Some people don’t like being told to smile. But when vendor Jonas Stone held up his “SMILE” sign to the
crowds coming off the downtown Seattle ferries, he’d bring a smile to the faces of the most recalcitrant.
He’d call out “Cheer up, it’s not raining yet!” or “I’m sorry to bother you, but you dropped your smile back
Jonas had to find that smile himself. “I used to have a sign that said: ‘I’m hungry, I’m poor, I’m broke, I’m
homeless.’” He would watch ferry passengers coming by, “dragging their chins across the ground,” and he
realized he could make a difference.
Jonas died on Nov. 22, 2017 of anoxic encephalopathy (a loss of oxygen to the brain).
Vendor Dani Wyatt knew Jonas when she was a child. “His heart was bigger than he was. He loved kids
and would play hide and seek and chase us around,” she said. He encouraged her to stand up for herself,
saying, “closed mouths don’t get fed.”
Jonas didn’t talk a lot about his past. A Native American born in Chicago, he’d served in the U.S. military
and the National Guard. He worked as a sound technician for a rock band. Married and divorced twice, he
had five children and at least four grandchildren.
In an interview, Jonas said he’d had problems with alcoholism that started when his first son died at birth.
He was homeless for 15 years. Then, with the encouragement of a passer-by, he sought recovery and
eventually found it.
That was around the time Jonas started selling Real Change. He’d already been working on getting people
to smile. Now he had a second way to connect with people. He’d be out at First Avenue and Marion Street
five or six hours a day. He also cleaned up trash that people on the street had left behind. But his real
mission was to make people smile.
Wyatt says Jonas always gave good advice. He was a mentor to other people on the street. He also worked
with a program to help other Native Americans get past addiction.
Jonas had a good voice and liked to sing. He read Chief Seattle’s famous speech in the film “Great
Speeches from a Dying World.” Favorite songs included “Friends in Low Places” by Garth Brooks, which
includes the line “I’m not big on social graces;” and “I Love Your Smile” by Shanice, which includes the
line “The life I’m living, this is the life that I have.”
Jonas’ life was going pretty well for the last 10 years; then things got harder. His wife died; he lost his
apartment. Health problems surfaced. He’d sit at his corner but didn’t have the energy to sell the paper
except to regulars who knew why he was there. He wasn’t smiling as much. He seemed to know he didn’t
have much time left. He made Wyatt promise to start selling enough papers to get a regular spot. And he
asked her to sing another of his favorites, “That’s What Friends Are For” by Dionne Warwick: “Keep
smiling, keep smiling/You know you can always count on me.”
Jonas was 60 when he died. On Friday, Dec. 22nd at First Avenue and Marion Street in downtown Seattle
there was a community-wide memorial for Jonas. The memorial was attended by many of his customers.
As Jonas was one of Seattle’s famous landmarks, three sightseeing Ducks and drivers attended the service
to say goodbye to Seattle’s “Smile Man.”
ABOUT THE ARTIST
Diane Stewart is an artist who works in a variety of media. She lives in Kitsap County.