Barry McNamara  |  Published January 19, 2022

Honoring Marion Austin Jones

Endowed professorship in theatre established by trust gift is named for 1950 alumna.

MONMOUTH, Ill. – Family ties that go back more than a century are part of the impetus behind a new endowed professorship at Monmouth College.

MARION AUSTIN JONES: 1950 graduate was later a member of the Monmouth College Board of Trustees. MARION AUSTIN JONES: 1950 graduate was later a member of the Monmouth College Board of Trustees.Through a trust gift from their late father, Addison Jones, brothers Austin Jones and David Jones have established the Marion Austin Jones Endowed Professorship in Theatre. The gift honors the life of Marion Austin Jones, a 1950 graduate who later served on the Monmouth College Board of Trustees, of which Austin Jones is a member today.

“The professorship honors one of Mom’s great loves – theatre and singing – only second to her family and Monmouth College,” said Austin.

The professorship is part of the College’s ongoing Light This Candle campaign, which recently topped the $70 million mark. Launched in 2019, Light This Candle aims to raise a minimum of $75 million by Dec. 31, 2022, for the College’s endowment.

“I remember discussing the notion for this gift the week before Dad passed (in 2021),” said Austin. “He looked at me, and he said, ‘Let’s get this done.’ It was his wish to honor his wife.”

The Jones Professorship is intended to serve as a model for similar endowed professorships in other disciplines, as these professorships become valuable tools to recruit, reward and retain outstanding faculty members at the College.

“Higher education is going through a transition period right now,” said Austin. “Education is going to change – it is changing. I believe in the importance of being able to work one-on-one with your professor, and being involved with an administration and a faculty that gets to know you and works with you. Being able to have small classes and to participate in athletics and other extracurriculars like theatre are all so important.”

A passion for Monmouth

Addison’s decision to give was made even easier by his own favorable experience with Monmouth, despite the fact that he wasn’t an alumnus of the College.

AUSTIN JONES: Like his mother before him, the Grinnell State Bank president and CFO is a member o... AUSTIN JONES: Like his mother before him, the Grinnell State Bank president and CFO is a member of the Monmouth College Board of Trustees.“My father was a Grinnell grad, and he loved his experience there,” said Austin, who lives in Grinnell, Iowa, and is president and CFO of Grinnell State Bank. “But his experience with Monmouth is what moved his life, what changed his life. He always felt welcomed at Monmouth. It was just a very warm feeling, and he was very comfortable. He believed it was a well-run organization that really cared about people.”

Austin said his father often accompanied Marion to board meetings at her alma mater.

“Mom loved working with the board, the professors and the administration, and my father was always so impressed that he could sit in on the open part of the board meetings,” he said. “He thought the leadership of the College was so insightful and thoughtful, and I particularly remember him being overwhelmed as plans were being made for the Center for Science and Business. It was a huge leap for the College to do a project like that, and he was very impressed.”

Monmouth’s $42 million Center for Science and Business opened in 2013.

The Austin and Jones legacy

The Jones name holds a special place in Monmouth College history, and so does the name Austin. In 1901, Austin’s great-grandfather, T. Merrill Austin, was appointed to direct the College’s Conservatory of Music, which flourished during his 35 years of leadership. One of his star pupils was the legendary Gracie Peterson, a 1922 graduate who taught piano at Monmouth for 50 years and was still performing at the age of 100.

“Mom had such a passion for the school,” said Austin. “She shared wonderful stories of being on stage with Gracie Peterson. Gracie said that my great-grandfather was her favorite professor, and my mother’s favorite professor was Gracie. The heritage is deep-rooted in our family.”

AUSTIN HALL: Monmouth's music building stands as a memorial to Marion Austin Jones's family a... AUSTIN HALL: Monmouth's music building stands as a memorial to Marion Austin Jones's family and its initial connections to the College.Today, the College’s music building, Austin Hall stands as a memorial to Marion’s family and those initial connections to Monmouth.

“We know she would be proud of the continued legacy at Monmouth through her grandchildren and so many other extended family members, but also in service to the College leadership,” said Austin, whose daughter Miranda Jones graduated from Monmouth in 2017.

Miranda’s Monmouth experience is another big reason Austin supports the College.

“Miranda’s experience was incredible for her,” said Austin, who graduated from a large university. “Had I attended Monmouth, I think it would’ve been so much more fun. You can get lost at a big school, especially if you’re not self-motivated. So many of my friends took four-and-a-half, five, six years to graduate. The system’s not made to help you. Prerequisites for a major can change, and they don’t tell you. At Monmouth, Miranda’s adviser made sure she stayed on track and got done in four years.”

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