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Published: December 21, 2023

Arlene and Larry Dunn holding plaque standing next to Courtney Bryan

Kendal at Oberlin is home to more than 300 men and women in their 60s and well beyond. They come from near (Oberlin and Cleveland) and far (Hawaii, Canada and elsewhere). The residents share many common values, such as sustainability and lifelong learning, and many have ties to Oberlin College. But they all have their own unique story. Meet Arlene and Larry Dunn.You could say that the sound of music, i.e. contemporary music, brought Larry and Arlene Dunn to Kendal at Oberlin. The Indiana couple discovered Kendal because the Oberlin Conservatory of Music had trained many musicians they followed, such as Eighth Blackbird and International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE).


That was 10 years ago, and the Dunns’ support of local and national contemporary music continues. Their latest endeavor was commissioning a piece of ICE that was performed last month in New York City. The commission was in celebration of their 50th wedding anniversary.


They encouraged ICE to select an African-American woman for the commission and they got their wish. And to top it off, the composer, Courtney Bryan (photographed with Arlene and Larry), is also an Oberlin College graduate.


“It was more than we could have ever dreamed of,” Arlene says about Courtney’s piece “Dreaming (Freedom Sounds).”


Over the years the Dunns have commissioned other pieces, having discovered at a music gathering in 2016 that commissioning a musical piece is another way to financially support musicians.


The couple also supports the Northern Ohio Youth Orchestra (NOYO) with its annual Arlene and Larry Dunn Composer-In-Residence fund, which provides a stipend for an Oberlin Conservatory composition student to write a piece for the NOYO Philharmonia Orchestra. The fund is intended for students from underrepresented communities, such as African American and LGBT. Larry was a NOYO board member for several years and now sits on its Advisory Board


Along with attending concerts at Oberlin and the surrounding area, the Dunns regularly hit the road (or should we say sky as their lengthy road trips have been replaced with flights) to attend contemporary music concerts throughout the country.


All things green and growing


The idea of turning Kendal’s 100+ acre campus with wetlands, wooded areas and an array of tree and plant species took root around 2015, thanks to the Dunns and a handful of other committed tree-loving residents.


Today the John Bartram Arboretum at Kendal is a Level II facility, joining just 170 other arboretums worldwide with such a designation, according to the ArbNet Arboretum Accreditation Program.


The Arboretum Committee members works closely with grounds staffer Rachel Duncan, horticulturist and arboretum curator, to maintain and improve the grounds.


“Our key ambition now, as a Level II arboretum, is to ramp up our educational programs,” says Arlene, the outgoing chair of the committee. ( Larry was the founding chair.)


Other items on the Arboretum’s 2024 agenda:

  • Oberlin Legacy Tree Initiative, a cooperative venture with the city, Oberlin College, Oberlin Heritage Center and Western Reserve Land Conservancy, to find and catalog old trees (Kendal has a couple that are at least 200 years old);
  • American Chestnut Restoration, hopefully supported by a grant for an Arbor Day event.

 Examining racism in America


“Larry and I have been involved in civil rights activities nearly our entire adult life,” Arlene says, explaining why they spearheaded the creation of Kendal’s Racial Equity Forum.

The forum is working closely with the Lorain County Racial Equity Agenda launched in November 2022 by the Lorain County Racial Equity Center of the YWCA of Elyria and the Community Foundation of Lorain County. In recent years the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the YWCA USA and others have labeled racism as a public health crisis that requires urgent action.

The Racial Equity Forum has sponsored several events at Kendal on topics such as housing segregation in Oberlin and racial disparities in health care.

On Jan. 29. the forum is sponsoring a panel discussion with three Oberlin College professors entitled “A New Citizenship: Reparations for the Eras of Slavery, Lynchings, and Jim Crow.” The 7:15 event in Heiser Auditorium is open to the public and will be followed by a “Continue the Conversation” at lunch the next day in the Den.

Road Map to Residency

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Road Map to Residency

Author Molly Kavanaugh 2020In the past, Molly Kavanaugh frequently wrote about Kendal at Oberlin for the Cleveland Plain Dealer, where she was a reporter for 16 years. Now we are happy to have her writing for the Kendal at Oberlin Community.

About Kendal at Oberlin: Kendal is a nonprofit life plan community serving older adults in northeast Ohio. Located about one mile from Oberlin College and Conservatory, and about a 40 minute drive from downtown Cleveland, Kendal offers a vibrant resident-led lifestyle with access to music, art and lifelong learning.