BENTONVILLE -- Mary Mae Jones, remembered as an education pioneer who dedicated decades to teaching in Bentonville and who has an elementary school named after her, died Friday at the age of 99.
Jones began her teaching career at age 19 in Dumas. She moved to Bentonville in 1962 and was a full-time teacher there until 1995. She taught part-time for 10 more years and retired at age 81.
Mary Mae Jones Elementary School opened in 2004 at 500 S.E. 14th St. As of Oct. 1, the school enrolled 471 students in kindergarten through fourth grade, according to state data.
"She was a legend and inspiration to all!" said Ashley Williams, who was principal of Jones Elementary from 2011 to 2019, in a text. "We will continue to honor and cherish her vision and dedication to educating each child so that they reach their highest potential. She was often seen walking the halls of our elementary buildings and would sometimes make an appearance on the first day of school. Even after she retired, she continued to invest in Bentonville schools. She and Mr. [Jodie] Jones gave scholarships to graduating BHS seniors for over 36 years."
Jodie Jones, Mary Mae's husband, died in 2018.
Mary Mae Jones Elementary posted on Facebook: "Our hearts are heavy today as we mourn the loss of our beloved Mary Mae Jones. We will miss starting each year with her visits and listening to her stories. She always encouraged us as educators and expressed how proud she was of us all. We will continue to make you proud Mrs. Mary Mae. We thank you for the life you spent dedicated to education and we are honored to be your legacy."
Williams, currently the principal of Evening Star Elementary in the Bentonville School District, said Jones was one of the strongest supporters of Bentonville schools and had a simple philosophy for education: All students like to be accepted, appreciated and challenged.
"Mary Mae was a lifelong educator who taught the students of Bentonville for some 40 years," said Debbie Jones, district superintendent. "She was known for pouring into others, and our community is better off because of her work. What an honor it was to know and learn from her."
Lisa St. John, executive director of elementary education for the district, was a teacher when she met Jones, who would visit with students in St. John's classroom. Jones helped set her career trajectory in Bentonville, St. John said, and was someone who connected with students, teachers and parents.
"If she met you once, she knew you forever," St. John said. "She was inspirational. She was an incredible lady."
Jones was also one of the first, if not the first, teachers in the state to be allowed to teach while pregnant, St. John said.
"They couldn't find someone qualified to take her place," St. John said. "They let her stay. She was very proud of that."
In 2015, Jones gained a bit of national attention when she won the "Share Your Hero" contest run by Mrs. Fields, a brand known primarily for its cookies. The contest called on people to nominate someone they consider a hero. The company narrowed a field of thousands of nominees down to 10; those names were posted online and the public was invited to vote on them. For receiving the most votes, Jones was featured on a box of Mrs. Fields cookies and received a year's supply of cookies, as did the Jones Elementary staff member who nominated her.
Jones was born on Christmas Day 1923, according to information provided by Callison-Lough Funeral Home in Bentonville. Arrangements are pending.