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Peanut Jones is 'one of the things that make West Alabama so unique'

Peanut Jones delivering the mail at UWA.

Leroy 'Peanut' Jones delivering the mail at UWA.

UWA's warehouse manager is an essential part of campus community

Story: Phillip Tutor | Photo: Betsy Compton

Besides his ebullience and can-do attitude, Peanut Jones is essentially the University of West Alabama’s human divining rod. If it exists on campus, he almost assuredly knows where it is, how to find it, and the quickest way to make it happen.

Everyone in Livingston has a Peanut story because everyone in Livingston seemingly knows Peanut, a native Sumter Countian whose diligence as UWA’s warehouse and receiving manager is renowned from the banks of Lake LU to the doors of University Charter School. 

“He's one of those guys you gravitate to. He's really one of the things that, in my opinion, make West Alabama so unique,” UWA football coach Brett Gilliland said about Jones, who last December received the university’s 2022 Loraine McIlwain Bell Support Staff Excellence Award. 

“He's one of those people that really just kind of embodies what we are as a university. He's always willing to help and make sure that everything looks good and make sure everything goes properly, no matter what it is.”

As popular as he is, few may know Peanut Jones’ first name -- it’s Leroy -- or how he earned his beloved nickname.

It has nothing to do with goobers or Snoopy. 

“That’s what I’ve always been known as -- ‘Peanut,’” Jones said. For some reason, his family dubbed him “Peanut” when he was a toddler, and it stuck. Now 55, Jones rarely hears anyone use his first name, which he doesn’t mind. It makes him who he is. 

“Because I tell people, ‘I don't mean no harm, and I'm not trying to be disrespectful, but if you call me by my real name, I might not answer you,’” he said.

How Jones arrived at UWA is a life that twists and turns. He admits he’s a small-town man without dreams of joining the snarled traffic of Atlanta or Nashville or Birmingham. He’s at home in the Black Belt, with people he knows.

“He's one of those people that really just kind of embodies what we are as a university. He's always willing to help and make sure that everything looks good and make sure everything goes properly, no matter what it is.”

UWA football coach Brett Gilliland

For 22 years he worked in maintenance for Regions Bank branches in Livingston, York and Demopolis, leaving after it merged with Union Planters Bank. He drove over-the-road trucks for more than a decade for three different companies, with routes mostly in the Southeast. Once hired at UWA, Jones worked in grounds and maintenance and helped with event setup at Bell Conference Center before moving to the university warehouse.

There, Jones’ duties are synchronized with the mail’s arrival -- packages for students, faculty and staff from the U.S. Postal Service, from Federal Express, and from UPS that are delivered at different times throughout the day. It’s a routine dominated by a clock and a campus map.

When letters and packages arrive, Jones logs them, sorts them by their destinations, and delivers them. Neither the clock nor the deliveries stop. In essence, his job ensures he knows everyone’s name and their campus locations.

What people remember when he drops by, they say, are the smiles he flashes along the way.

“That's where you will get things back in life,” Jones said. He’s addicted to happiness, friendliness, camaraderie, a personal choice to be cheerful. “No one wants you to come around with a sad face.”

Over at UWA’s football offices, Gilliland is one of those who’s noticed Jones’ affability.

“He's that guy that has done a little bit of everything on this campus,” Gilliland said, “and he's always got a smile on his face.”

Several years ago, Gilliland built a backyard fire pit and knew Jones was always good for a cord of firewood. The two UWA men, one a football coach, the other a warehouse manager, began discussing the best way to barbecue a pig in a fire pit. As it turns out, Jones was a pro at cooking whole hogs. Gilliland wasn’t. 

The pro gave the apprentice tips.

When Gilliland set up his pit, Jones noticed something amiss.

“They didn’t put the pig in with a wire (grate),” he said. “I said, ‘Coach, how are you going to turn your hog?’”

Jones laughs when he tells that story. Gilliland does, too.

“He gave me a bunch of pointers, and then he showed up several times throughout the process to make sure I was doing it right,” Gilliland said. “He always gets on me because I don't get the skin good and crispy enough.”

Since then, Gilliland has bought a “nice, big smoker” so he doesn’t have to barbeque hogs in his fire pit. Jones, always aware of what’s going on with his UWA colleagues, has noticed.

“One thing I can be assured of,” Gilliland said, “is every time I'm smoking something and there's smoke coming from my smoker, Peanut is going to stop by early in the morning, check it out, see what's on there, and make sure I'm doing things right.”

Established in 1996, the Loraine McIlwain Bell Trustee Awards are made possible through an endowment by the late Mrs. Bell's daughter and son-in-law, Mr. and Mrs. L.G. Cunningham. Candidates are nominated by the university community.

Besides Jones, the other Bell Awards winners for 2022 were former UWA registrar Susan Sparkman (Professional Staff Excellence Award), and Dr. Brian Keener of the College of Natural Sciences and Mathematics (Trustee Professor Award). Dr. Veronica Triplett, assistant professor of management, received the 2022 Nellie Rose McCrory Service Excellence Award.