Life Credit: Barbara Raubvogel Jonas '55
The Manhattan home of Barbara Jonas ’55 contains some 15 dramatic pieces of abstract expressionist art. They’re a little more spread out than they used to be; the same space recently held 30 pieces. But in 2005, Barbara and her husband, Donald, auctioned off half their art collection and used the record-setting proceeds to establish a philanthropic fund. Now she is turning her lifelong interest in psychology into several initiatives to promote children’s welfare and mental health-subjects with which she’s been engaged for her entire career.
Barbara started out studying psychology and literature at SLC in the 1950s, but left after her sophomore year to get married. She spent the next 20 years raising her children and volunteering at the Child Study Association, which evaluates new literature in child psychology. She read and reviewed mental health books-“I was like a sponge, soaking up information,” she says-and once her children were grown, she decided to stop reading about psychology and start practicing it.
So she returned to Sarah Lawrence. “I thought it would be hard to return, but the College made it easy-because Sarah Lawrence considers the person, not just the rules.” The College awarded her “life credit” for her work in the field, and she earned her degree in a year and a half. She went straight to graduate school, received her master’s in social work and became a licensed psychotherapist, practicing individual, marital and family counseling.
Over the years she put her knowledge to work as a board member of various public- service organizations, including a stint in the 1970s as the vice chair of the Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Alcohol and Substance Abuse for New York City; for 23 years she served as the lay member of the Institutional Review Board at the New York University Medical School, which ensures that research projects are ethically and medically sound.
Around the time that she graduated from SLC, Barbara and her husband began collecting art. They were looking for an activity they could do together, she explains, and were inspired by their new, spacious apartment on the Upper East Side of Manhattan which, she says, had a lot of walls. Barbara found the work of artists like Mark Rothko, Willem de Kooning and Robert Rauschenberg hauntingly beautiful and at that time, she says, their work was relatively inexpensive. Over the years the Jonas collection grew in both size and prestige: it was so fine that the Guggenheim Museum recently lent them a Picasso to hang on their wall while it borrowed a Jackson Pollack for an exhibition.
By 2005, the art collection had appreciated considerably, and the couple decided to sell half of the collection to fund their philanthropic activity.
Donald Jonas, with his expertise in management (a former founder of retail chains, both public and private), now has established the Jonas Center for Nursing Excellence, which funds collaborations between nursing schools and hospitals, and provides leadership on nursing workforce issues to improve the public health in New York City.
Barbara concentrates on the Barbara Jonas Center for the Study and Treatment for Children at Risk, which will begin operation in 2007 and focus on the mental health of disadvantaged children. She established the Barbara Raubvogel Jonas Health Education Fund at Sarah Lawrence as her 50th reunion gift. “College is such a vulnerable time for young people,” she says. “I want to address the emotional and physical health issues that put college students at risk.”
Barbara still misses the artworks that they sold, but the results, she says, are worth it. “We lived with these wonderful treasures for 30 years. Now, because of them, we have the chance to do things that other people aren’t doing in philanthropy.”
—Suzanne Walters Gray MFA ’04