Skip to main content

As we start celebrating Women’s History Month, we would like to share a bit of SOAR’s history and recognize the woman we call the mother of SOAR. As a co-founder of SOAR, Wandajean Jones established her legacy at SOAR in various ways. She was passionate about youth and families dealing with the challenges and opportunities of ADHD because she walked in their shoes daily.  She grew up as a child with ADHD, known as Focused Attention Deficit Disorder back in the old days, now called ADHD without Hyperactivity. Wandajean grew up in the heart of Texas and attended Catholic school, where she often felt like she could not measure up to her peers—frequently escaping to a land of daydreams. During this time little was known about ADHD and there were no resources; kids with ADHD were just “different,” and different wasn’t always good. However, she enjoyed being outdoors, and through her father, Grady, a scoutmaster, she found a love for the outdoors. Her scouting activities provided a place where she could excel and develop her many strengths and abilities. Much like our campers, she found a way to quiet her mind from doubt in nature. As such, SOAR is rooted in Wandajean’s childhood success in the outdoors and her desire for youth and families to benefit from the same life-changing experiences.

Fast forward to her college years, Wandajean still felt like she didn’t fit the standard mold. She bravely chose to drop out of Sam Houston University, where she struggled academically and socially, and joined the workforce. She made her path and decided to work at a grocery store where she would meet SOAR’s Co-founder, Jonathan Jones. While working there, she quickly moved up the ranks and eventually gained a managerial position. She taught herself many business practices, including accounting, during this time. Another characteristic she shares with our participants is that they are often hands-on learners. These skills became essential during SOAR’s early years. As SOAR’s first CFO, she established all business practices and policies that are still used today. She was the foundation to SOAR’s success as a new and innovative idea in the outdoor industry.

Wandajean also continued to play an active role throughout the development of our various programs, and her touch can still be seen and remembered by those who had the pleasure of knowing her. However, Wandajean’s true legacy is the development of Eagle View Ranch. She was “hands-on” with all construction projects, including the EVR Lodge in 2014 and the buck and rail fence around the entirety of the Yellowstone Cabin property in 2016. No one could out-think or out-work Wandajean regarding architectural design and construction. 

All who knew Wandajean knew she was as passionate about horses as she was zealous about SOAR. She realized her lifelong dream of becoming a cowgirl and sparked the idea of an equine program for SOAR. Interestingly, she was not allowed to ride horses as a youth because her mother deemed it unsafe, so she didn’t let age and time stop her. She began nurturing this passion at age 42 under the “tutelage” of her 11-year-old son, Jonathan David, whom she had encouraged to ride from age 4.  Wandajean soon became an accomplished horse-woman with her trusty mount, Rusty.  Wandajean and JD spent countless hours riding the Smokey Mountains of North Carolina, sometimes riding thirty miles daily.  With the opening of Eagle View Ranch in 2000, they also enjoyed many riding adventures in Wyoming’s Wind River Range.  Wandajean inspired many EVR wranglers, and the lessons she shared would help develop SOAR’s Horsepacking program into what it is today. She explored, cleared, and marked up the trails campers still ride on. Her son, JD Jones, continues to expand her legacy and further develops the program as a tribute to his mother and their shared love for horses. 

A story from the field:

June, 2011

It was a bluebird day in the Wind River mountains of Wyoming. The lupines were a brilliant indigo, and the balsam arrowroots a showy gold. After a particularly snowy spring – with an enormous amount of moisture – Warm Springs Canyon was finally passable on horseback. A month earlier, the creek swelled to our horses’ bellies, today, it was below their hocks. As we crossed the water the characteristic breeze came through, subtle today, gentle, warm. I peered above at the old remnants of tie hack flumes that hugged the canyon walls and then looked down in admiration of our horses who masterfully navigated the slick river rock.

Today was the first day I had crossed the creek. My wrangler partner, Natalie, and I had been patiently watching the water lower week after week – eager to see what was on the other side. Today we had the confidence. Not only because of the height of the creek but because of who led us across it, Wandajean Jones.

Wandajean was petite in stature, with long blonde hair well past her waist. That day she wore a sage shirt, blue jeans, and a straw hat. She rode a tall walking horse bay named Nighthawk, and she intimately knew the trails of Warm Springs Canyon. She was gentle but tough, quiet but jovial, measured but passionate. She knew when to give feedback, but also when to let you figure it out. She had deep empathy for horses and deep empathy for people. Her work ethic was off the charts. She was what I envisioned when I thought of a horsewoman or a cowgirl, and I wanted to be just like her. 

Once we crossed the creek, the fragrant pine trees towered above us like quiet sentinels. Our ride was smooth, and I was feeling optimistic about our end goal: to reach a lazy meadow on the top of a mountain ridge — a meadow I had only gained glimpses of from the opposite side of the canyon. After riding through a brief flat spot at the base of Warm Springs, we started our ascent up the switchbacks on the mountainside. As I was cheerfully envisioning what the view must look like from the top of the meadow, we rounded a corner and spotted dozens of pine trees fallen on our route. I was absolutely deflated. Shoot. Time to turn around. 

Wandajean grinned, “Now the work starts.” She said good-naturedly. Where I saw a dead-end, she saw a task needing to be completed. The three of us dismounted, tied up our horses, and started clearing the trail. It was tedious and incredibly physical. I kept reminding myself, You want to be like Wandajean? Then keep up with her. We slowly crept up the switchbacks, clearing, cutting, and removing brush. A rogue branch hit my face — my fault — and left a bloody cut on my cheek. It was too big for a standard bandage, so we giggled as she taped a maxi pad to my face. “We’ll tell the boys it was from a mountain lion,” Wandajean said with a heartfelt laugh. It left a minor scar I proudly wear today.

We kept working and made our way to that serene meadow. The silvery sage was peppered amongst wildflowers, a gorgeous foreground to the badlands and Rams Horn in the distance. We let our horses graze and rested on the meadow grass. Wandajean told us the history of the mountains, pointed out landmarks, and taught us about our horse string.

I was young, I was green. And Wandajean was the exact person I needed.

Now, working with horses for over two decades, guiding folks in the mountains, training young wranglers, and living at ranches, Wandajean’s wisdom has guided everything I do: Know your horses. Know your trails. Know your mountains. And always know when you can cross the creek.

Wandajean wholeheartedly believed in SOAR’s mission and in helping our participants succeed as she did. She poured herself into SOAR and, alongside Jonathan, developed a place where youth and young adults could be understood and nurtured and find a community. Wandajean was SOAR’s first and foremost Servant Leader.  She was selfless in her outpouring of time and attention to SOAR.  She always put the needs of others before her own.  No task was too menial for her as she led by example. SOAR is the “service-focused” entity it is today because of her passion, leadership, and selflessness.  Wandajean will always be loved… never forgotten… forever missed.