Few people have enjoyed their job as much as Noah Jones, who is retiring this month after nearly three decades in the Los Banos Police Department, the last 23 as director of the PAL (Police Activities League) program.

In many ways Jones has been a ‘pal’ to young people, their parents and volunteers in the PAL sports program. “I have enjoyed working in a job,” Jones said, “where I interact with so many people of all ages in the community and feel that together we are making a difference.”

Jones started working in the LBPD in December 1994, when he applied and was selected to be a community services officer, a non-sworn position with a variety of miscellaneous tasks that enables sworn officers to focus on patrol activities.

“I had moved to Los Banos earlier that year, living with my parents and working at Save Mart,” Jones said. “And I was looking for something different. I saw an ad in the newspaper and applied. The police chief back then, Mike Hughes, hired me.”

Six months later Hughes, along with fellow LBPD officers Mark Knapp and Ray Reyna, encouraged Jones to apply for the police academy, a requirement for being a sworn officer.  Jones applied, was accepted, graduated and was on patrol by December 1995.

He worked as a patrol officer for six years and helped train new officers in their patrol jobs, but again he was looking for something different. At that time Gregg Wilson was retiring as the LBPD PAL officer, creating an opening which Jones applied for and was selected for the position.

The Los Banos PAL officer’s job description was to build positive relationships between young people and police officers, primarily by sponsoring a sports program that encourages the love of sports and good sportsmanship for all young people in the community.

As he looks back on his life, Jones recognized this was in many ways the ideal job for him. “I enjoyed sports in high school and in college,” he said. “For a while I thought I would be a high school P.E. teacher. So to have a job where I could do police work and be involved in sports was great.”

Jones also likes interacting with people of all ages, another perk of his PAL work.

“Los Banos had so many good people,” Jones said, “and I have met a lot of them, kids who want to play sports, parents who volunteer to be coaches and parents who take an active interest in their children.

“Since I’ve been involved in PAL,” he added, “I’ve seen the kids who played on PAL teams grow up, get married and have kids of their own playing in the PAL league. That has been very satisfying.”

Jones also appreciates the opportunity of a police officer being close to people he serves. “I believe in the importance of police officers getting to know people in the community and working with them.”

Jones has developed an appreciation for Los Banos even though he’s not a native of the city, not even a native of California.  He grew up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan and moved as a young boy to the San Jose area when his parents left Michigan for better job opportunities.

When he completed his junior year of high school, his parents had to move the family again, this time to Rochester, MN, for a job transfer.

“In my senior year of high school, I learned a lot about life,” Jones said. “I played varsity football in San Jose as a junior and was a decent player. But at my new high school in Minnesota, I was pretty much ignored as a senior and spent most of my time on the bench.

“That’s when I learned that life brings you unexpected challenges,” he said, “and you have to figure out how to play the cards you’ve been dealt. That experience helped me relate to young people who have had challenges in their own lives.”

As much as Jones has enjoyed working as a PAL officer, he’s ready to retire. “This seems to me a good time in my life to try something different.” He’s thinking of moving back to the Midwest and doing something where he can work on his own without being in charge of organizing activities or events.

Jones feels the Los Banos PAL program will be in good hands when his successor, Miriam Rivas, becomes the new PAL director right after he retires. Rivas, like Jones, started her police career as a community services officer in Los Banos and has worked for many years as a school resource officer.

“Miriam has the perfect background, aptitude and talents for PAL,” he said. “I know the program will continue to be strong helping young people and their parents.”

As he approaches retirement, Jones said that above all he feels grateful for the opportunity he’s had. “I’m especially thankful to all the players, coaches, parents and volunteers who have made the PAL program in Los Banos so successful.”

Current SRO Miriam Rivas, center, has been named as the new PAL Officer to replace Jones. Gene Lieb/The Express