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$1.8m gift is largest in rural East MT college's history

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Dawson Community College

A Dawson Community College student walks from the dorms to the campus Tuesday, Dec. 6, 2011.

Dawson Community College

Dawson Community College in Glendive.

A longtime philanthropist and education advocate in the Glendive community has left behind one more gift for her community. Shortly after the passing of Irene Jones this summer, the Dawson Community College Foundation received an endowment from her estate for $1.8 million. It is the largest single donation the foundation has ever received by a significant margin.

A well-known philanthropist in the Glendive area, Jones and her husband Ellis bequeathed significant parcels of land and money to the Wibaux County Nursing home and the Dahl Memorial Nursing Home in Ekalaka along with Dawson College through the Ellis and Irene Endowed Scholarship Fund. With Ellis’s passing 10 years ago and Irene’s this year, the remaining funds through the charitable trust had to be exhausted to their written requests.

Splitting the trust’s funds between the school and two nursing homes, Irene wished for the record-breaking amount to go to the foundation.

Anna Irene Jones

“I’m just really happy that we were able to give this donation to the foundation,” surviving son Owen Jones said. “I just wish that my parents were around to see it.”

Born and raised on a family ranch in Circle, Montana in 1928, Jones graduated from Circle High School and Northern Montana College with an associate's degree in education. Her time both as a student in Circle and as a teacher in McCone County featured schooling that lacked many amenities. During her first teaching job in 1946 where she taught nine students in seven grades in a one-room school in McCone County, she would bring in coal for the school’s pot-bellied stove and a small gas burner for cooking while parents brought water for the water cooler. It was through these experiences that she learned the challenges and limitations of many rural schools along with the potential of their students.

Irene married Ellis in 1948 and briefly moved to Illinois to teach, but quickly returned to Montana when Ellis was offered a job to manage the Mid-Rivers Telephone Cooperative, now Mid-Rivers Communications. Over the years, both would become major stockholders in banks located in Wibaux and Ekalaka and Irene would work as a bank director over the next 50 years.

“They worked their butts off and made a lot of money,” Dawson Community College Foundation Board President Mike Newton said.

After settling in Glendive and amassing substantial wealth, Ellis and Irene established the Ellis and Irene Jones Endowed Scholarship Fund to assist eastern Montana students with educational opportunities at the nearby college. Over the years, the foundation would also develop its Dawson Promise program which is aimed at providing youth aging out of the foster care system, unaccompanied youth, or homeless youth a two-year degree without debt.

Dawson Community College

Dawson Community College in Glendive.

“My parents were always big proponents for education,” Owen said. “They saw that as the best path to solutions in the world.”

With this final endowment, the foundation worked with Owen Jones to allocate the remaining funds as Irene intended. They will primarily go towards creating and offering additional academic scholarships to students in Eastern Montana and western North Dakota.

Newton said the new funding comes at a time when the college is looking to expand both academically and geographically. New land near the campus was recently purchased for additional dormitories to accommodate a growing number of students while additional tech and nursing programs are currently in development.

“I was just telling someone the other day here that the money here is going to be making a difference for students in Eastern Montana long after we’re dead and gone,” Newton said. “And we owe it all to the Irene and Ellis Jones family.”

The Dawson Community College Foundation will be holding its annual "Buccaneer Bash" fundraiser on the campus October 1.  

Dawson Community College

The main building at Dawson Community College. 

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