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Dean Jones, wife Lory and daughter Deanna Demaree sing “Victory in Jesus” at the Hartselle Camp Meeting on Sunday.
Daily photo by John Godbey
Dean Jones, wife Lory and daughter Deanna Demaree sing “Victory in Jesus” at the Hartselle Camp Meeting on Sunday.

Dean Jones had no peace without God
Actor, Decatur native shares faith at Hartselle Camp Meeting

By Melanie B. Smith
bsmith@decaturdaiy.com · 340-2468

When actor and Decatur native Dean Jones arrived at Hartselle Camp Meeting’s Tabernacle, there to greet him was his former Sunday school teacher, Ruth Butler.

“How old are you? 95? You look 72. I’m 75 and look 92,” he joked with Butler as they shared a hug.

A few minutes later, Jones stood in the pulpit of the century-old cedar building and introduced Butler to the worshippers crowded on slab pews, cooled by whirling ceiling fans and a timely breeze. He said that her prayers and those of his mother were answered one day when he returned to the faith he was taught.

Jones’ wife and daughters, as well as several granddaughters, also attended the meeting Sunday night.

Jones, who starred in several Disney films, including “The Love Bug,” and other movies and plays, grew up in Decatur. He now lives in Tarzana, Calif. He said that as a teen he served at Priceville United Methodist Church and had plans to become a minister.

But in college, he began to doubt his faith. He said that through four years in the Naval Air Corps and his first two decades in Hollywood, he “walked without Jesus Christ.”

A wreck in Baja, Mexico, that left him bleeding severely, broke 13 bones and gave him a concussion got him thinking about God again, Jones said. He said that a poem, “The Hound of Heaven,” played over and over in his mind as he lay in the desert with a friend who was keeping him from bleeding to death. The poem is about a man running from God.

Later, his wife, Lory, was healed from arthritis during a visit to a church in Mexico, but Jones said he didn’t understand and pushed it from his mind.

It was while rehearsing a play in New Jersey that he stood looking out a window and thought that “one day I’m going to kill myself.” He said he owned a Ferrari and had a good life but was empty.

Jones said that he gave his life to Christ between the hotel window and the bed and found peace.

The Tabernacle isn’t a foreign place for Jones. He grew up attending, and many family members helped support the camp meeting. One of his uncles, the Rev. Elton Jones, was a frequent and beloved preacher for the meetings.

Camp Meeting Association president Rob Cain said that he recalled hearing Jones’ father tell stories in front a cabin and learned how to do wiring from another of Jones’ uncles.

“I know Dean Jones loves our camp meeting,” Cain said in introducing the actor.

Jones told the crowd that he was thinking as the choir sang the old hymn “Blessed Assurance” that in no other place can people find the sense of love and wellbeing that there is in church.

“I tried to find it in other places. They were bankrupt,” he said.

The 108th Hartselle Camp Meeting continues through Friday with services at 10:30 a.m. and 7:30 p.m.

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