College foundation receives $1.8M endowment

Hunter Herbaugh
Sunday, September 18, 2022
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Philanthropists Ellis and Irene Jones established the Ellis and Irene Jones Endowed Scholarship Fund to assist students from Eastern Montana in pursuing their dreams through educational opportunities offered by Dawson Community College.

The Dawson College Foundation was recently blown away when it received a nearly $1.8 million endowment, the largest donation ever received by the foundation to date, from a family dedicated to bolstering education in Eastern Montana. The money was left to the foundation by the late Ellis and Irene Jones, a local couple who lived and worked throughout Eastern Montana for decades.

The foundation received word of the donation in July, following Irene’s passing, and officially received the funds this week.

Ellis and Irene Jones established the Ellis and Irene Jones Endowed Scholarship Fund to assist students from Eastern Montana in pursuing their dreams through educational opportunities offered by Dawson Community College.

According to DCF Chairman Mike Newton, funds will be used primarily for non-athletics scholarships and other programs meant to make education more accessible to area students.

He added that what those programs will look like still needs to be discussed with the Jones family, as the family and the foundation will be working together to ensure the donation will be used in accordance with Ellis and Irene’s wishes.

“How can you say ‘thank you’ enough times? A donation like this means a lot to a small community college like this,” Newton said. “It means a lot to the community, to the students, to the college. It will be long after I’m dead and gone and people will still be benefitting from this donation.”

The shear size of the donation is the most noticeable aspect, as it is extremely rare for community colleges the size of Dawson Community College to receive such donations. Newton said he believes the foundation’s total assets prior to receiving the donation were equal to the donation itself, so this week’s donation likely doubled the size of the foundation.

Dennis Harp, executive director for the DCF, said the endowment will bring benefits for students for years to come.

“This gift is extraordinary, there’s just no other word for it,” he said.

Another thing that makes this an incredibly unique donation is that the Jones family has no direct connection to DCC. According to Ellis and Irene’s son Owen Jones, no one in their family that he is aware of ever attended classes at the college nor worked there. However, both Irene and Ellis were supporters of education, Irene having spent much of her life as a full-time and substitute teacher in Wibaux and elsewhere.

With DCC serving as the area’s most prominent institution of higher learning, Owen said his family felt donating to the college was the most effective use of the funds. He added that donations of roughly $150,000 each were also made to the Ekalaka and Wibaux nursing homes.

“They felt that this would benefit the most people for the longest period of time,” Owen said. “This is a gift from my parents, they really loved Eastern Montana and they really enjoyed their time here.”

Ellis and Irene both came from humble roots, having grown up as farm kids. Ellis grew up in Northern Illinois while Irene grew up in Eastern Montana, according to information provided by the DCF.

The two eventually met in Chicago, where they married and worked for some time before moving to Circle in 1953 where Ellis became the manager for the Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative, now Mid-Rivers Communications, during its initial stages of development. After some years of work, the couple’s ingenuity and thrift meant they had saved enough money to become majority stockholders in two Eastern Montana banks: The First National Bank of Wibaux in 1956 and the First National Bank of Ekalaka in 1967. Together, they served as bank officers and directors for over 50 years.

The two also had numerous other accomplishments. While living in Wibaux, Ellis spearheaded an initiative to build the nursing home, with the facility opening in 1975.

Irene, following her tenure as a bank director, continued her life-long love of learning by returning to school and earning a degree in history. She went on to earn a master’s degree in thanatology that enabled her to work with terminally ill and cancer patients for more than 20 years after receiving her own cancer diagnosis in 1980.

Knowing the role that education played in all their success was the driving force behind the Jones’ decision to create the Ellis and Irene Jones Endowment Scholarship Fund.

“As reflected in their biographies, Ellis and Irene Jones grew their fortune through persistent hard work, sacrifice, ingenuity and dedication. Their legacy will improve the lives of students, their families and their communities in Eastern Montana for generations to come. The Jones’ life histories serve as examples for students to work hard and give back to others less fortunate,” the DCF said in a statement.

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