American dream true for Utah woman who went from poverty to community leader

Eunice Jones speaks with University of Utah journalism students about her life.

Story and photo by DANA IGO

As a child growing up poor in the Philippines, Eunice Jones paid for school supplies by selling fried dough rolled in sugar to the local townspeople.

Now Jones, 51, sells properties as an associate broker of a Re/Max Masters franchise in Salt Lake City.

How she moved from living in a hut in a seaside village to living in Utah as a distinguished member of the community is a true story of success that begins at her roots.

“My parents always told us that they could not give us anything but education,” Jones said.

As the seventh of 11 children, she was used to feeling hungry and going to school barefoot. Her family’s home had no electricity or running water and she often did school work by the dim light of a gas lamp. Yet her parents made sure she and her siblings studied hard and went to school every day.

Her parents’ strong emphasis on education pushed Jones to excel and in 1980 she graduated in the top-10 of her class at the University of Manila with a degree in marketing.

In 1986 she was offered an opportunity to work in the United States as a catering manager at the former Hyatt Wilshire in Los Angeles.

Jones, a single mother, had to leave her sons, Thomas, 2, and Andrew, 2 months, with her mother and sister in order to move to the U.S.

Even though she had to part with her children, the chance to come to America was something she couldn’t refuse. With the help of her friends and family, she scraped together the money for airfare and got on a plane to California.

“I only had a suitcase, $50 in my pocket and a dream of a better life,” Jones said about her arrival in the U.S.

Los Angeles was like nothing she’d experienced before. She saw a washing machine for the first time. Her friend’s mother had to help her figure out how to use it and it didn’t turn out well – ­ all of her clothes shrank. Until she got her first paycheck, Jones had to borrow everything from friends.

She moved to Las Vegas to work at the Las Vegas Hilton in 1989. It was there that she felt secure enough in her job and situation that she obtained visas to bring her sons from the Philippines to join her.

In 1995 Jones remarried and moved to Utah with her new husband and children. She was hired by the Salt Lake City Hilton, but the work wasn’t challenging so she took real estate classes at night in order to switch careers. A year later she received the Better Homes & Gardens Rookie of the Year award. She opened her own Re/Max franchise in 2003.

When she and her husband divorced in 2009 she sold her franchise to Re/MAX Masters, where she now works as an associate broker.

Aside from real estate, Jones also devoted considerable time and energy to the Asian community of Utah.

She is a leader in the Utah Filipino community and organizes the Utah Asian Festival. In 2005 Jones and Judge Raymond Uno founded the Utah Asian Chamber of Commerce, which helps bring Asian businesses together throughout the state. Jones is also head of the Asian Advisory Council, which is a part of the Utah Office of Ethnic Affairs.

Jones’ story is a testament to the American dream and she has no regrets about coming to the U.S.

“My lifestyle [in the Philippines] was not as free as it is now,” she said.

Her son, Andrew “A.J.” Jones, 24, feels the same way. He has visited the Philippines twice with his mother and says it was a humbling experience.

“It was definitely a culture shock for me to see 12 people living in a small home, or in their shop/home on the side of the road,” he said.

A.J., who is currently working on a bachelor’s degree in education at the University of Utah, also attributes who he is today to his mother. In high school, when he wanted to play sports, his mother would tell him grades came first. Now he balances sports and school as a Little League coach at Olympus High School. He says his mother set the example for making education his focus.

“She has taught me to be very passionate and to want something,” he said. “She wanted a better life for us and she knew this was the only way.”