The President's Corner
Last month I shared the first half of a two-part story about the public life of Parma’s Mary Dunning. Her fascinating and inspirational life simply could not be covered in only one column. Therefore, this month, I will complete my short biography of Ms. Dunning, although I know that this, too, does not do service to someone who has given so much of herself to our community.
During the course of the afternoon we spent together, Ms. Dunning shared several letters she wrote to William Minshall asking for his support of the Federal Government passing the former Nike Site to the City of Parma. “Nixon was President at the time and Congressman Minshall was a Republican, so the Nike project was important to both of them politically,” Ms. Dunning shared. In fact, the Congressman flew her and her colleague Councilwoman Evelyn Kopchak to Washington, D.C. to discuss the proposal. It was announced that the property would be, to everyone’s surprise, given to the City of Parma free of charge. As the Ward 7 councilwoman, always an advocate for more green-space and parks, it was important to her to save this property from development. She was clearly an environmentalist before the environmental movement began in this country. Incidentally, Ms. Dunning was also on council when the City of Parma purchased Ridgewood Golf Course back from Forest City Enterprises, saving it from future development, as well. She also led the first parks being created in Ward 7.
As mentioned last month, Ms. Dunning was first elected Ward 7 councilwoman in 1967. She won re-election in 1969, but for family reasons decided not to seek a third term. She later went back to school, attending Cuyahoga Community College and Baldwin Wallace, and achieved a degree in psychology. She then went on to law school at Cleveland Marshall, graduating at age 50 in 1986. What an inspiration she is to anyone who thinks it is too late to pursue furthering his or her education!
In 1987, she ran for and won her former Ward 7 council seat and was soon recruited by the Democratic Party to run for State Senate, but lost to Gary Suhadolnik. In 1989, she ran against Pat Altier (now Pell) for President of City Council in the Democratic Primary and won. In November, she would also defeat Chuck Germana who ran as a write-in candidate. Germana would come back in 1991 and claim victory.
Attorney Dunning served about a year as an assistant prosecutor for the city of Parma under Law Director Bill Mason. She handled domestic relations cases primarily. “These were very important cases. The stories of what happened to many of the women involved were heart-wrenching,” she explained. On more than one occasion she was tracked by defendants.
In 1995, former Councilwoman Dunning was elected judge for Parma Municipal Court, filling the vacancy created when William Savage retired. She ran and won re-election in 2001, but could not seek another term due to Ohio’s law that precludes one for running for judge once you turn 70 years of age. Following her time as judge she was able to serve as a visiting judge for eight years in several courts throughout the region when vacancies required her expertise.
In her retirement, Judge Dunning spent some years serving as a trained spiritually care volunteer at Parma Hospital. “I miss that service. You were there to console others in their time of need. It was very rewarding,” she mentioned. An injury prevents her from being on her feet for too long at a time. However, that does not stop her from attending judicial conferences, traveling around the country and world, and spending time with her beloved children and grandchildren. In fact, as we sat, her granddaughter called just to see how grandma was doing.
Before I left the Judge’s house, the doctor’s office also called her. I heard the woman on the other end ask, “Is Mary there?” As I contemplated all that I know about her, I could not help but think, ‘she is not just any ordinary Mary.’ This is Mother, Grandmother, Nurse, Councilwoman, President, Attorney, Prosecutor, Judge and Counselor Mary Dunning. If the young lady on the other end of the line only knew the story of this inspirational woman who did so much for us, especially in times when it was much more difficult for women to break the glass ceiling. And, what is her advice to us? “More people need to get involved.” She is an inspiration to us all and, if we heed her advice, we can carry the torch that she has passed onto us.
Parma City Council President Sean Brennan