As she loaded her bags on the van that would take her on the 600-plus mile journey from St. Ambrose to The David School in Kentucky, a young Kate (McGreal) Mitchell '98, '99 MOT was touched by the energy and excitement Rev. Edmond Dunn '58 displayed.
As Fr. Dunn put the keys in the ignition and pulled out of the parking lot before dawn, Mitchell remembered, "It was as if he was going home."
Some 17 years later, the memory is still clear for Mitchell, who lives now in Des Moines, Iowa, with her husband Paul, a 1999 MBA graduate. On arrival in David after dusk that long ago March day, she said ‘Eddie' was "in fine form and ready to go, wearing his beret and eager to get his hands dirty."
Mitchell said it was Fr. Dunn's passion for service that inspired five of the eight McGreal children from Elkader, Iowa, to make the trek to David-some multiple times-during their years as St. Ambrose students.
"Growing up in rural Iowa ourselves, I think we all had a strong understanding of what need was, of what it meant," she said. "But the trips to Kentucky brought that understanding-and desire to share with others-to an entirely new level."
And that is why the Mitchell family joined alumni from across the decades to start The Rev. Edmond Dunn Endowment Fund upon Fr. Dunn's retirement from the university in 2010. It is an endowment that will allow St. Ambrose to continue to offer service-learning programs locally, regionally and in the future, internationally. To date, more than $57,000 has been raised.
"A trip to Appalachia or inner-city Chicago or East St. Louis really sits with you," Mitchell said. "I hope that the service trips St. Ambrose sponsors each year, wherever they may be, will be just the beginning of something that the students carry with them their entire life."
For more than 35 years as a professor of theology, Fr. Dunn championed social justice and service learning at St. Ambrose. He also juggled many responsibilities at both St. Ambrose and in his parishes, the latter which he continues today, said Rev. Charles Adam '82, chaplain at St. Ambrose.
"While our students were giving up their spring breaks to go to Appalachia, so too was Fr. Dunn-using his vacation time from his teaching, administrative and pastoral work to go to Kentucky," Fr. Adam said. "He is a model of selfless service."
In Kentucky, students discovered a true "Renaissance" man in Fr. Dunn: a carpenter and artist, putting the finishing touches on a new part of the school; a musician, leading worship in the morning; and a culinary genius running the kitchen, teaching students the art of making bread or his infamous anchovy pizza.
"One of the things Fr. Dunn wants is for every student to have an opportunity to do service, to immerse oneself in another culture, with people who might be deprived of basic necessities," Fr. Adam said. "He wants Ambrosians to rub shoulders with these people, to begin to comprehend their situation. And he hopes that our presence gives others a glimpse of what college-and the outside world-is like. That it is attainable. That's why this endowment was started.
"Fr. Dunn never wanted a student to be turned away because they couldn't afford to take a week off from work to give of themselves to others. This endowment ensures that there is no barrier to service, now or 50 years from now."