On May 1st, Sanford formally reopened and rededicated one of its most treasured buildings, the Kenneth D. Jones Memorial Chapel. Mark Anderson explained: “For nearly 80 years, Sanford’s Chapel has been the heart of our campus and home to cherished campus traditions.” Time had taken its toll on the building, which has always provided a meaningful background for weddings, funerals, and quiet contemplation, as well as the annual bell ringing at Commencement to honor each graduate. “This chapel represents all that is exceptional and unique to Sanford, and we needed to give it the attention it deserves,” continued Anderson.
The campus landmark was named in honor of its first gold-star faculty member, New Zealander Kenneth D. Jones, who lost his life in World War II. The chapel had been closed for use for the past two years, as it needed extensive renovations to deem it safe. A campaign was launched that saw more than 70 donors, many of them alumni, step forward to donate more than $10,000 for the restoration project. However, it became clear that more funding was going to be needed in order to do the beloved chapel justice.
Mike and Nancy Pia, parents of Amy Pia Clark '02 (who is married to Sanford Physical Education Instructor Jamie Clark) and Lisa Pia Reed '99 and grandparents to Abby Clark '30, Tyler Clark '32, and Sawyer Reed '32, have always found the Kenneth D. Jones Chapel and the surrounding valley to be a calm and serene campus location. Additionally, the Pias are very supportive of Sanford’s focus on mindfulness and felt that the chapel was a perfect place to connect the two. They decided that they, too, wanted to be a part of the special restoration project.
The Pias stepped forward as major donors; and at the Rededication Ceremony, Nancy Pia shared: “We have always been overwhelmed by the beauty of the Sanford campus. We feel that the chapel adds a sacred place for quiet reflection and mindfulness. This reopening, which was a total team effort, means so much to my husband and me.” Mike Pia added: “It has been an honor and privilege to be a part of this project.”
Board of Trustees President Ted Dwyer assisted Anderson and the Pias with the formal ribbon-cutting ceremony, which symbolized the proud reopening of the Kenneth D. Jones Memorial Chapel. Immediately following, Anderson presented the Pias with a framed photo of them taken in front of chapel, capturing their joy with its return to pristine condition. The Pia family's contributions are memorialized on a plaque, which is on display inside the chapel.
Jackie Pitts '55 recalls when Chapel Valley did not have the beautiful chapel that adds grace to the spot today. “The valley was a quiet spot on campus with lovely trees and the little creek.” She went on to share that during World War II, Mother Sawin was her home, Arunchula, looked down into the valley, and saw one of her teachers kneeling in prayer—having just learned that her husband was missing in action. “It was at that time that Mother Sawin, who was deeply religious and very accepting of all faiths, decided that Sanford needed a chapel.” Anderson noted that Jones, while employed at the school, was also an advocate for a special place for religious, spiritual, and personal reflection; and therefore, it was most fitting that the building bear his name.
Sanford had to work with the federal government to receive the special permission required during war time for the building materials, such as stone and bricks, that would be required to build the chapel. Doing as it had always done, Sanford relied on faculty and students to help with the construction. Additionally, the de Ris family, who had four students attend Sanford, helped to bring the exquisite blue glass from France and worked closely with the artist who created the stunning stained-glass windows. “These windows are not only beautiful, but they are unique because of the type of glass used and the fact that they depict the story of Sanford and not stories from the Bible,” elaborated Pitts.
Current parents Eric and Carolyn Smith also have a special connection to the Kenneth D. Jones Chapel. Eric Smith’s grandparents, Ida and C. Sidney Smith, used to work at Sanford and lived in Stewart Cottage, home to today’s Wahl Woodworking Shop. “As a little boy, I used to spend a lot of time on the Sanford campus. In fact, my sister, Katrina, was christened and later married in the chapel. When my grandfather died in 1981, the family asked for donations in his honor for the Kenneth D. Jones Chapel, which needed some attention,” stated Smith. He explained that they used the money to paint and fix up the chapel, and that he was pleased to help. “I love knowing that my grandfather is memorialized by one of the plaques on the chapel. My family has been connected to Sanford for several generations. The bond continues with my three oldest children: Cameron '20, Emma '22 and Abigail '26.”
Director of Development Janice Payne and her team organized the Rededication Ceremony, which was a lovely thank you to the donors who made the restoration possible. Kevin Needham, facilities manager, was recognized for his extensive work with all phases of the work completed inside and outside of the building. A talented craftsman, Needham painstakingly rewired the original lighting fixtures and put in a new hardwood floor that carefully replicates the one that had to be replaced. Making it a total group effort, Director of Business Becky McCudden procured pews from Cinnaminson Baptist Church in New Jersey that are very close in age to the original ones that were removed due to safety issues.
Esteemed international fashion designer Luis Estevéz '47 sketched a cover for the June 1947 issue of Sanford’s literary magazine GOLDEN LEAVES. His original print includes a drawing of Chapel Valley and the Kenneth D. Jones Chapel and a short poem about the importance of the special campus spot:
“Pause for a moment! This is holy ground.
Drop from your soul earth’s pettiness and strife.
This is a valley where great souls have found real being and vibrant life.”
This special artwork has been beautifully framed and hangs on one of the chapel’s freshly painted walls. Another of Estevéz’s works, an impressive oil painting, is displayed on another wall.
In his closing remarks Anderson noted that now that the building is climate-controlled, the chapel and the treasures it holds should serve the school for generations to come. “We are blessed with generous donors, such as the Pia family. They, along with our loyal alums, understand the value of our special places and the meaning that they hold for so many past, present, and, ultimately, future students, families, and faculty. Because of them, the Kenneth D. Jones Memorial Chapel is once again a welcoming, peaceful place for reflective, mindful, and spiritual thinking. Thank you.”