In a small town, particularly dedicated individuals become a part of the community’s legacy.
Walter Dunne, Jr. –better known to most as simply “Walt” – was just such an individual for the town of Fountain Hills. Dunne passed away on June 25, 2019, but not before helping lay the town’s foundation.
Barbara Stellon, a long-time friend, said that the one thing she would stress about Dunne was how much he loved the town of Fountain Hills.
“He was always joining everything and helping people,” Stellon said. “He was just such a helper, always volunteering or selling hamburgers at the fall festival. He was always doing something.”
That went double for Dunne’s involvement with the Fountain Hills Unified School District.
“He loved kids and teaching,” Stellon added.
Around the community, Dunne served on the boards of the Fountain Hills Senior Center and the Historical Society, as well as the Senior Services Advisory Commission. A long-time member of Noon Kiwanis, Dunne served as the service organization’s president from 2001-02. He also volunteered with Home Delivered Meals and, following retirement, got involved with the L. Alan Cruikshank River of Time Museum, where he served as a part-time administrative assistant and bookkeeper.
If all of that could be called Dunne’s “extracurricular activities,” then his main occupation was certainly turning FHUSD into the excelling school district it is today.
Dunne had an early hand in FHUSD’s formation, working to promote many bond issues for the district including one that led to the construction of what is now Fountain Hills High School. During his 10-year career with the district, he also oversaw the construction of McDowell Mountain Elementary School.
Dunne retired in 1998, having begun his tenure in Fountain Hills as the director of financial services in 1988. He became interim superintendent in 1989 and was invited to continue in that role the following year. It should be noted that all of this served as a bookend to a long career in education that saw Dunne serving other districts as a teacher and administrator.
His impact on the community was so strong that, in 2006, the district’s administrative office building was named in his honor. A year later and he was named to the Lower Verde Valley Hall of Fame.
Looking back to when Dunne served as FHUSD superintendent, Mayor Ginny Dickey – who served on the district governing board from 1994-2002 – said it reminded her of being in a really great play.
“The cast is together for that moment in time, creating something special,” Dickey said. “And even after everyone has moved on to their next adventure, we have captured fond memories of hard work, public service and much laughter with Walt at center stage.
“His legacy for the schools and the community is one of high achievement, humility and kindness.”
Talk to anyone who knew Dunne and they’ll agree he was a humble guy, never looking for attention. In the statement Dickey read back in 2006 at Dunne’s building dedication, it was noted that his unwillingness to accept the spotlight was exactly why everyone felt the responsibility to turn it in his direction.
“A professional in every sense of the word, he was the anchor of our school district through its formative years,” the statement read. “…Walt is the guy that fills the gaps. He’s there when he’s needed. He’s ready with a solution and volunteers to get it done when no one else steps up.
“…He built the foundation for nearly every program that exists today…Without Walt’s leadership, without his vision, without his perseverance, our school district would not be what it is.”
Dunne was followed in the role of superintendent by Maria Menconi, who helped guide the district from 1998-2002. She said Dunne was her trusted mentor and a dear, gentle friend.
“It is because of him that I spent nine wonderful years of my education career in Fountain Hills,” Menconi recalled. “…Through all of this time, Walt suggested ides and paths for solving problems, supported my efforts, guided my sometimes overwhelming ‘enthusiasm’ for a project and gently nudged me in the direction of furthering my career.”
Menconi said she still remembers the big smile on Dunne’s face the night the school board approved her contract as superintendent.
“He was a great listener, quiet, thoughtful, considerate, always making sure he thoroughly understood what you were trying to say or do,” she added. “And he read emotions well, too, knowing when a good laugh was needed, when a soft word, when a cup of coffee and a piece of cake. Pieces of cake were important to him. We used to laugh about how he would put it in his calendar when it was time to have a piece of cake.
“…In life we are indeed fortunate if we find a professional colleague who becomes a cherished friend and trusted counselor. I was blessed to have this with Walt and will carry his influence and love with me always.”
Another superintendent to follow in Dunne’s footsteps, Marian Hermie said he took her out to lunch on her first day on the job to offer information and guidance for the road ahead.
“He told me that my first priority should always be making decisions that were in the best interest of the students we served,” Hermie said. “He then pointed out that involvement in the community was also important, so our citizens could see the district as an integral part of the success of our town.”
Hermie said those words of wisdom have served her well, just as his involvement with FHUSD served the community so well.
“Walt Dunne’s commitment to the education of the children of Fountain Hills went far beyond the job in which he was employed,” she said. “FHUSD and our town owe him a huge vote of gratitude for his service.”
Retired McDowell Mountain Elementary School Principal Joanne Meehan agreed.
“Walt was a very kind, caring, sensitive and private individual who sought peace and diplomacy at all costs,” Meehan said. “His sense of humor and patience were unequaled. Besides all that, he was a good friend who will be sorely missed.”
The closing comments at Dunne’s building dedication perhaps summed it up best.
“Walt, we hope you can lean back with a sense of pride and accomplishment at what you, and those that followed in your path, have achieved.”