By Margie Wuebker
MONTEZUMA -- Nada Dunn will not be at a loss for words during Ohio Senior Citizens Hall of Fame induction ceremonies today in Columbus.
"I wrote a poem to sum up my feelings," the 96-year-old honoree says. "I had to memorize it because I couldn't read it with these old eyes of mine."
When it comes time to step into the spotlight at the Statehouse Atrium, she will offer the following verse:
My useful days have passed,
I thought they'd always last Old age crept in too fast
So now my role is cast --
Nada Dunn in the Hall of Fame.
The Montezuma-area resident, who is one of 13 individuals from across the state being honored for lifetime achievements, plans to leave Ohio Department of Aging officials with one more parting shot, urging them to "Keep up the good work."
Dunn looks forward to meeting Ohio Gov. Bob Taft and shaking his hand, adding he will be one of a select group of dignitaries she has met over the course of a lifetime.
"I once met President Gerald Ford," she says with a smile. "He shook my hand and I didn't want to wash it for a week. Now the governor. What else is next? My maker?"
Amy S. Craig, a social worker with the Area Agency on Aging in Lima, nominated Dunn for the honor citing her pioneering hard work and dedication to senior citizens. She joins a select group of more than 300 Ohioans who have been honored since 1977 for charitable service and volunteerism.
"She no longer serves on committees, attends meetings, holds office on the board of directors or volunteers her time," Craig says. "However, she does something better. She utilizes the services she fought for, the services she volunteered for, the services she believed in."
Dunn became involved in the original senior citizen organization in 1972, a year after the death of her first husband James Jackson.
"I had to find something to do," the former Dayton resident says. "I did not want to live life through my two grown children."
She served as club secretary from 1973 through 1975 and was a board member in 1974 when the new Mercer County Senior Citizens incorporated.
"The original group met once a month at various places like the Richardson Bretz building and the JCPenney meeting room," she says. "We needed a place of our own real bad."
Friends Lawrence and Margaret Dunn shared her convictions as did a core of staunch supporters. They made numerous trips to Lima and Columbus, finally securing money to establish a center in half of the Jackson Building on East Anthony Street.
"We scrubbed the place down, sewed curtains, rounded up supplies and moved in tables," she says. "I donated $200 to buy wood folding chairs so folks had someplace to sit. We hit the ground running with weekly bingo and card games."
The nutrition program debuted in September 1974 at St. Paul's United Methodist Church.
"I was drafted to visit seniors on the south side of the lake to encourage proper nutrition and spread the word about the meals," she says. "The number of participants grew and we provided transportation to and from the site in our own cars."
Her longtime friendship with Lawrence Dunn deepened after he lost his wife. They married in October 1975, turning down an all-expense-paid celebration at the senior center in favor of a church service.
"We always enjoyed volunteering," she says. "Opportunities certainly came our way because folks knew Lawrence and Nada would get the job done."
In January 1977, she helped gain signatures to support toll-free telephone service between Celina and St. Marys. She also participated in a telephone reassurance program for homebound seniors, sang in a choir that visited area nursing homes, served as chairwoman for monthly bingo parties, worked at weekly card parties, helped with fund-raising garage sales and pancake days, manned the senior citizen booth during the Mercer County Fair and assisted with the building of Lake Festival parade floats.
"Nada volunteered nearly every day for the many activities that were conducted at or supported the center and seniors," Craig notes in the nomination. "She devoted many, many hours."
The dedication of a new senior citizen center in 1983 is one milestone she will never forget. Other achievements include the addition of transportation, homemaker, chore and outreach services, all of which she now needs in order to live independently at home.
"Transportation services certainly made a difference in the lives of many seniors including me," she says with a smile. "I gave up the Oldsmobile when my eyesight failed so I depend on the van to take me to doctor's appointments as well as the center."
Dunn continues to struggle with health issues and loneliness, having outlived two husbands, one of her two children and numerous friends. However, she prefers to look on the brighter side of life and give thanks for a family that includes a daughter and numerous grandchildren, great- and great-great-grandchildren.
"I have a sense of humor and I am a little religious," she says pointing to a framed picture of Jesus Christ on the wall across from her easy chair. "I talk and talk to that boy; he's a real good listener."
Dunn has only one regret about today's festivities. She wishes her husband, Lawrence, could be there to take credit for the work they accomplished together before Alzheimer's disease took a precious toll in 1999.
"I will touch this necklace," she says gently lifting the heart-shaped locket containing his picture. "I wear it all the time because wherever I am, Lawrence is with me. Together we made a difference and I guess that's what all this hoopla is about."