True to her character, Jona Turner Van Deun ’92 can think of many people who deserve credit for contributions to the College of Saint Benedict. She can rattle off names left and right, and none are her own.
Her rationale is she hasn’t donated millions of dollars or gotten her name on a campus building. But there is value in dedication, and Jona has always answered the call – sometimes not even waiting for the phone to ring – when Saint Ben’s needs her.
As an active trustee, she’s been one of the key figures behind Strong Integration, working for years to understand the dynamics of the College of Saint Benedict and Saint John’s University and how they can be better together. She was a member of the committee that searched for and found a new president to serve both institutions. She chaired the joint academic affairs committee for several years, and loves getting phone calls from Bennies she doesn’t even know who seek guidance on getting an internship.
That’s because Saint Ben’s was transformational in her life, and she remembers the excitement and terror she felt as the first person from CSB or SJU to be offered a White House internship. Working alongside others from Harvard, Yale and Columbia, she realized her love affair with Saint Ben’s and Saint John’s.
“They made me feel protected and, without them, none of what I’ve done would be possible,” Jona says.
Two weeks before she graduated, she got an offer to become a full-time staff assistant in the White House. That led to a career in government affairs, including two years as director of scheduling for the second lady, Lynne Cheney, wife of Vice President Dick Cheney. Jona served stints as director of logistics and operations for the Republican National Conventions in 2000 and 2004 and worked for the U.S. State Department and the U.S. Chamber of Commerce before returning to her home state of Nebraska to lead an effort to recruit 10,000 new tech workers to the local economy by 2025.
Through it all, she’s routinely returned to the campus she once called home.
“I know I graduated on my own, but I was guided through that process to get a degree,” Jona says. “And the opportunities that provided were unprecedented. When I left Saint Ben’s, I had the clothes on my back and plenty of debt. So many people helped me get where I am today, with advice, a couch to sleep on, or they told me when I was doing something wrong or praised me when I was doing something right.
“Of course, in my mind I want to pay it forward. That’s what you’re supposed to do.”
She believes attending an all-women’s school was the secret sauce that made her a leader.
“I’ll probably be involved in some iteration for a long time to come,” Jona says. “They could push me away and I’ll still be around somehow. I want to see Saint Ben’s live for another 100 years. I say all the time that if I ever win the lottery, I’m just going to go ‘Here’s my check!’”
It won’t match the contributions she’s already given our institution.