Jona J. Mann's last message to the world: "If you're reading this, I've finally corked off." On January 23, 2020 in Ames, Iowa, at the age of 86, she followed in the hoof and paw prints of the horses and dogs she loved and cared for throughout her lifetime. She thought she should have been a horse, leading a farm friend to comment "That Jona can't be hitched wrong." We are grateful that Jona showed up instead as the intense human she was -- educator and learner, devotee of nature, lover and supporter of animals - domestic and wild -- but especially dogs, horses and elephants. She was pretty fond of some people, as well.
Born in New Jersey, Jona graduated from Cornell University with a B.S. in Animal Husbandry. Leaving that discipline behind and to the benefit of young people, she first taught English at Tinton Falls Junior High School in Tinton Falls, New Jersey. The next phase of her life began when she moved to central Iowa in 1969 with her partner Lee Hadley. There, on an acreage three miles north, one mile west, and another ¾ mile north of Madrid, she found home. She also found family in the form of the Hadleys and Riches and in a multitude of friends who shared her love of horses, dogs, learning, nature, travel, and rural life.
She taught English at Roosevelt and Hoover High Schools in Des Moines, and earned her Ph.D. in Professional Studies from Iowa State University in 1976. Her teaching was characterized by a continuous challenge to think and search for meaning and understanding. She tended to animals, gardens and young minds relentlessly. Her job - to feed, weed, water, and prune. Their job -- to grow. Among her enduring friendships are former students who could not get enough of that challenge, as well as colleagues, neighbors and friends who shared meals, travels, chores, and companionship.
When not at school, preparing lessons or grading papers, Jona was riding her horse, walking her dogs, tending to flower gardens, barn and pasture, or heading to Ames for a noon swim. You didn't have to agree with Jona, as long as you understood that if it was her opinion, it was very true. Right to the end, she respected a well-framed disagreement, and is on record as having changed her mind once or twice (maybe three times).
Jona loved good food and was a great cook. Still, she remained fit and athletic, taking her dogs for long walks. One friend teased her in a card in her final weeks, "Wow, I'm so proud of you. You're really taking off those unsightly pounds and this time I'll bet they won't be back." It's the kind of joke on herself that Jona enjoyed. She knew cancer would call back and that she would not resist it -- eventually.
When Jona came to Iowa 50 years ago, she traded the Atlantic Ocean of her youth for vast rippling seas of corn, learning to listen to the corn from her deck as she had the ocean from the shore. Jona is survived by a loving family of friends who now will be listening for her voice in the chorus of cornstalks this, and every, Iowa summer. Shalom, Jona.
Jona's friends deeply appreciate the outstanding care she received at Israel Family Hospice House in Ames. She asked that, in lieu of flowers, friends donate to a charity meaningful to them. A memorial gathering (with dogs!!) will be planned later this year.
Online condolences may be directed to www.grandonfuneralandcremationcare.com
Our sympathies to Jona's family and friends. Jona was our neighbor when she had to move to town. We enjoyed her wit and humor. I can imagine what a great teacher she was!
I met Jona Mann when I was 14, many years ago. I believe it was her first teaching job. I didn't know that then, when she walked into our classroom and said, "I know you think this is reading class, but it is literature class. You can tell your friends that you are taking literature." I was riveted from that time on. We explored many authors and forms of the art of writing, in that class and later when I had the good fortune to spend my senior year of high school as her student. I became a truly prodigious reader. Later in my life after we had lost touch, I realized the many ways I was still referring to her guidance, I found her address and reconnected with her to resume a correspondence via email, phone and letter. We talked about the past in New Jersey, politics and our lives. I was struck and buoyed by her positive attitude, integrity and the breadth of her interests.
Even on her death bed she set an amazing example... Bon Voyage, Jona...
Jona, How do I describe a great person like her. I met her over 28 years ago when she called me to come and clean her chimney. When I got there she was very insistant on showing me her beautiful farm (the one N of Madrid on 1921 Rose) with her horses and her 2 poodles at the time. I was so young at my business at the time and just wanted to do my work and make a buck. She taught me understanding of a customer and patience and to listen to them. I listened to her and am a better man for it. For that I earned her trust and she was my customer (no my friend) for the rest of her life. I regret not reaching out to her this last year as I have always been over to her place even if it was just to lite her gas fireplace (her new place in Ames) and to talk to her. She will be greatly missed (especially by me) and I know she brought great JOY to everyone she ever met.
Jona Mann, an A+ person, teacher, scholar, animal lover, and friend. I taught next door to Jona at Hoover for six years. She was wise, smart, understanding, and a true gift to students. She made this world a better place for all of us, animals and humans.
The first quarter of my junior year in high school, I earned a C in English. Deism, pragmatism, the over-soul. Huh? I had never gotten a C in anything and my parents went to meet Dr. Mann at parent-teacher conferences to find out why. Dr. Mann told my parents that she was needed to teach their son to think... and if I start to think, I'll succeed in her class. She was THE teacher that challenged me to think and express my thoughts in my writing. While she could have been teaching philosophy at some boughie private school somewhere, she chose to give her all to the middle class public school kids in Des Moines, Iowa. Dr. Mann was selected to address my high school class at our graduation. I remember her opening words as she looked out at the Hoover High School class of 1988 at Veterans Memorial Auditorium: "Do Something!" Dr. Jona Mann was a hell of a woman who definitely Did Something and will always hold a special place in my heart.
San Diego, CA
Hoover High School Class of 1988
I had Dr. Mann for English at Hoover High School in Des Moines, Iowa. She was a great teacher. She taught me a lot and I was very honored to have her as a teacher. Rest In Peace Dr. Mann.
Hoover High School
Class of 1980
Best teacher I ever had! Junior year AP English was: “No.” “You’re wrong.” “Not even close…NEXT.” I didn’t know what to think about all that at first, but quickly came to appreciate the ball-busting approach.
She taught me how to think outside the book and outside the box. Her words and lessons were more beneficial to me and my life to come than any other teacher. If Dr. Mann had that kind of impact on me, I would assume there were many others.
I remember how excited I was when I found out she was giving the commencement address for the Class of ‘88. In my world, it seemed perfectly fitting, and she absolutely slayed it!
Dr. Mann was quite simply a spectacular teacher, thinker, and person!
May she Rest In Peace.
Chad M. Cooper
Hoover High School
Class of ‘88
A very memorable person from my childhood. Jona was a kind and intelligent spirit. I always appreciated time with her during family holidays- we had the same love for animals. May you Rest In Peace Jona.
I have not forgotten you since you were a teacher of mine at Hoover High School here in Des Moines, I wish I had known how to contact you before your passing. You furthered my love of reading and you always read every book I read ....with so many students you were amazing. Thank you!
Mrs. Mann was my sophomore English teacher at Roosevelt back in 1970. Unlike many high school classes, this one I enjoyed! My condolences to her family.
Jona was a terrific neighbor. She walked Daisy even in the winter around our pond. I always tried to watch for her to return!! My dog loved her (when Daisy wasnt around) and would run up for affection when Jona was in the yard. Her last big adventure that I know of was a trip to see the Lipizzaner horses in Vienna. She was so thrilled and her eyes lit up when she talked about getting to see them. She will be missed. Godspeed
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