Mary Chance, Jones Junction
Seneca, a philosopher, writer and orator who is regarded as Rome’s leading intellectual during the middle of the first century A.D., believed that “luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.” In fact, even today, Oprah Winfrey quotes Seneca and stresses the importance of being prepared when opportunity comes knocking. After a storied career in government service, Mary Chance was definitely prepared when the perfect career opportunity came her way.
Chance spent 28 years working for Harford County government, the last four years as Director of Administration for County Executive David Craig. She was clear in that when Craig’s tenure ended at the end of 2014 that she would not stay on, yet knew that retirement was not right for her. “It’s always been the choice of the County Executive who would occupy that No. 2 spot – your right hand. When I took the job as Director of Administration, I never expected to stay on in that position when the new County Executive came in. However, I knew there was no way that I could go from 150 miles per hour to zero,” she recalls.
As her time with the County was drawing to a close, the perfect opportunity indeed surfaced. “Steve Smeltzer (co-owner of Jones Junction, Maryland’s largest independent auto dealer) approached me and said he needed a Community Liaison.” This would allow Chance to return to her professional roots and help those in need. “We talked for a while, but I told Steve that I needed to pray about it to make sure it was the right job,” says Chance. “However, the more I talked to Steve and learned more about him, what is in his heart and his desire to give back to this community, I knew it was right. He understands that this community supports Jones, and he – and all the leadership at Jones Junction – feels that we have a responsibility to give back, to be part of the threads of this community. This place has been blessed, and he feels that they need to return that blessing.”
Chance adds that after much prayer, she realized that this was the perfect opportunity for her. She says that she made it clear that she could not leave until Dec. 1 when the new County Executive took over and was pleased that Smeltzer and Jones Junction supported her decision. “They even told me to take the month of December off to recharge, which was wonderful as it gave me time with my three granddaughters,” she says. She began her new job on Jan. 5.
The community liaison position allows Chance to have more free time outside of work while also reconnecting with her true passion – service. As the Director of Administration, Chance provided overall management and support services to all county departments and agencies with four division heads reporting to her; she also served as the County’s chief budget officer. “The job of Director of Administration was a 24-hours-a-day, seven-days-a-week job. It never ends – you will get calls in the middle of the night and you have to been there at all times. I prayed that I would find something less stressful and less 24/7 responsibility … but to find something that was important to me and I still felt I had a purpose.”
Chance’s career with Harford County began in 1987 as a volunteer coordinator in the Office of Aging. She later became the community resource coordinator and then Director of Community Services. “That was such a wonderful time in my life working with employees who desperately cared for their jobs and working with people who really wanted to make the world a better place as well as meeting people who really needed assistance.”
When asked about how she will adapt to going from having several direct reports to being, in essence, a one-person department, Chance says, “It will definitely be a big change, but I am ready for that change. I am ready to not have several people reporting to me or having to make all the decisions. I feel comfortable here, and I love the variety of the job. My desk is right in the middle of all the action, and I love the excitement and energy here. I enjoy reconnecting with the non-profit world. For me to know that what I am doing on a daily basis will make a difference … gosh I love that feeling! I feel reenergized. My core has always been that you need to give back, need to volunteer, need to help.”
In her new role, Chance will assist with the philanthropic efforts of Jones, Junction, a company widely seen as a leader in helping the Harford County community. The family-owned business has a long track record of helping large and small organizations (see sidebar), churches, high school fundraisers, etc. Some of the organizations especially near and dear to the company’s heart include Harford Family House, the Harford County Humane Society and UM Upper Chesapeake Health Foundation. “When you look at the level of commitment of Jones Junction’s giving and the diversity of organizations they support, it’s very impressive,” says Chance.
“God has truly blessed Jones Junction. We want to continue our work here so that God will be glorified. He blesses us every day and we are to be a blessing to this community,” says Smeltzer.
Jones Junction’s Impact on the Community
• Harford Family House
The company’s dedication to helping the local Harford County community is an extension of the family atmosphere felt at Jones Junction. “We are very close – most of the employees are from Harford County … it’s in our roots,” says Debra McCollum, chief financial officer, who has worked at Jones Junction for 30 years. “It’s not a corporate environment here – there is core group in leadership who are very loyal to their employees. It’s a homegrown feeling – you come here to work and you may not be aware that this will be your future, but the management nurtures and grooms employees to stay here for a long time.”
This kind of nurturing may be unusual is today’s business world, but it should come as no surprise at Jones Junction. Despite being a major player in the automotive business with 10 auto brands under its umbrella, Jones Junction remains a family-owned business and one where anytime you visit one of the dealerships, you can speak to an owner.
Jones Junction was founded in 1917 by C.M. Jones who later would run the business with his son, Vernon Jones, and sold Studebakers in Conowingo, Md. In 1950, Vernon Jones and his wife, Catherine, bought the business, and in 1965, they moved it to Bond Street in Bel Air. In 1973, Vernon moved the business to its current location at the intersection of Bel Air Road and Harford Road. Over the years, Jones Junction continued to thrive and acquired Plymouth (later replaced with Dodge and Jeep), Nissan, KIA, Scion, Chrysler, Toyota, Subaru, Hyundai and GMC franchises, and eventually became the largest family-owned retail car dealership in the state of Maryland, employing over 600 people. Before his death last June, Vernon Jones was still active in the business, along with his three children, Larry, Danny and Beverly. Steve Smeltzer has been with Jones for 44 years – he began his career there in the service department after graduation from Harford Technical High School, while Bryan Kilby is part of three generations of his family who have worked for Jones.
CFO McCollum says that this strong sense of family is one of the reasons why Jones Junction is so passionate about community service. “Everyone has a strong commitment about giving back. We have been so blessed as a company that we all feel that we need to give back to our community. By giving to local organizations, for example, what you give stays in the community. When you give to a local organization it’s likely that you know someone who has benefited from the work they do.”
This sense of community extends to those who purchase a car from Jones Junction, too. As part of its “Jones for a Lifetime” program, customers receive, among other things, free oil and filter changes, free loaner cars, free car washes, free manicures and 24-hour roadside assistance.
And despite being a large company with over 600 employees, employees at Jones Junction are also part of this family, and Chance is excited about working closely with all employees. “One of my roles is to interact with the employees: What’s important to you? What needs are you aware of in our community? I want to hear from them, whether it’s a clothing drive for a local family, a church supper, recreation leagues, helping a local kid go to summer camp, Toys for Tots, whatever,” she says. “I feel like it’s important to hear from the employees, as does the leadership.” Chance also hopes to establish a scholarship at Harford Tech in the memory of Vernon Jones.
|Jones Junction’s Dealerships
“Jones Junction is a vibrant organization with dedicated employees. We believe in them and want to support them so that they not only enjoy their jobs but also can advance within the organization,” says Kilby. “Reinvesting in our community and our employees is important to the Jones organization. They have supported us and we in turn need to support them.”
One area Chance says she is dedicated to utilizing Jones Junction’s generosity is helping military families. “I am looking for a closer connection to the military, especially at Aberdeen Proving Ground and am anxious to explore how we can play a role assisting our military members and their families in Harford County,” says Chance. She toured Walter Reed National Military Medical Center a few years ago and it left an indelible mark on her life.
“You want to know that your help is benefiting people and making a difference.” And making a difference in people’s lives is just the opportunity Chance has at Jones Junction, and her passion to service is undeniable. “My favorite quote is, ‘Service is the rent you pay for the space you occupy.’ If Jones can be an example to the rest of the community for its service and it’s contagious, then I know I have done what I am supposed to do.” I95