them.”
But it’s not just Ms. Bea’s students who are soaring today. Her first son, Kenny, is an award-winning chef with his own food truck, serving mission-style burritos in Sweden! This month, he is opening his first restaurant and gaining a lot of attention from winning “Best Vegetarian Dish” with his Fried Avocado Tacos in the Nordic Masters Food Truck Competition.
Meanwhile, Captain Blake joined the United States Air Force, earning his own wings in 2012. Today he flies Boeing C-17 cargo aircraft delivering crucial supplies to our armed forces. He has also deployed a couple of times and air-ambulanced wounded soldiers to rescue. His mom is most proud of the fact that he recently began training to become an Air Force Pilot Trainer –a teacher, just like her, and a captain, just like his dad.
The two brothers still remember and miss their father, and they share good laughs watching his favorite movie, John Wayne’s El Dorado, but they find great comfort in how God stepped in and filled the places Kenneth left.
“I don’t take any credit for the good God brought out of our story,” Ms. Bea concluded. “That’s God’s doing. I am humbled to take what God allowed us to accomplish and use it for His glory.”