Bernice Jones’ dream of an all-welcoming community center is alive and well in Springdale two decades after the philanthropist’s death.
The Jones Center for Families was just one of Jones’ charitable projects, but it’s perhaps the most prominent. The 220,000-SF center on Emma Avenue in downtown Springdale is a recreation destination — with its indoor swimming pools, a gymnasium and the region’s only ice skating rink — for about 500,000 visitors per year.
The center was made possible by the generosity of Jones, who oversaw construction of the campus in 1995. Bernice’s husband, Harvey, founded Jones Truck Lines of Springdale in 1919, and the couple sold the firm for the equivalent of $56 million in 1980 to Sun Co.
Harvey and Bernice Jones were serial givers in northwest Arkansas, regularly contributing to schools, hospitals and even employees of the trucking company. Har-Ber High School and the Har-Ber Meadows subdivision, both in Springdale, are named after the couple; the subdivision was built on what was originally Bernice Jones’ family farmland and she financed much of the construction project.
Harvey Jones died in 1989, and Bernice Jones created The Jones Trust in 1994 to fund the center, which now has its own trust as well. The trust also oversees operations at two Centers for Nonprofits: one at the former St. Mary’s Hospital in Rogers and another at the former home of the Jones Truck Lines in Springdale.
Together, the two CNPs provide subsidized office and meeting space for more than 80 community service organizations.
“The Jones Trust and the various programs … have really helped to build a more vibrant and active and healthy community,” said Terri Trotter, who is president and CEO of both The Jones Trust and The Jones Center for Families. “Mrs. Jones was ahead of her time in her thinking, both she and Harvey had such a heart for the community and for an idea now we talk about all the time, which is inclusion. Making sure everybody can have access to a healthy lifestyle, and we make the community better for everybody. That has been and is the enduring legacy.”
All Are Welcome
Bernice Jones’ motto for the center was “All are welcome,” and Trotter said the trusts try to live up to those words with every initiative and project they undertake.
The Jones Center for Families is the entertainment program, where people can enjoy fun experiences such as swimming or ice skating. The CNPs offer people a chance to get health, education or other services under one roof.
“What is so interesting and unique about the Jones Center is it is a place where so many different people can feel comfortable and be together,” Trotter said. “If you look at people working out in the fitness room, it’s people from across the street and from the other side of town and from Fayetteville and from Rogers. That place where you literally have so many different people coming together is pretty rare and pretty special.”
Trotter said the trust is working on an expansion of the center’s campus. It owns 50 acres surrounding the campus and is looking to expand programming to include performances and cultural events.
“The medium-term goal right now is to build out a campus around the Jones Center that provides additional activities and amenities for people in Springdale and for people in northwest Arkansas,” Trotter said. “We always have an eye for how we bring diverse groups of people together around common interests and unique and fun experiences. We have been broadening programming. We tend to be thought of as a recreational center, and we definitely are that and will be that.”
The Jones Trust had more than $87 million in total assets at the end of 2021, according to its latest IRS Form 990. That’s up from $83 million the previous year and enough to rank it at No. 34 on Arkansas Business’ annual list of the state’s largest nonprofits.
Trotter said much of the credit goes to former CEO Ed Clifford, who led the trusts from 2012 to 2022; Clifford, who was unavailable for comment, helped the Jones Trust recover from the recession in 2009 by spearheading a $30 million fundraising campaign.
The center had been worried about its sustainability. It had begun charging nominal fees for some services in 2008.
The Jones Center for Families reported $19 million in assets at the end of 2021, up from $17 million the previous year.
Joel Carver had a front-row seat for much of Bernice Jones’ charitable activity as a longtime friend, trust CEO and board member, a position in which he still serves.
Carver, a Fayetteville cardiologist, said Bernice Jones loved being able to help people. Harvey Jones was the same way, Carver said, even to the point of helping his employees with their mortgages.
“She gave her fortune away,” Carver said. “She didn’t care so much about money as she cared about people. She took great joy in helping children and families. She rarely spoke about money; in fact she would usually not disclose the amount of her gift only what her gift would do. She gave without any desire for recognition.
“She liked to fund entire projects because she wanted to see it completed in her lifetime. She’d say, ‘I’m an old lady, I need to see this done.’ ”
The CNPs don’t get the attention the center does, but Trotter said social and medical services have a big impact on people’s lives.
“We want to be able to help our neighbors in need,” Trotter said. “The nonprofit centers really provide that social safety net and that real basic level of well-being. You create this community for the nonprofits as well as opposed to them being in separate offices here and there.
“We really try to focus on that gift, the legacy or that philosophy of inclusion. How do we create places and experiences where everyone feels like they can be included and where they can belong?”
The Jones Center is a great legacy for the Jones family, Carver said. “They were kind and generous and compassionate and they cared about people and their community.”