WILLIAMSBURG — At the age of 93, a woman called the "Prairie Godmother" is gone.
Pat Jones, who along with her husband provided the initial donation that led to development of Missouri's popular Katy Trail State Park hiking and biking path and who was an enormous supporter of state parks and conservation, died Monday.
Pat Jones once said, "People need a place where they can be, where they're not fenced in; you can take a walk, you can run, you can jump, you can get dirty, and you can investigate whatever it is you're interested in."
The state of Missouri this week is remembering the life of Hilda "Pat" Jones.
"In the world of conservation, it's a huge loss," said Noppadol Paothong, a photographer for the Missouri Department of Conservation who first met her some dozen years ago.
He was working on a photo book about prairie grouse at the time, he said.
"She wanted to hear about my project," Paothong said. "To me, she was so humble, and she genuinely liked to listen to you. She asked questions and wanted to hear more."
Jones and her husband, Edward "Ted," donated the land that became Prairie Fork Conservation Area — 711 acres in eastern Callaway County one mile south of Interstate 70 on Route D.
"We are very sad," said Amber Edwards, outreach and education coordinator at Prairie Fork. "She was an amazing woman."
The Prairie Fork Conservation Area is operated as a teaching center by the Missouri Department of Conservation, the University of Missouri School of Natural Resources and the Missouri Prairie Foundation. It hosts about 5,000 school-age children a year who visit the prairie restoration area.
"This is an experience for kids. Most of them only get one day here," Jones said in a video posted by the investment firm Edward Jones, a firm founded by her father-in-law. "I remember field trips when I was in school. And I want them to remember it."
The support of Pat and Ted Jones was instrumental for the Katy Trail.
"Without them, Katy Trail State Park would not have been possible," Gov. Mike Parson said. "Their initial donation of $2.2 million made it feasible for Missouri State Parks to acquire the MKT Railroad corridor and develop it into what Missouri now knows and loves — Katy Trail State Park."
Pat and Ted Jones were nature and park enthusiasts and wanted to share what Missouri had to offer with all of its residents.
"If you care about something a great deal, give it away to someone else that cares about it, too. Then it can go on forever," she said.
In 2014, she received the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Conservation Federation of Missouri, nominated by Ron Coleman, former executive director of the Open Space Council for the St. Louis region. A few weeks later, she was honored again for her work in conservation by the Frederick B. Mumford Award for Distinguished Service from the MU College of Agriculture, Food and Natural Resources.
From the beginning
Jones was born Hilda P. Young in St. Louis. Her family spent weekends in the Missouri countryside, eventually buying property near Eureka (the Young Conservation Area). She enrolled at the University of Missouri and, in 1950, was the first woman in the state to graduate with a degree in agriculture.
"Whole countries are divided by the ground they're on," she said in the Edward Jones video.
She married Edward "Ted" Jones Jr. in 1950, and they moved to the Jones family farm near Williamsburg. His father and namesake founded the firm. Ted Jones served as managing partner from 1968-80 and died in 1990.
In the video, Pat Jones said they didn't have any children so they just adopted the state. That adoption, the video said, resulted in two state parks, two conservation areas.
"I would hope that some people would want to have places that they want to keep, and understand the only way you can really keep something is make it valued by everybody," she said.
Missouri State Parks named Edward "Ted" and Pat Jones Confluence Point State Park, where the Missouri and Mississippi rivers meet, in honor of all their contributions to state parks. The Pat Jones Bicycle Pedestrian Bridge across the Missouri River in Jefferson City and the picnic shelter at the North Jefferson Trailhead are also named to honor Pat Jones.
Jones believed in Missouri State Parks and was a regular visitor for the annual Katy Trail Ride. She participated in the Tram Tours on the Katy Trail, including this year's tour in October. She also actively supported other state parks and conservation programs and their initiatives.
"The Missouri Department of Natural Resources will miss Pat and all her love for state parks and nature," DNR Director Carol Comer said. "Through her legacy, all Missourians and our guests can enjoy the very best of Missouri."
She also had a deep connection with Westminster College, said Rob Crouse, director of public relations for the school.
"She was responsible for a lot of scholarships there — the STEM Academy program and scholarships," he said. "And she is a current President's Club member."
Margot McMillen, a resident involved in Callaway County environmental issues, also remembered Jones.
"She was a champion for conservation and democracy, a supporter of many fine organizations and best known as a founder of the Katy Trail," she said. "Last autumn, when Jamie Coe arranged for Callaway County Concerned Citizens to tour Prairie Fork, enjoy the animals and plants and the sunset, Pat joined us for a bit of supper. It was an honor to meet her and to talk a little about her life."
In addition, the Missouri Conservation Commission awarded her the Master Conservationist Award, the highest honor bestowed upon citizens of the state who have accomplished exemplary conservation work, in 2006.
"Pat loved to see all the kids and activities at Prairie Fork, which she got to see every day out her back door because she witnessed the next generation getting excited about exploring the land just like she did as a kid," said Sara Parker Pauley, director of Missouri Department of Conservation. "She always greeted the kids with a loud 'Learn, Get Dirty and Have Fun,' which is engraved on the wall at Prairie Fork in honor of her incredible conservation legacy."
Paothong said he often had lunch with Jones, and had been thinking of setting up another date soon. He added his wife works for Edward Jones, so their connections were on several levels.
"She had many, many friends, and she sponsored both of my books," he added. "Every once in awhile, I would have lunch with her and wondered how many people in the restaurant knew they were sitting with greatness. She was larger than life."