By Carol Biliczky, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
Nov. 20–ROOTSTOWN TWP — When Dorothy Jones dies, she will, in a sense, go home — to the land that she and her husband once owned.
But Jones will do so on an ambulance cart, draped with a sheet. And the home to which she will return is now the Northeastern Ohio Universities College of Medicine.
Jones, now 73, will join about 30 to 40 people each year who donate their bodies to the medical college. About 1,600 people currently are registered donors.
She thought the donation would be the fitting way to wrap up the loose ends of her life — not that she expects that to happen anytime soon.
“I don’t have any family of my own that would really worry what would happen to my body,” she said. “I don’t want a lot of fuss. This would be a very easy way out.”
Like all medical colleges, NEOUCOM accepts donor bodies. It is a quiet program — so quiet that the college does not advertise its need and still receives ample donations, even though some bodies are disqualified at the 11th hour because they’ve been autopsied, embalmed elsewhere, the donor died during or after major surgery or the family objected.
For Jones, it will be a quiet ending for a life that started with a blaze of publicity.
At six months old, she was left in a basket on a doorstep of a home in Akron — one of three babies abandoned in the city within a month in spring 1933, the height of the Great Depression.
Nicknamed Peggy Sue Doe by nurses at Akron Children’s Hospital, she went on to be adopted by an older childless couple who saw her picture in what is now the Beacon Journal and decided they must have her.
Jones never looked for her birth mother.
“It would have hurt my adoptive mother’s feelings,” she said. “If I had ever met her, I would have thanked her for giving me up — I probably had a better life because of it.”
That life included nurse’s training and working at Akron City Hospital, where she met a World War I veteran named Bryan Jones who was hospitalized for abdominal surgery.
The widowed farmer owned a real estate and insurance business, was active in the Democratic Party and found a wife in the nurse who tended him.
They married, he at 58, she at 23, and spent two decades on their 53-acre farm on state Route 44 in Rootstown Township. They never had children, although he had an adopted son from his first marriage.
He went to his office in Ravenna each day, then worked on the farm. “He had boundless energy,” Dorothy Jones recalled. “He said his idea of relaxing was climbing on a tractor.”
Then Dr. Stanley Olson came knocking at their door.
Olson was pulling together a plan for the medical college for which he would become its first provost. The Akron Beacon Journal called it “bargain basement” education back then, with students to zip through school in six instead of eight years and to train at area hospitals rather than one built by the college.
Olson thought the Joneses’ farm the perfect site for the most political of reasons — it was about 15 miles from the University of Akron, 30 from Youngstown State and eight from Kent State, the three universities launching the joint venture.
Dorothy Jones urged her husband to accept the offer. He was getting up in years and she was ready to get off the farm. His decision was made easier because he admired doctors and was active in supporting Robinson Memorial Hospital in Ravenna. He sold the property for $250,000 in 1974 and the couple moved to a home in Ravenna.
While most buildings were torn down, a neighbor bought the Joneses’ house and moved it to an adjacent property. An $11 million complex went up in its place, and UA, Kent and YSU were flooded with 750 applications for about 40 openings in the first year of operation, 1977.
Since then, the school has graduated more than 2,300 and will expand next fall to offer eastern Ohio’s only training for pharmacists.
In addition, the college just bought back the Joneses’ original house for $200,000. The house will be razed, but there are no immediate plans for the land, NEOUCOM spokesman Patrick Crowley said.
Bryan Jones didn’t live to see the college blossom. But after he died of cancer in 1980, Dorothy Jones decided to donate her body to NEOUCOM and gave power of attorney to a younger man.
Wayne Enders, 50, may be the perfect person to follow through on Jones’ last wish — not only is he the part-time minister of visitation at her church, First Christian in Ravenna, but he also is administrator at the Portage County coroner’s office.
“I think this is a wonderful gift,” he said. “It takes some courage to do this, to know that after you are gone, that someone is going to be working on you for many months.
“She knows I’ll honor her wishes, no matter what anybody else says,” he said.
That time likely won’t come soon. When it does, her body will be used by students for as long as two years. Then, with other donors, she will be honored in a ceremony of remembrance at the college.
The cremated remains of donors are buried anonymously in the NEOUCOM plot in Homeland Cemetery in Rootstown or returned to their families. The names of the 1,074 who have donated their bodies to date are included on a plaque at the college.
Carol Biliczky can be reached at 330-996-3729 or [email protected]
Copyright (c) 2006, The Akron Beacon Journal, Ohio
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