Myrna Dunham

Honored by:Paula Dunham Norton, Marilyn Dunham Smith and Joan Dunham
Brick location:A:21  map

In Honor of Myrna Ament Dunham

When we were quite young our mother led us on family bicycle rides across the Iowa State campus in the warm soft light of summer evenings. Circling the fountain at the Union pedaling the path to the Campanile and gliding along the walk between Beardshear and Curtiss became preludes to our favorite part of these tours when she would guide us towards Old Botany and our secret passage. Trailing her as we did—the youngest daughter immediately behind on a bike seat then two more girls on large and small bicycles of their own and our father on his Raleigh tightening up the line—we would weave through the east archway pass into the cool semi-darkness under the balcony and exterior south stairway then exit the west archway into the sweet stillness of Iowa twilight stretching out across the lawns. The enchantment of following our mother on those rides in that time and in that space is matched today by the honor we hold in placing our mother’s name in this plaza of Carrie Chapman Catt Hall. With love respect and gratitude we honor Myrna Ament Dunham for the path she has shaped for herself her daughters and her community a path shaped by her commitments.

Her commitment to serving and fostering her family shows itself best perhaps in the conviction of support and love each family member shares and offers to the others. Our mother taught us from the beginning to treat each other with respect and care. With that belief she cast a lasting relationship with her husband ISU professor of zoology Jewett Dunham working with him to raise the three of us supporting him in his work and pursuits caring for him in his long illness. No doubt our mother learned the importance of these links growing up in Marcus Iowa connected in that small town not only to her brother her parents her aunts and uncles and cousins but also to her ancestors who immigrated from Luxembourg to build families and fortunes in the midwest of America.

Her commitment to education and intellectual discovery is revealed in her personal quest for understanding a journey fueled by reading from the day she learned to read before entering school to the hours she devotes now to her books. Along the way she obtained her Bachelor of Arts in journalism from the University of Iowa practiced her craft as an advertising copywriter managed the office of The University of Iowa Photographic Service and earned her Master of Arts in English from Iowa State University. Combining her interests in communication and English with her strong belief in service our mother set about sharing her knowledge and her love of reading through teaching. Before starting her family our mother taught in the primary grades at Chadwick an elite private school in Rolling Hills California. After years of parenting and teaching her own our mother began to teach young adults first as a teaching assistant and as a temporary instructor in the department of English at Iowa State University then as an instructor of English for Des Moines Area Community College at the Boone campus. Integrating her own reading on politics history current events the arts and literature into her curriculum for her students her interactions with members of her book club and her conversations with her own children she challenges her listeners to remain actively engaged in the pursuit and exchange of knowledge.

Her commitment to citizenship is demonstrated by her participation in the process lending her voice and skills to the job of shaping and maintaining this college community. Our mother formed partnerships with too many groups to list organizations in which she became known for her sharp discerning capable responses. Her thoughtful activism led her to serve in the League of Women Voters where she attended state conventions chaired committees worked on the board of directors helped complete a study on public bus service upon which a city referendum for CyRide was based and operated as president for a two-year term. With another two-year stint on the Ames Community Development Board as member and chairperson she provided counsel on building a safe and enriching environment for all of us. Recognizing the quality of her contributions the Mayor and City Council appointed our mother to the Board of Trustees for the Ames Public Library a position from which she was to ensure the growth and development of all citizens through the planning and creation of a beautifully enlarged and updated public library.

Her commitment to the cultural arts—an extension really of her commitments to education and community—can be seen in her daily affairs. Our mother’s appreciation of art and music helped shape a path on which she painted puzzles and swing set horses for her children collected art with her husband took her daughters to C.Y. Stephens at every opportunity visited every gallery and theater and museum open while on family vacations served as a member of the board of the Ames International Orchestra Festival Association, and held a three-year appointment on the City of Ames Commission on the Arts. For this last effort, our mother received a certificate on commendation in recognition of meritorious service to the City of Ames.  We, of course, believe that she should have a drower full of similar awards representing not just the accomplisments themeselves but the lessons her methods and effort have taught us about shaping a path worth traversing.

Heroine is a designation our mother would dismiss, a name she would not use. She may prefer titles forged through connections, commitments, and love, titles like granddaughter, daughter, wife, aunt, mother, friend. She may prefer titles distinguishing ability, effort, and dedication, titles like student, adviser, teacher. She may prefer titles exemplifying awareness, discovery, and refinement, titles like reader, writer, questioner, thinker. And she may perfer titles representing responsibility, duty, and advocacy, titles like volunteer, voter, member, president. Accompanied by any title, Myrna Ament Dunham is admired and known for her commitments. But her legacy is a unique treasure of thoughtful contemplation and conscientious action, a pathcreated with introspection and intuition, courage and strenght, dignity and sacrifice, experience and expectations, It is a path as appreciated by us as was that secret passage on those bike rides throguh this plaza so long ago. With love, respect and gratitude, we thank her for leading the way. 

In loving tribute,
Paula Dunham Norton
Marilyn Dunham Smith
Joan Dunham