Oscar Jonas was a leader in Dalton’s carpet industry and a passionate champion of the arts.
When he died unexpectedly of a heart attack in his 40s, his friends and family rallied to establish the Oscar N. Jonas Memorial Foundation in 1968 to keep his memory alive.
“Oscar Jonas believed strongly that the arts can really enrich and expand a person’s life, and his legacy lives on, 50 years later,” says Susan Reams, president of the board, which administers a wide-ranging program of arts education in the public schools. “He wanted people to be exposed to the arts no matter what their financial background was.”
The foundation organized the first in-school arts programs for students in Dalton and Whitfield County and eventually grew to include Murray County schools. Today, the foundation oversees arts curricula in 42 schools in Northwest Georgia. It brings in a variety of troupes, including puppeteers, dancers, instrumentalists and fiber and visual artists.
“Also, each arts program ties in with other subjects that the students are studying that semester, such as a group of Cherokee puppeteers who taught about the history here of Native Americans,” Reams says.
The arts offer a methodology for teaching a variety of disciplines.
“We were doing STEAM as part of our programming long before it became a buzzword,” Reams says, referring to the educational acronym for science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics.
The foundation works in partnership with the school boards and the Creative Arts Guild to present 250 to 300 programs and performances each year. “Oscar Jonas would be pleased,” Reams says.