Harold Dunn spent only one year in Waco, receiving a graduate degree from Baylor University in 1954. The Ballwin, Missouri, resident had never set foot in Waco before his time at Baylor, and never returned. But the community obviously made an impression on Dunn, who died in December at age 93, leaving his entire $6 million estate to his alma mater.
Baylor said Dunn’s gift, the largest in the School of Music’s 100-year history, will support its newly named Dunn Center for Christian Music Studies.
“We are humbled by Harold Dunn’s transformational generosity,” Baylor President Linda Livingstone said in a press release. “We honor his life of incredible impact, and we celebrate his purposeful planning that inspired him to leave his estate to Baylor to support Christian music education for future generations.”
Randall Bradley, who organized a celebration of Dunn’s life Thursday at Baylor and directs the center that bears his name, said for years he visited Dunn at his modest home in Ballwin, Missouri, a suburb of St. Louis. He occasionally brought along music students. Such a trip took place in summer 2019, when they celebrated his 90th birthday with a private concert and lunch.
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During one trip “it was obvious to me that Harold delighted in connecting with our students, in hearing them perform and felt strongly about supporting the Church Music Program,” Baylor School of Music Dean Gary Mortenson said in the press release. “He was a humble man who sought to make an impact in the ways we worship God through Christian music, and we are honored that he has entrusted us with this generous gift to fulfill that bequest through the Dunn Center for Christian Music Studies.”
“Dunn had a no-frills approach, living what many would consider a simple life,” the press release says. “He had retired as an elementary school music teacher after more than 30 years in the classroom, and he also was a published author, writing a series of books that shared the amusing statements he witnessed from a lifetime of teaching.”
“Harold was probably the most fiscally conservative person I’ve ever met. He was beyond frugal. He absolutely just did not spend money,” Bradley said during an interview. “He wore clothes from the ’50s and ’60s, drove a very simple car, but rarely went anywhere. His house had minimal repairs.”
Dunn never married and never had children, but stressed that his bequest “was not just his gift but a culmination of his family’s gift,” Bradley said. The gift celebrates not only Dunn but his parents and his sister, whose enrollment in Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth exposed Dunn to educational opportunities down the road in Waco.
Bradley said Dunn remained in good health nearly all his life “and lived in his own home until a year before his death. He took no medications at all until he was well into his 80s, literally took nothing.”
Though Dunn declined invitations to return to campus, he followed Baylor activities from afar via Baylor-centric publications. He became a meticulous note taker, jotting down questions on note cards when reading the latest Baylor news, then later asking Bradley to provide answers, he said.
“I saw him last summer for the last time, and he still had such a gracious spirit,” Bradley said, though he did notice some cognitive decline.
Bradley said Dunn disliked travel, explaining his disinclination to revisit Baylor. But he did relish reminiscing about campus experiences.
“He often mentioned a drug store right on campus, his enjoyment of ice cream from there,” Bradley said. “While in Waco, he won a table tennis tournament, and was asked to play ping pong during halftime of a basketball game. He had very keen hand-eye coordination in his younger years.”
Bradley said the $6 million comes with no conditions on how it is spent.
“We’re able to use it in different ways, at our discernment and discretion,” he said. “We’ll see where the greatest needs are.”