Local News

December 10, 2013

Jonas helped build Dalton arts community

Peggy Jonas believed the arts should be inclusive, not exclusive.

“She felt very strongly that all children could benefit and grow and become better citizens if they had been exposed to the visual and the performing arts,” said Bill Weaver, a board member of the O.N. Jonas Memorial Foundation, which brings the arts into Dalton, Whitfield County and Murray County schools as well as the Elbert Shaw Regional Youth Detention Center.

The foundation was started in 1968 and named after Jonas’ late husband Oscar. Friends and board members say Peggy Jonas was the driving force behind the success of the foundation.

“About 2,000 children (in Whitfield and Murray counties) are served every year. They get theater performances out of Atlanta, symphonies, dance performances, visual art experiences. It is such a tremendous program, and Peggy was instrumental in that,” said Terry Tomasello, executive director of the Creative Arts Guild.

Peggy Jonas, 78, passed away on Monday.

“Oscar Jonas grew up in New York, where the arts were part of the curriculum. He was very passionate about that, and she shared that passion,” said Ellen Thompson, who worked with Peggy Jonas as arts coordinator of Whitfield County Schools from 1985 to 1995 and as a member of the Jonas Foundation board since.

“She was an encourager of people. She was certainly always very encouraging of me. She was always full of plans for the future. She was always thinking about how she could make the Jonas Foundation better and how it could serve more children in schools,” Thompson said.

A 1951 graduate of Murray County High School, Peggy Jonas worked as a bookkeeper in the textile industry before founding her own firm, Office Services Unlimited, which provided secretarial and office services to business people visiting from out of town. During that time, she met Oscar Jonas, who had come to Dalton to work in the textile industry, and they married in 1958.

The two were among the founders of the Creative Arts Guild some 50 years ago, and Peggy Jonas remained active with the Guild even after moving to Atlanta after Oscar’s death in 1968.

“She was on the search committee that hired me in 2001,” said Tomasello. “She and I were talking just a couple of weekends ago about the Guild. She stuck with this organization through thick and thin. She wanted to make sure the programming was stellar, whether it was dance or music or theater. She wanted to make sure the programs here and in the schools were of the highest quality.”

After moving to Atlanta, Peggy Jonas married George Titlow and became active in both Democratic Party politics and the Atlanta art community, helping to revive the Atlanta Art Auction and serving as a board member and president of the Atlanta Arts Festival.

After divorcing Titlow in 1978, Jonas became the first female CEO of a carpet mill when she took the reins at Jonas Carpets, family members said. In the early 1980s, she sold the company, while retaining its real estate assets. In 1982, the Wool Bureau hired her as contract carpet manager, and she eventually rose to North American vice president for textiles. In 1992, she retired from the Wool Bureau to focus on the family real estate business.

In 1999, she built her retirement home near her grandparents’ home — the Felton Loughridge house — on the CCC Camp Road in Murray County. The design of the home is based on the “spirit houses” of the Sepik River valley in Papua New Guinea. Peggy Jonas had traveled all over the world — to Morocco, Egypt, Israel, Europe, East Asia, Botswana, Kenya, Tanzania, Brazil, Argentina, numerous trips to Mexico and the Caribbean, and the former Soviet Union. But family members say Papua New Guinea was her favorite place to visit.

Through all of that she remained focused on the Creative Arts Guild and the Jonas Foundation.

John Shaheen’s parents were friends with Peggy and Oscar Jonas, and he said they reconnected after he joined the Jonas Foundation board more than 15 years ago.

“She had a passion for the arts. She had a real love for family and children, and she had connections in the art world, especially in Atlanta, that were invaluable,” said Shaheen, who is now the foundation’s board chairman. “The Jonas Foundation will continue its work. But Peggy’s death is a tremendous loss for the foundation and for the community.”

Greg Bailey, now assistant principal of Westside Middle School, worked with Jonas for about seven years when he served as arts coordinator for the Whitfield County school system.

“She had a great passion for the arts and ensuring that all children in the community should have access to the arts,” he said. “Our children have gotten to see a whole variety of arts, from chorus to tap dance to Chinese dance to puppetry. We’ve actually had artists in residence who worked with the students. She worked so hard to make this a program that could be sustained over time. We would not have been able to supply those artists to the students if not for her and the foundation.”

Laura Orr, director of school support for Dalton Public Schools, said the community has lost a great friend.

“For over 40 years, children in Dalton Public Schools as well as in the surrounding area have benefited from the generosity of Peggy Jonas and the O.N. Jonas Foundation. The foundation has partnered with public schools to make available authentic arts experiences for students that generally would be too costly for school districts to provide. As recently as last week, a Jonas artist in residence worked with students at Dalton Middle School. Ms. Jonas has left a lasting legacy through her investment in our community’s children,” Orr said.

Visitation is at Love Funeral Home in Dalton on Thursday from 1 to 2 p.m. with the funeral service at 2 p.m., followed by internment at the cemetery of Temple Beth-El and then a reception at the Creative Arts Guild.

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