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Harrisburg High School alum donates $100K to help alma mater buy updated materials

  • Paul Jones, right, with his brother, retired Harrisburg physician Dr. Larry D. Jones.

    Paul Jones, right, with his brother, retired Harrisburg physician Dr. Larry D. Jones.
    Courtesy of Paul Jones

By Travis DeNeal
updated: 5/31/2018 4:30 PM

HARRISBURG -- Harrisburg Superintendent Mike Gauch said he's thrilled with improvements coming to Harrisburg High School after a former graduate donated $100,000.

While the major renovation to Harrisburg High School was a much-needed improvement, Gauch said the district hasn't had much extra money for new learning materials.

"I started this back in November, maybe even earlier than that," Gauch said. "We knew with the new building we were pretty well tapped-out, and what we didn't want to do was bring 40- and 50-year-old materials to the new building."

Gauch sought board approval to start a letter-writing campaign, asking successful former HHS students and other potential donors if they could contribute, to help pay for new material and equipment.

He credits Jim Hayes Inc. salesman Chris Street with suggesting 1966 alumnus Paul Jones.

"Chris knew Mr. Jones had recently donated money to University of Evansville where he went to school to help build a dormitory," Gauch said.

After conferring with school board members, teachers and others in the community, the first batch of donation requests went out.

"We made our list of people to send letters to, with Paul's name at the top of the list, and it wasn't long at all before I was in communication with him. He was adamant that he wanted to do something; he just wanted a little more information," Gauch said.

The letters offered donors different levels of sponsorship, including having a wing of the high school named after a contributor.

After ironing out some details, Jones agreed to donate $100,000 to the school.

"We were very excited and very grateful for such a tremendous donation," Gauch said.

The new science wing will be named in Jones' honor, and a ceremony dedicating the science wing is planned for late summer, Gauch said.

Jones, who has led a storied career in the world of industrial business, said while he appreciates the school district's recognition for his contribution, his concern is with the quality of education for students of his former high school.

"I didn't care about getting my name on a plaque," Jones said, chuckling. "I've got enough plaques. I did it because I felt that Harrisburg is a great place to grow up in. I believe very much that it helped mold me and mold my character, values and ethics.

"I'm very, very proud of having grown up in Harrisburg, Illinois. I did it for the school and I did it for the students."

In the meantime, the high school already is making use of the donation, Gauch said.

On Thursday, Gauch said he had just completed a purchase order for about $60,000 worth of new science equipment, with the help of science teacher Janet Hughes.

"She's been here 18 or 19 years, and she was using lab equipment that was 40 or 50 years old. Now, she'll have new equipment for her students to use," Gauch said.

Gauch said since Jones committed to his donation, the district also received a commitment for $25,000 from Harrisburg businessman Tom Franks.

"We hope we'll continue to get donations that will help us greatly improve the quality of education for our students," Gauch said.

"I can't thank the people who already have donated enough. This isn't just a commitment to our schools. It's a commitment to the future of our children."