Liis Abbott was a long way from her home in Estonia and didn’t have any family around when she suffered a broken left elbow while playing soccer for the University of Maine on Oct. 12, 2012, and needed to have surgery the next day.
It was her first season on the UMaine women’s soccer team, and she spent several months after her surgery in the training room rehabilitating the injury.
Abbott, who at the time went by Liis Emajoe, quickly discovered she had a guardian angel in UMaine equipment manager Steve Jones.
“He always came over and checked on me and asked me if there was anything I needed,” said Abbott, who is now an assistant coach for the Black Bears’ women’s soccer team. “He was really helpful.”
Jones brought the 21-year-old some oversized UMaine sweatshirts that would fit over her elbow, which was in a cast, to help make her life easier.
Jones, 62, retired on Sunday after spending 43 years as an equipment manager at the University of Maine.
But, as Abbott and countless others will attest, the man everyone calls “Jonesy” was much more than an equipment manager, and his absence will leave a large void.
“He was the personality of the athletic department,” said UMaine field hockey coach Josette Babineau. “The players turned to him for support and he always made time for them.”
When former players return to campus, “Jonesy” is one of the first people they want to see, Babineau said. And it’s not just student-athletes who confided in him — coaches and other staff members did, too.
“Everyone turned to him for help,” Babineau said.
No one at UMaine was better at serving the student-athletes than Jones, longtime UMaine women’s soccer coach Scott Atherley said.
“You would be hard-pressed to find somebody who was as kind-hearted and selfless as Jonesy,” Atherley said. “He was synonymous with UMaine athletics. Anywhere you go, everyone wants to know, ‘How’s Jonesy?’”
Jones began working at UMaine after graduating from Brewer High School in 1979. He was a manager for several athletic teams in his four years at Brewer as a way to get involved in sports even as a non-athlete.
George Wood, who was an equipment manager at UMaine from 1947 to 1990 and is in the UMaine Sports Hall of Fame, hired Jones out of high school, and the two worked together for more than 10 years.
Among Jones’ favorite memories from his time at UMaine is the 1987-88 men’s hockey team, which was the first one in school history to play in the Frozen Four. The tournament was held in Lake Placid, and UMaine lost to Lake Superior State in the semifinals, 6-3, before beating Minnesota 5-2 in the third-place game, which no longer exists.
That was the first of 11 Frozen Four appearances for the program.
Jones also fondly recalls the glory days of baseball when coach John Winkin’s Black Bears made five College World Series appearances in the 1980s after hosting several regional games with huge crowds cheering the team on.
“That was pretty special,” said Jones.
He’s also witnessed eight Football Championship Subdivision postseason appearances by the Black Bears during his time at UMaine.
Chris Markwood is one of the few people who knew Jones as a UMaine student, an assistant and now as a head coach.
“When I was a student-athlete, I was going to him every day for different things,” said Markwood, who just finished his first season as the UMaine men’s basketball coach after playing at UMaine and serving as an assistant coach.
“He is a tremendous person. He is always positive, and he is always a friendly face. I’ve never heard anyone say anything negative about him. He will be sorely missed,” Markwood said.
Bangor High girls basketball and soccer coach Jay Kemble, who was a pitcher for the UMaine baseball team, says Jones “bleeds Maine blue.”
“He loved student-athletes and interacting with them and he wanted everyone to be successful,” Kemble said. “He would do anything he could to help them be successful.”
Jones, who lives in Bangor, cited several reasons for his retirement, including longer work weeks.
“There have been a lot of seven-day weeks the last two years,” he said. When he first started working at UMaine he had most of the summer off, Jones said. Now, teams are staying on campus throughout the summer to workout and train for the upcoming season.
He also wants to devote more time to his family.
“I devoted my life to the University of Maine athletic family, and now it’s time to prioritize my family,” Jones said. “It was overdue.”
Jones and his wife, Jackie, have been married for more than 30 years. He has a stepson, Ryan Jones, whom he adopted and who now lives in Florida.
Jones admits he will miss the job, particularly the student-athletes.
“I have been lucky enough to work with every team at one time or another and I thoroughly enjoyed the kids,” Jones said.
The pandemic hit him especially hard, as the student-athletes weren’t able to come to the equipment room window and all of their interactions were hands-off.
“That was really hard for me. I missed that daily interaction,” Jones said. “I looked at them as friends.”
Jones said he will continue to cheer for the Black Bears and will enjoy going to games knowing he won’t be responsible for washing and drying the uniforms, fixing the athletes’ equipment or organizing the inventory.
“I’ve always liked watching the games,” he said. “I like the competition, going out and doing our best, win or lose.”