The Importance of Family History

As seen in the University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing’s Mizzou Nursing Magazine Spring 2015 Issue

Article by Brad Johnson – Published: Feb. 12, 2015

It was a special night for Sinclair School of Nursing (SSON) Associate Professor Maithe Enriquez. She was being inducted into one of the most prestigious nursing societies, the American Academy of Nursing (AAN). She and husband David McKinsey were excited to go to the AAN ceremony in Washington, D.C. Thousands of people attended the event with some of the biggest names in nursing. David met SSON faculty member and AAN fellow, Marilyn Rantz, while Maithe was being escorted around the venue. It was when David was waiting to hear his wife’s name called as one of the newest members of AAN that he made the discovery of a lifetime.

Before Maithe was recognized, Donald and Barbara Jonas were inducted as honorary fellows. The couple, founders of the Jonas Center for Nursing and Veterans Health Care, award Jonas Scholarships to hundreds of doctoral nursing students across the country. As Donald and Barbara came up onto the stage to be honored, David immediately recognized Donald even though they had never met.

“I turned to Dr. Rantz and exclaimed, ’That’s my mother’s cousin,’” David said.

The last name Jonas had been well known and revered in David’s family, but he never expected to have the opportunity to meet them. David learned of the Jonas family as a child when his mother told him that if not for the actions of Donald’s grandfather and David’s great-great uncle, Sam Jonas, life would have played out differently.

The story begins in Paris during World War II, before David’s mother Jacqueline was even a teen. As Adolph Hitler and the Nazis were devastating Europe, Jacqueline’s family members fled France to Morocco with the goal of immigrating to the United States. However, visas were limited and the family could only get as far as Cuba. At the same time, Sam Jonas was trying everything he could to help Jacqueline’s family get to America.

Sam immigrated to America many years earlier in pursuit of the American dream. He started a retail business selling stylish hats for women, and he eventually established a national chain of women’s clothing stores. But it was not enough for Sam.

“His lifelong ambition was to get all of his family to America because they were very good business people,” Donald said about his grandfather. “He knew they would find something for themselves. He used every trick to get them to America, but they couldn’t get the proper papers.”

Sam’s bag of tricks had to turn into a shipload of tricks. At the time, hundreds of thousands of refugees were trying to escape Europe to any nation that would take them, but the mass influx of people caused some countries to limit how many they would let in. Although only a few hundred might have been let into a country, thousands were turned away at the borders. David’s mother, and her brother, sister, and father spent several months in a refugee in a camp in Cuba waiting for another chance.

Fortunately, David’s grandfather was able to maintain correspondence with his uncle Sam. Sam obtained the crucial immigration visas and paid for his family’s passage on a ship to America. Sam’s timing and actions always seemed to be a sign from above. Not only did he get the family to America, but he was also able to get David’s mother and her family on the right ship. The next ship that departed from Morrocco -— after the one they were on — was torpedoed, and all refugees aboard were killed. “David’s mother has been telling him, if not for Sam Jonas, who knows what would have happened,” Maithe said.

David has always been curious about his relatives and ancestors. He had heard about Donald’s successful business career in New York. Years later, when Maithe mentioned the Jonas Scholarships, David realized that the foundation had been established by Donald and Barbara. Because they lived across the country, David thought their paths would never cross, until fate brought them together in the same room.

“David is sitting in the audience and there are the Jonases. There were thousands of people blocking his way, so of course he couldn’t just run up and talk to them,” Maithe said.

David and Maithe left the venue that night extremely happy and proud, but disappointed because they did not talk with Donald and Barbara. Shortly after they returned home to Kansas City, David drafted a letter to Donald Jonas in New York City.

In a few days, Jonas was intrigued when he picked up his mail. For starters, the letter came from the state of Kansas, and he had no connections with anybody in the state. After reading the letter, he immediately picked up the phone.

“I saw the caller ID light up ‘Donald Jonas,’ handed the phone to David and said ‘this call’s for you,’” Maithe said. “He couldn’t believe it because it had been only three days since he put the letter in the mail.”

David thought he might never hear from Donald, but once the two started talking, they connected on a family level. They discussed relatives, family stories and mutual interests.

“It was an amazing conversation,” David said. “We learned we had so much in common.”

There were many little coincidences. Not only were they family members who have a strong relationship with nursing, but they also shared international connections. Donald and Barbara own a home in the Dominican Republic where David travels for a medical mission once a year.

“I was very excited to meet him [in person],” Mr. Jonas said (pictured with his wife Barbara and Maithe) said. “The first time we met was when he was in the Dominican Republic with his wife.”

David has enjoyed catching up on all of his family’s history. His ancestors, who had difficult lives, made a lot of sacrifices and made life much better for everyone in the family. David knows he owes a lot to his ancestors.

Maithe has also enjoyed seeing her husband connect with his past. “He’s having the time of his life connecting with people,” Maithe said, smiling. “It’s really been great for him.”

Donald and David talk as often as they can despite their busy schedules. They are not sure what the future will bring, but they know it has been an exhilarating ride since they connected.

“We get an awful lot of joy out of finding out what happened to this void in our lives,” Donald said.

In his spare time, David has been busy researching more of his family’s history.

The Jonases spend most of their time with the Jonas foundation and the scholarships. To date, four SSON doctoral students have received Jonas Funding with Briana Snyder and Kristina Ennis being current recipients.

Both families are looking forward to seeing each other again soon in the Dominican Republic. Good-hearted people enjoy each other’s company — and not just because they are family.

“The Jonases are not only famous people in the nursing world, they are also two of the nicest and most caring people you could meet,” David said.

The night of the AAN induction ceremony changed David and Maithe’s lives forever. Now David knows a little more about his background.

CLICK HERE to view the article on The University of Missouri Sinclair School of Nursing’s website.

CLICK HERE to view Partner Dean Judith Fitzgerald Miller’s blog post.