Mar 29, 2007    #047
Contact: Nick Barron

Jones named alumni award winner

The University of Missouri-Kansas City has named Tom Jones, D.D.S., a 2007 Alumni Award winner.

Jones’ life is an American story.

It’s a story about overcoming racism during the segregated 1960’s, while achieving the American Dream through perseverance and excellence in education. It’s a story about how success awards you with the opportunity to give back to those in need both nationally and internationally.

It’s a story that, when told, is not just about Dr. Tom Jones, but about America.


Born in Coyle, Okla., Jones’ family moved to Kansas City in 1942, when he was two years old. His mother introduced Jones to the piano, beginning a companionship with music that would accompany Jones throughout his life.

At 14, Jones told his father he was going to win one of 35 scholarships given by the Phillips Petroleum Company, where his father worked, to aspiring male college students across the United States. Scholarship applicants like Jones, who was attending Sumner High School, today called Sumner Academy, took a day-long test and was awarded one of the scholarships.

“And it made me very proud when they called my father into the plant, right here in Kansas City and said, ‘Your son won one of these scholarships,’” Jones said.

As he grew, Jones continued to play music. While at Sumner, Jones played the clarinet for an African-American quartette. The quartette became the first African-American group to receive a 1 rating in a Kansas state music contest.


After graduating from Sumner, Jones used his Phillips Petroleum scholarship to finance his undergraduate education at the University of Kansas (KU), where he played clarinet in the university’s marching band and earned a degree in biological sciences.

While at KU, Jones became interested in dentistry when he had a dentist work on his teeth. The dentist, Dr. Frank Haugh, already knew Jones was planning on a career in medicine, so he took it upon himself to woo Jones into becoming a dentist.

“I loved the way he handled people,” Jones said. “That impressed me because you could go there and be afraid, then he just would make you feel so at ease.”

After graduating from KU, Jones applied to, and was accepted by the University of Kansas City (now UMKC) School of Dentistry in 1962. Jones became the second African-American student in school history, following the footsteps of Donald Brown, the first African-American to attend the school beginning in 1961.

As an African-American, Jones wasn’t allowed to join a fraternity. Despite this rejection, Jones’ peers did their best to ensure their classmate was included in activities. There were also some patients of the School who refused to allow Jones and Brown to treat them, but Dean Hamilton Robinson and Assistant Dean Jack Wells refused to negotiate.

“They would say, ‘Either they work on you or nobody works on you,’” Jones said.


Upon becoming a dentist and leaving UMKC, Jones entered the Air Force. The Vietnam War was growing and all college graduates across the country were required to declare in which branch they preferred to serve in case they were drafted.

Jones declared the Air Force because he enjoyed planes and wanted to see the world. He soon received word that he would be serving in the Air Force and would be stationed in Wichita, Kan.

“I had put in for Spain, Greece and all these places and I got Wichita,” Jones said.

Jones practiced as a dentist while in the Air Force, and eventually was stationed in Taiwan.

When he left the service, Jones headed back home to Kansas City, getting a job as dental director with the Children and Youth Project of the University of Kansas Medical Center, a program that provided free dental care to children in a specified area of Kansas City, Kan. Jones supervised nine local dentists who treated these children. In this position, Jones was asked to be a KU Medical Center faculty member, as well as a UMKC School of Dentistry faculty member. It was 1968 when Jones rejoined the UMKC family as a part-time faculty member.

Jones, after leaving the KU faculty in 1969, opened his own practice in Kansas City, Kan., but remained on part-time at UMKC. In 1995 Jones sold his private practice and became a full-time faculty member at UMKC until he retired in October 2005. He currently works as a recruitment counselor for the school, focusing primarily on minority recruitment. In the mid-1980’s, Jones became aware of trips a fellow UMKC faculty member, Dr. Greg Houston, and some dental students were making annually to Venezuela to provide free dental care.

One of Jones’ students, DeeDee Behrens, planned to make a trip to Venezuela. Jones donated money to the Rinehart Foundation on behalf of DeeDee. When she returned she invited him to her church to review the photos from the trip.

“After reviewing the photos, I said, ‘This is what I’ve always wanted to do,’” Jones said.


Jones joined the next trips to Venezuela with Houston in 1987 and, in 1991, the UMKC alumnus and professor began taking his own groups to the impoverished country. Immediately, Jones’ visits made an impact.

Every year, until 2005, Jones would lead a group into Venezuela. As the political climate changed and Hugo Chavez took control of the country, however, the trips became increasingly dangerous.

“It’s just that the people are thinking we are bad people because of what their president thinks about us,” Jones said. “People that we are working on, they know better, but it’s just been an unsafe situation.”

With the door closing in Venezuela, Jones turned to Honduras where, in August 2006, he took a group to work in the dental clinic of St. Louis-area dentist Dr. Jackie Miller, herself a former student of Jones.

Miller had once traveled with Jones to Venezuela and had since started making similar trips to her own dental clinic in Honduras that she and her father had built. There are dentists leading similar trips to Belize who have been inspired by Jones’ generosity.

Jones, and his late wife Phyllis, also give of themselves closer to home. Tom established a scholarship in his wife’s name when she passed away in 1989, to help ease the path for minority dental students, a goal the two shared together. Tom added his name to the scholarship when he retired from the school in 2005. Each year, two to four UMKC dental students benefit from the Dr. Thomas A. & Phyllis Jones Scholarship.

Tom and Phyllis raised three daughters, all who have grown-up to become college graduates, including one physician.


Jones experienced two unexpected deaths in the late 1980’s, that of high school classmate Urceil Hickman in 1988 and Phyllis in 1989; fate would have both families reunite again in 2005.

Jones remarried to Geraldine (Gerri) Hickman in May 2005, increasing his family to now include four grown daughters and family, and one grown son and family. The grand children include four granddaughters and two grandsons, the youngest who at the age of 6 is considering dentistry as a career.

The late Urceil Hickman’s family were patients of Jones over 30 years ago, and they too share his passion for helping others. Gerri has traveled with him to Venezuela and Honduras.

UMKC is proud to congratulate Dr. Tom Jones on his life full of accomplishments and contributions to the UMKC School of Dentistry, and the community both locally and internationally.

A Women’s Council Graduate Assistant Fund, the Tom Jones Award for Dental Excellence, has been established to pave the way for female dental students at UMKC. Given annually, the award was established in 2006 by the dental school to honor Jones’ service to the school and to UMKC.

The University of Missouri-Kansas City (UMKC), one of four University of Missouri campuses, is a public university serving more than 14,000 undergraduate, graduate and professional students. UMKC engages with the community and economy based on a three-part mission: visual and performing arts, health sciences, and urban affairs.

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This information is available to people with speech or hearing impairments by calling Relay Missouri at (800) 735-2966 (TT) or (800) 735-2466 (voice).


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