Her face is easily recognizable from commercials that air during the evening news, and any Arkansan worth their salt could recite her catchy slogan. Sissy Jones is bit of an Arkansas celebrity, but she’s more than a lilting accent and a signature hairstyle. Over the last 45 years, she’s been busy building a jewelry empire on nothing more than her own gritty determination and a refusal to sacrifice customer service. Sissy’s Log Cabin recently opened the doors of its fourth location in Memphis, yet, at 75-years-old, Jones shows no signs of slowing down. In addition to greeting customers daily from behind her jewelry counter, she tirelessly gives her time and resources back to her community, which is why Easter Seals of Arkansas has named her 2015’s Arkansan of the Year.
Jones was born Marguerite Louise Robinson in San Antonio, Texas. Her father was a fighter pilot and her mother Mary — a native Arkansan with a degree from the University of Arkansas — was a world-class homemaker. After World War II, the Robinson family relocated to Gillett, Arkansas, where Jones’ grandfather owned rice farms. “Mother believed that idleness was the devil’s workshop, and she kept my sister Annette and I busy all the time.” As children, the girls worked the farm and learned to cook. “By six, I could cook a four-course meal,” Jones says. “At 12 and 13, we could drive the family truck, and at 14, I was tending the farm’s books. If it could be done, we did it.”
Mary Robinson volunteered for every available position Gillett had to offer, serving as mayor of the town, head of the Salvation Army and organizing Gillett’s famous “Coon Supper.” Jones and her sister were expected to help with every event and fundraiser. “My mother taught me to be an achiever and a helper,” Jones says. “She was my mentor, and she taught me to tell people the truth.”
While studying at the University of Arkansas-Monticello, Jones met and married Murphy Jones. The pair moved briefly to Atlanta to study at the Georgia Institute of Technology before settling in Pine Bluff, where she took a job at Entergy. “I had taken a lot of different courses at Georgia Tech, but I was still going to school to figure out exactly what I wanted to do. I wasn’t content with sitting behind a calculator,” she says.
Eventually, Jones became a licensed antique dealer and began running an interior design business out of her house. “The living room was filled with antiques, so Murphy told me I had to get that stuff out of the house,” she laughs. While driving down Highway 79 in 1970, she noticed a for-sale sign on an old log cabin and pulled into the doughnut shop across the street to call and inquire. “I convinced the owner to rent it to me for $50 a month, but I was mad he charged me at all — I had to put the windows back in myself,” she laughs. “Murphy almost fainted when he saw it. It had no heat and air, no light fixtures. Just four wires dangling from the ceiling and a rotten screen door. Murphy said, ‘Sissy, this place is barely standing,’ and I told him, ‘That’s right, but we’re gonna make it stand good.’” With the help of a few friends, the Joneses got to work renovating the cabin themselves, and three months later, she was able to begin selling and appraising antiques from the new location.
During this time, Jones’s interest began to shift to jewelry, but she didn’t want to officially change her business without the proper education. She enrolled at the Gemological Institute of America in California, then went on to study at the McCarthey Jewelry Design School in Mena and Trenton Jewelry/Goldsmith School in Memphis. But as Jones pushed forward professionally, her personal life took a hit. “All I did was work, study, work, study,” she says. “I began to forget what was most important.” In 1975, she and Murphy divorced, and Murphy accepted an engineering position in Africa. “We never once had a bad relationship, but I’m a workaholic,” Jones admits. “I added a lot of things to my life and it pushed some other things, some more important things, out.”
Jones threw herself into her work after that, taking full ownership of the log cabin in 1980 and expanding her jewelry business to include her son Bill, daughter Ginger and a full-time staff jeweler in the mid-1980s. In 1988, Murphy returned home from Africa and the pair remarried.
What had started as a passion for antiques was now a full-fledged family business, and Jones’ little log cabin was bursting at the seams. The family broke ground on an expanded store, and the day after Thanksgiving in 1991, Jones’s mother Mary cut the ribbon to the new 12,000-square-foot location.
Thirteen years later, Sissy’s Log Cabin has added locations in Little Rock, Jonesboro and Memphis, but Jones never forgot the lessons her mother taught her about philanthropy on a local level, which helped her to see her business and her customers in a new light. “If you’re living in a town and you don’t help that town, how can you expect the townspeople to help you?” Jones and her family supported the Pine Bluff Symphony Orchestra, served in the food line at the Salvation Army, brought food and supplies to Hurricane Katrina refugees and loaned generators to Dumas business owners after a tornado destroyed the town in 2009. “You have two hands,” Jones says, “one to receive and one to give. If you help enough people get to where they’re going, you’ll get there too.”
The number of boards Jones serves on and the organizations she volunteers for and donates to is too long to list — everything from the Junior League to the local police force — but she says that there’s a soft spot in her heart for Easter Seals. “There’s nothing they don’t do,” she says of the organization. “I was blown away by the facilities, the patience, the love. Easter Seals follows the progress of these children from beginning to end, so that they can work and feel like they are independent members of the community.”
Jones was equally blown away by the news that she had been named 2015 Arkansan of the Year, making her the 28th honoree of this long-standing event. The dinner will take place at the Statehouse Convention Center on Friday, May 1 with cocktail hour beginning at 6 p.m. It is the largest fundraiser for Easter Seals, which serves more than 20,000 people annually around the state. “This event helps to fund our operational expenses,” says director of development Mac Bell. “For all the things that we do and the population we serve, we have to raise funds to meet the standards we have and take care of people the way they need to be taken care of. We just hope to break even every year.”
“I’m still not sure I’ve fully recovered from it,” she laughs. “Of all the organizations I’ve ever dealt with, Easter Seals gets the biggest, shining star. When you can help children and follow through to arrive at a beautiful ending, what more could you ask for?”
Q&A: Getting Personal with Sissy
Soirée: We hear you’re quite the antique collector. Is there a specific era that fascinates you?
Sissy Jones: I absolutely love the Victorian era.
What particular jewelry pieces do you collect?
Victorian jewelry, pearls, crosses and slides
What is your most prized piece of jewelry and why?
My cameo angel pin my children gave me for Mother’s day 1988 is my absolute favorite. Bill designed it and he and my daughter, Ginger, presented it to me on Mother’s Day 1988. The significance of the pin is the angel with the children on a bridge. Both of my children had this picture in their bedrooms and would say their prayers by it each night. It is a cameo and has an opal for Bill and a ruby for Ginger. Once, I lost the pin and it later showed up on my front doormat. It is my MOST important piece to me.
We’ve all seen your iconic “Sissy” barrette. Who made it for you?
I came up with the design of my name. I had several pieces of jewelry I was not wearing and decided to melt it all down and use for the production of the barrette. Don Drake made the barrette for me, and I have worn it every day for the last 25 years.
Easter Seals Arkansan of the Year
When: 6 p.m., Friday, May 1
Where: Wally Allen Ballroom, Statehouse Convention Center
Tickets: $300 per person
Info: 227-3700, EasterSealsAR.com