Aerial view of the Dowagiac campus

Jones endowment affirms belief in education

Southwestern Michigan College’s Edward and Maria Jones Family Endowment, funded with a $2,500 gift at the “Acres of Diamonds” event at Chris and Susan Stoler’s Diamond Lake home June 21, is another way to affirm a faith in education forged in the cauldron of the civil rights movement.

Rosa Parks was a family friend, as well as a neighbor in Montgomery, Ala.

She attended the Jones’ wedding 37 Augusts ago.

“My husband and I believe in education. It changes people’s lives,” said Maria, who joined the Southwestern Michigan College Foundation board in May.
“More than anything, we want to give kids at Ross Beatty High School the chance to go to college if tuition is going to be a hindrance. Having them stop at high school would break my heart. SMC, in my opinion, is a treasure for students here in this region. We want to help students go forward in the right direction by supporting their positive choices.”

She has been a student support specialist with Cassopolis Public Schools for two decades at what is now Sam Adams Elementary School.

“I was always eager to learn,” Maria said. “Even as a little girl, I was counseling the neighborhood.”

The Cassopolis couple and their two sons all pursued coursework through SMC.

Edward is the third-generation owner of Universal Casket Co.

Their sons graduated from the University of Notre Dame and the University of Michigan. The oldest has been on Capitol Hill for more than eight years, working for three members of Congress. The youngest, also in Washington, D.C., directs corporate partnerships for Special Olympics.

Edward and Maria met at Western Michigan University. The inner-city Detroit native laughs recalling her phone call during orientation to tell her mother about life in Kalamazoo, the “smallest town in Michigan.”

Little did Maria know that 34 years and counting awaited her in Cassopolis, which “I have definitely made my home.”

Edward F. Jones founded Universal more than 60 years ago.

He moved his family from Chicago to Cassopolis, centrally located 100 miles from it, Detroit and Indianapolis.

He traveled to Cass County and bought bits of land until he accumulated five acres.

In 1954, the business passed to Charles Jones. Ten years ago, in 2004, squeezed by consolidating competition, Universal carved a niche of assembling unique products to meet specialized needs for oversize caskets, infant caskets and inexpensive caskets for the indigent delivered within 24 to 48 hours.
The Universal line is available through its web site and Costco.

Maria turned to SMC when she went back to college to finish her degree after a 13-year pause to raise her family.

She made up for lost time, earning a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human services with a specialty in professional counseling.
For Cassopolis, she typically identifies problems that interfere with student learning and achievement. Some issues are academic, some behavioral.
Situations often call for prevention through classroom presentations, small support groups or meetings with individual students. Some classroom topics are stranger danger, bullying, tolerance and acceptance.

Maria introduced the Positive Thought Process at the start of the 2012-2013 school year, with students reciting four phrases after pledging allegiance to the flag: I am smart, I am kind, I am important and I am here to learn.

The first three are lines from the movie “The Help.”

The last line was her personal reminder for the most important reason to come to school every day. “The more one says it and hears it, the more one believes the statements are true.”

“My role models didn’t say, ‘Study psychology and become a counselor,’ “ Jones said, “but to take full advantage” of hard-fought gains the civil rights movement won.

“Going to school and doing well wasn’t a choice,” she said, “but a mandate from my father,” who volunteered his vehicle to bolster the Montgomery bus boycott, which began Dec. 1, 1955, in Montgomery when Parks refused to surrender her seat in the colored section to a white passenger.
Jones said the soft-spoken seamstress always felt misquoted in retellings of her story because she wasn’t “tired” after a long day at work, but “fed up” with segregation.

Parks, who lived her later years in Detroit, visited Dowagiac and Niles before she died Oct. 24, 2005, at 92.

The Edward and Maria Jones Family Endowment is reserved for graduates of Cassopolis Ross Beatty Junior-Senior High School.
It takes only $2,500 to create a perpetual scholarship endowment.

Donations between $2,500 and $25,000 are matched 100 percent by the foundation, thereby doubling their effectiveness.

SMC Foundation accepts contributions to existing scholarships in addition to establishing new scholarships.

Direct endowment donations to: SMC Foundation, Director of Development, 58900 Cherry Grove Road, Dowagiac, MI 49047.
Contact Eileen Toney at (269) 782-1301 or etoney@swmich.edu for more information.