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Sunspots: Eva Cook Jones

There's something special about Eva Cook Jones. You can see it in her sparkling eyes and ready smile as she opens her front door to greet you. She's a petite woman, but we know that special things can come in the smallest of packages.

Seated at her dining room table in her comfortable home, Jones shares the special moments of her life.

Eva Ellen Cook was born May 11, 1917, to Lillian (Isherwood) and Paul Earl Cook, on the farm that her grandfather homesteaded in Synnes Township. Her parents were farmers and her mother was also a seamstress. "I now own some of that land," Jones shared. Jones had three brothers and five sisters; one sister still lives in Prior Lake.

Jones walked a mile and a half one way to District 58--"the Staples School"--to attend first grade each day. There was no kindergarten then, rather a classroom with eight grades together and one teacher.

To keep warm for the walk to school, "I had on my own mittens with my dad's mittens over the top that were pinned to my coat," she recalled.

Midway through the second grade, the family moved to Scott Township, south of Alberta, where she attended Alberta Consolidated School. "I thought it was too big, too much," she said. But Jones persevered, skipping from third to fifth grade and graduating in 1934 from Alberta.

"My dad knew well the value of an education," said Jones. In the summer following her graduation, her father said "we'd better get down to St. Cloud." They arrived at the St. Cloud Teacher's College president's office to "take a look," but, to Jones' surprise, classes were beginning the very next day, so she was told she had to stay if she wished to attend.

"I'd never been in a big city," she recalled. "But I went to have a physical and I got home without help," she remembered with a smile. After two years, Jones returned to West Central Minnesota and was hired to teach first through eighth grades at District 60, about five miles from Morris.

"I taught kids bigger than I was," said Jones. "I was strict, but fair. The kids had good parents." Among other families, she taught the Josts, the Stevens, Spoonholz's and Huffords. Following teaching positions there and in District 4, Jones landed her first "town teaching job" in Delhi, Minnesota, until Alberta superintendent J.H. Kerlin called her and said he needed a teacher. She headed for Buffalo--"some of the best teaching [I] did," said Jones. She taught elementary classes throughout Minnesota until, in 1954, she had a fifth grader in her class who couldn't read. Jones returned to St. Cloud to take two summer sessions and a fall quarter in a special reading program when her life's work took an unexpected turn.

A parent group for children with cerebral palsy had raised money to hire a teacher for their children, who, in those days, couldn't attend school with other children. So, in December 1954 Jones entered a barracks type building "with no supplies, no equipment, no desks or chairs, just kids ages six to 15 who had cerebral palsy. The department chair went to the legislature to get a grant for $30,000," with which Jones purchased paper, pencils and workbooks. She scavengered desks of varied sizes and chairs from throughout the rest of the building. She made the remainder of what she needed to comprise the skeleton of a classroom.

"I decided I was going have to teach the basics--reading, writing, spelling," she said. Through keen observation, Jones discovered whether children were auditory or visual learners. "Some couldn't listen if they were distracted by anything visual, so I taught some in a dark room," she recalled. One student regularly pushed away any work she placed in front of him. When she discovered he could read, she used that interest to teach him. That student would eventually graduate from St. Cloud, become a certified public accountant, and, in retirement, is a public speaker. Another former student is a chef at the Illinois State Prison.

After 10 years, a special education department was started at St. Cloud State. Jones taught psychology along with courses to teach teachers how to teach students with special disabilities. In 1967, Jones was appointed to a committee to help the University of Minnesota hospital develop a state plan for special education. She was elected president of the United Cerebral Palsy Board in St. Cloud in 1968. When a law was passed to open a mental health center in Virginia, Minn., Jones was offered a job as a consultant. She resigned from the position in 1972 to go into private practice. She visited "any school having trouble getting special education kids into the system. I evaluated kids in over 80 schools," said Jones.

Jones holds a bachelor's degree from St. Cloud Teacher's College and a master's in education with a concentration in special education from Syracuse University, New York.

All of this, said Jones, due to her parents' emphasis on, and passion for, education.

She retired in 1981, the year she also married Jack Jones, whom she met at St. Cloud Teacher's College. "We were married on January 24, 1981, in front of the fireplace in a new house that Mom and my brother lived in. We had a reception in Chokio. It was 57 degrees outside," recalled Jones.

When asked what part of history she would liked to have been part of, Jones replied: "When they were providing services such as electricity and water for rural areas; these made such a difference in everybody's life."

"People may also wonder why I didn't marry at an earlier age," said Jones. "Well, I had a lot of things to do and if I had married earlier I thought, 'I won't be able to do them.'"

After her retirement, the Jones' traveled to see most of the U.S. Eva has also traveled twice to Africa, once when she spontaneously stayed for a month to help a colleague develop an education program there. She's been on safari and visited the pyramids. She rode a camel -- "I'm glad I did it, but also glad that it's not our mode of transportation." She's been to England, Scotland and Norway and to conferences in Denmark and Sweden.

Jack was a woodworker who crafted some of the pieces that still decorate her home. Eva visited nursing homes and baked. She still enjoys reading. She also enjoys visits from her four stepchildren and five step grandchildren, who live throughout the U.S.

"It's not easy getting old, but I can still get things done that I need done," Jones said.

And so, just as the many students and would-be teachers she has mentored over the years know, now you know what's so special about Eva Ellen Cook Jones.