Former Dal Spanish Department head Sonia Jones turned milk into yogurt into a scholarship that has helped students sharpen their language skills and expand their horizons.
Of all the scholarships available to support Dalhousie students in their studies, it’s safe to say only one—the Dr. Sonia Jones Scholarship in Spanish—began with a cow named Daisy.
“I was very eager to ensure that the best students at the university had a chance to study in a Spanish-speaking country at some point before graduating so they could become fluent in the language,” says the former Department of Spanish and Latin American Studies professor (1972-1990).
“I knew from my own experience how it benefitted me, but recognized most students couldn’t afford to travel abroad for a year. When I became chair of the department, I decided to find some way of raising money so they could do that.”
The Harvard graduate, who had previously lived in New York with her husband Gordon, a successful entrepreneur, found a solution in Daisy. After moving to Nova Scotia, the couple purchased farmland in Lunenburg and invested in Daisy to make milk for their family. But the cow produced more milk than they needed, so Dr. Jones began using it to make yogurt. “I thought that if I sold yogurt to students to eat with their lunch, we’d be able to raise quite a bit of money toward a scholarship.”
Dr. Jones started selling the yogurt at Dalhousie and soon after in grocery stores throughout the region, eventually growing it from a simple business she ran out of her kitchen into a multi-million dollar operation known as Peninsula Farm. She also transformed a basement at Dalhousie into a Spanish café to help make her scholarship possible. “With the money from the café, and a bit extra, we were able to start sending students overseas.”
More than 40 years later, the scholarship is still going strong, says John Kirk, a professor with the department, who was hired by Dr. Jones in 1978.
“At the time, we were sending students to Salamanca, Spain,” notes Dr. Kirk, who oversees the fund. “It’s expanded since then, so we’re also sending them to Mexico, Peru and Cuba. We’ve probably sent 150 students abroad over the years and I think they would tell you it’s had life-changing impact, thanks to her generosity.”
Dr. Jones retired from Dalhousie and the yogurt business many years ago, but has kept busy since then writing books, publishing 16 to date. Now living in Michigan, she made a trip to the university this year while testing a new Spanish textbook she’s recently completed. Dr. Jones says she was delighted to see how the fund has grown over the years. For her, it’s a nice connection to the one university that not only offered her a position upon graduation, but also subsequently encouraged her professional development through opportunities such as chairing the Cultural Activities Committee.
“I can’t say enough in praise of Dalhousie for growing the scholarship, or for their efforts to keep it going. It’s giving students the chance to do something they otherwise wouldn’t be able to do, and I’m happy I could help make that come about.”