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Greenwich couple honored for donations to nursing education

Greenwich couple honored for donations to nursing education
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GREENWICH — A program to increase the number of nurses across the U.S. started by a Greenwich couple has been gaining momentum.

The Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence, which provides graduate education for people in the nursing field, has assisted 1,000 “Jonas scholars” and now operates in all 50 states.

Barbara and Donald Jonas, longtime Greenwich residents, were recently awarded honorary doctorates by the Frontier Nursing University.

“We were most honored,” said Barbara Jonas. “It was beautiful day.”

The Frontier Nursing University in Kentucky is one of the oldest nursing schools in the country with an extensive program to train midwives in child-birthing.

The Jonases said they believe that nursing plays a crucial but under-resourced part of public health, with shortages a continuing problem. Barbara Jonas said there was a “dangerous precipice” in the healthcare field because of the lack of trained nurses and instructors in the field.

“It will be a major factor in healthcare. Many more people are aging, many more people need care, and everything (the field) is kind of shrinking in terms of funding,” said Barbara Jonas, a former psychiatric social worker. “To have well-trained, well-paid nurses who know what they’re doing will benefit all of us.”

The Jonas Family Fund was created with proceeds from the family’s auction of 15 abstract expressionist artworks in their private collection, which generated $44 million. The collection contained works by Willem de Kooning and Mark Rothko.

The couple say they enjoy meeting nursing students and others entering the caring professions.

“It’s exciting — giving and seeing things happen,” said Barbara Jonas. “We do not just sign checks — we get into it, meet with people. There’s an enormous amount of synergy.”

Donald Jonas, who had a successful career running retail businesses, said he found philanthropy highly rewarding — though it has some drawbacks.

“Philanthropy has absolutely destroyed my golf game. But I say that with a big smile,” he said.

Barbara Jonas said she still misses the paintings that were sold at auction. “I miss it very, very much. But I realize now — it was far more valuable” in what its sales accomplished.

The couple has other philanthropic interests in well — helping veterans and young people.

About veterans’ health care, Barbara Jonas said, “There’s too little involvement, too little attention.” She said suicide rates and mental-health problems in the veterans’ community were alarming. Her husband served in the U.S. Marine Corps.

Donald Jonas is also working with the Columbia School of Ophthalmology, helping youngsters with vision problems. Environmental health is another area the Jonas Fund is active with — preventing lead, toxins and other poisonous contaminants from harming children.

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