Bernice Jones: philanthropic leader.
She was already an accomplished young woman before she met her future husband, a man who had traded his wagon for a truck and was destined to make a forrune.
She trained to be a teacher and earned her credentials at the University of Arkansas in an era --nearly a century ago--when most Arkansas schoolteachers had barely a high school diploma. And after helping Harvey build one of the largest privately owned trucking companies in America, she blossomed as half of one of northwest Arkansas' first great philanthropic duos.
Eventually Jones' good works would be joined by the charitable endeavors of couples from the region like Sam and Helen Walton, Willard and Pat Walker and J.B. and Johnelle Hunt, but the Joneses were the first, the groundbreakers.
Jones' journey to the Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame began on Oct. 31, 1905, when she was born on her family's small farm near Springdale. After graduating from Springdale High School in 1924, it was on to the university, which she reached daily by train from Springdale to Fayetteville and back.
She was stepping off that train when Harvey Jones saw her, and her future was altered forever. Jones, a former blacksmith fated to turn his lone first truck into an $80 million-a-year business, was entranced by her auburn-red hair and immediately pledged he'd marry her someday. That day came after a years-long courtship on Aug. 19, 1938, his 38th birthday.
For 51 years, until Harvey Jones' death in 1989, the two worked together to build their business and make it into a family. The Joneses were unable to have children, so they laid the groundwork for a philanthropic network that would help transform a rugged corner of the state. It continues to benefit Arkansans today.
Jones Truck Lines, symbolized by the stylized JTL once seen on big rigs coast to coast, eventually yielded a fortune when Harvey, in failing health, and Bernice decided to sell the business in 1980. But as they had always done, the two rolled up their sleeves (his probably jutting from his trademark overalls) and worked as hard for philanthropy as they had in business.
"They were really the founders of the philanthropic spirit in northwest Arkansas," said Kelly Kemp-McLintock, chief advancement officer of the Jones Center for Families in Springdale, the 235,000-SF education and recreation complex that is the centerpiece of the couple's legacy. "Without Bernice and Harvey Jones, northwest Arkansas' medical community, educational landscape and social infrastructure would have been far different."
They rescued Springdale's imperiled public schools during the Great Depression, paying the teachers from their own pockets and fixing up district buildings. Later, Harvey Jones spent 28 years on the school board, many as president, and the Bernice Jones Elementary School opened in 2000 on 17 acres she had donated to the school system. Springdale is also home to a high school, Har-Ber, named for both of the Joneses.
"Har-Ber," formed from the front halves of the Joneses' two first names, eventually was attached to many of the charities and entities they supported: along with Har-Ber High School there's the Har-Ber Village Museum across the state line in Oklahoma, and the Har-Ber Family Clinic at Washington Regional Medical Center, just to name a few.
The "Har" for Harvey and "Ber" for Bernice became a nickname for the Joneses themselves, showing that their community viewed them as one entity working for the good of their region.
The two set up a charitable foundation in 1957, but kept many of their gifts anonymous.
After Harvey's death, Bernice opened the checkbook even wider, giving $5.5 million to the University of Arkansas for Medical Sciences for what would become the Harvey & Bernice Jones Eye Institute. She also donated millions to Arkansas Children's Hospital and to Ouachita Baptist University in Arkadelphia, which has the Harvey & Bernice Jones Center for Performing Arts and the Harvey Jones Science Center.
The Jones Center for Families, opened in 1995 at the site of the former Jones Truck Lines Headquarters on Emma Avenue in Springdale, offers educational opportunities as well as swimming, a fitness center and an ice rink used by the University of Arkansas' hockey teams but also open to the public.
Access for people of all walks of life is guaranteed by scholarship subsidies. "Bernice Jones' vision was that the center would be a way of building and maintaining a community. Nobody would be turned away for lack of money," Kemp-McLintock said.
Harvey began building his business career in 1918, when the teenager started carting goods with a wagon and two mules in the midst of a world war and a railroad strike that had crippled transport.
Business was good, but In those days of largely unpaved roads, hauling loads over the mountainous Ozarks terrain was arduous and slow. Runs between Rogers, Springdale and Fayetteville could take 13 hours a day.
"Harvey laid the foundation for his fortune carting merchandise between Springdale and Fayetteville during the Depression and during the war," Kemp-McLintock said. "Together he and Bernice grew the business and gave to their community,"
The company grew steadily and built a reputation for reliability as more towns were added to the route. He changed the company name to Jones Truck Lines in 1933, and saw that it was well established before planning his wedding with Bernice.
As Harvey's health faltered years later, and with no family to leave their wealth to, he and Bernice had serious discussions about what to do. They resolved to use their fortune for the good of the families and communities of northwest Arkansas.
Beneficiaries outside the region included Harding University in Searcy and Hendrix College in Conway.
In 1996, President Bill Clinton awarded Bernice Jones with the Presidential Citizens Medal for her service to humanity. Two years earlier, she had been the first woman to receive the Springdale Chamber of Commerce's Outstanding Civic Service Award.
Bernice Jones died on Sept. 10, 2003, mourned in northwest Atkansas and across the state. Her obituary appeared in The New York Times.
Jones' legacy will endure because she worked so hard to make sure the board of directors ensured the sustainability of the trust, Kemp-McLintock said.
"She was in it for the long haul."
BY KERRY PRICHARD
Arkansas Women's Hall of Fame 2017
1905 / Bernice Jones is born on Oct. 31 near Springdale
1924 / Graduates Springdale High School and enrolls at the University of Arkansas
1933 / Jones Truck Lines established
1938 / Marries Harvey Jones on Aug. 19
1957 / Bernice and Harvey Jones establish a charitable foundation
1980 / Bernice and Harvey Jones sell Jones Truck Lines, the company Harvey founded, as his health begins to fail
1995 / The Jones Center for Families opens in Springdale at the former site of Jones Truck Line headquarters in Springdale
1997 / Jones is awarded the first Springdale Chamber of Commerce Outstanding Civic Service Award
1996 / President Bill Clinton awards Jones the Presidential Citizens Medal
2000 / The Bernice Jones Elementary School is opened in Springdale
2003 / Bernice Jones dies Sept. 10