LEWISBURG, W.Va. – One of the most beloved figures from the West Virginia School
of Osteopathic Medicine’s (WVSOM) history, Olen E. Jones Jr., Ph.D., passed away Jan.
31 at the age of 85.
As WVSOM’s fourth president, Jones led the school from 1987 to 2009, making him the
longest-serving president in its history. He helped guide WVSOM through an era of
prosperity thanks to his 10-year master plan that outlined a path for immense growth.
During Jones’ time leading WVSOM, the school was brought under West Virginia’s Board
of Trustees as a unit of the state’s university system. WVSOM’s class size increased, and
several new campus buildings were constructed, including the Fredric W. Smith Science
Building, the Roland P. Sharp Alumni Conference Center, the Founders Activity Center,
the Admissions Center and the Center for Technology and Rural Medicine. Jones also led
the charge to construct a building to house the Robert C. Byrd Clinic.
James W. Nemitz, Ph.D., WVSOM’s current president, was a faculty member and
administrator during Jones’ presidency. He remembered Jones as a trailblazer who
helped safeguard the school’s future.
“Dr. Jones is one of the giants on whose shoulders we stand. Quite frankly, I do not
believe WVSOM would be here today if it wasn’t for him,” Nemitz said. “He secured the
school’s place as a state institution and provided for its financial security. Under his
leadership, WVSOM saw significant growth in students, employees, buildings and funds
and was established as a national leader in osteopathic medical education. We owe a
great debt of gratitude to Dr. Jones.”
Bob Foster, D.O., WVSOM’s assistant dean for osteopathic medical education, noted
that in addition to advancing the school’s physical facilities, Jones helped improve its
financial well-being, impacting the school in a way that positioned it for sustained
growth for years to come.
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
“Dr. Jones made WVSOM one of the most financially prepared higher
education institutions in West Virginia,” Foster said. “He not only turned an
aging former military school into a beautiful campus, but helped make it a
cutting-edge medical school to train rural primary care physicians. That was WVSOM’s
mission since its inception; Dr. Jones just made it complete. He and I didn’t always see
eye to eye, but he was a great president who took the school from hard times to being
No. 1 in the state in many areas.”
Jones earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from Marshall University and a Ph.D.
degree in education administration from Northwestern University in Evanston, Ill.,
before setting out on a career that would include top positions at West Virginia’s higher
education institutions. Before joining WVSOM, he served in various leadership roles at
Marshall University, including dean of students, provost and executive vice president.
In 1996, Jones won the American Association of Colleges of Osteopathic Medicine’s Dale
Dodson Award for his contributions to the advancement of osteopathic medical
education. Other awards he received include a “50 Most Powerful People in West
Virginia” designation from West Virginia Executive magazine and recognition as Business
Leader of the Year by the Greater Greenbrier Chamber of Commerce.
In an interview published in a 1998 edition of a WVSOM publication called Appalachian
Focus, Jones summarized his intentions for the school — goals he would ultimately help
the institution meet and exceed.
“When the name WVSOM is mentioned, I hope quality will be the immediate
association. As president, I will establish the standards which will become the basis for
that quality, for excellence,” he said. “I think there is already a nucleus of fine staff,
faculty and certainly students here, and there is a history of quality within these
elements. It is this community, the institution itself, that is making a tremendous impact
on health care delivery within the state of West Virginia and the various Appalachian
states that we serve.”
Jones’ legacy at WVSOM includes two merit scholarships established in his name: the
West Virginia Emulation Endowment Trust/Dr. Olen E. Jones Jr. Scholarship, awarded to
West Virginia students based on literary and scholastic attainments, morality and
leadership, and the Olen E. Jones Jr. and WVSOM Foundation Academic Achievement
Award, awarded to a student graduating in the top 10 percent of the class.
Heather Ratliff, D.O., a WVSOM Class of 2004 alumna who also served as a faculty
member during Jones’ presidential tenure, praised his ability to selflessly bring out the
best in those around him.
“He was the epitome of a humble servant,” Ratliff said. “He expressed enormous,
sincere praise to others for their work without ever tooting his own horn, and he made
West Virginia School of Osteopathic Medicine
students — including me — believe they could accomplish anything. His
smile, like his kindness, truly made the world a better place.”
David Nicholas, D.O., a WVSOM Class of 1993 graduate and past president of the
WVSOM Alumni Association, worked with Jones while serving as chair of the school’s
Board of Governors. He called Jones “a true gentleman” and said his efforts extended
far beyond helping WVSOM achieve its goals.
“Dr. Jones was always kind, professional, and cared deeply about WVSOM and its
mission. He set the wheels in motion for the development of the beautiful campus we
have today, and he worked tirelessly with West Virginia’s governors and legislators
promoting not only WVSOM, but health care throughout the state and Appalachia,”