Della Mae Lewis Jones, who was Kentucky State University's oldest alumna, valued education all of her life.
She died Tuesday afternoon at Grant Manor Nursing Home in Williamstown at age 106.
The Grant County native taught in segregated Kentucky schools in Wayne and Boone counties after her high school graduation in 1923. She fulfilled a promise to her mother and received a bachelor's degree in elementary education from Kentucky State in 1957. Martin Luther King Jr. gave the commencement speech.
This summer, KSU granted Ms. Jones an honorary doctorate in humane letters. The university president and registrar visited Jones at a nursing home in Grant County because she was too ill to attend the ceremony.
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Ms. Jones was not sure why she was selected, and she did not think she'd done anything that great, said friend Connie Taylor of Tucson, Ariz., who interviewed Ms. Jones for a book. Others disagreed.
"She was chosen because of her contributions to education, continued perseverance toward earning her degree and contributions to all the young men and women she taught from all backgrounds," KSU Interim Provost James Chapman told The Kentucky Enquirer in May.
Williamstown declared May 13 "Della Jones Day," and the Kentucky House of Representatives issued a proclamation honoring her, according to KSU.
"I'm astounded right now," Ms. Jones said, according to a university magazine article. "I don't have much to say, but I appreciate everyone who came to this occasion. I am happy I have lived a good long life."
Ms. Jones enrolled at KSU three months after the death of her mother, Sarah Elizabeth Jackson Lewis. By then, Ms. Jones had been teaching for several years. Lewis made Ms. Jones promise to get a degree.
Ms. Jones attended the university for 17 summers, cleaning dorms to pay for school. She worked as a teacher in Owen County from 1943 until 1958, when she was no longer allowed to teach because the school integrated.
From 1958 until 1974, Jones worked as a librarian at Owen County schools.
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Elliston-Stanley Funeral Home in Williamstown. Visitation is 11 a.m. Saturday at Williamstown United Methodist Church. The funeral service will be at 1 p.m. Saturday at the church.