The Legend of Miss Dunne

The movie “Hoosiers” is a classic David and Goliath story, where the underdog whoops the giant. In this case, it was a small town high school basketball team that prevailed because it was thoroughly grounded in the fundamentals and each member trusted the others.  The result, Indiana’s David slayed Indiana’s giant! Success stories like this are even more special when superior team chemistry is built on top of superior talent! This doesn’t happen without superior leadership. The amazing story of John Wooden comes to mind.  I wonder how often it happens outside of athletics.

Let me tell another, less-known story, the legend of Betty Dunne: teacher, director, talent scout, musician, mentor, and coach. Miss Dunne, “Ma” as she was often called, was in charge of the vocal music program at Preble High School in Green Bay, Wisconsin for many years. She was the CEO in charge of Concert Choir, Senior Girls Glee Club, Senior Chorus, Madrigal, Sophomore Mixed Chorus, Sophomore Girls Chorus, Swing Choir, and countless soloists and small ensembles. It’s amazing that “Ma” didn’t work herself to death.

The 1975/76 school year had a talent pool as deep as it had ever been. Of the Swing Choir’s 27 members, 20 were seniors — only one was a sophomore. With such demand to be part of this popular group, Swing Choir was perhaps the most exclusive group in the school. But, it wasn’t a clique. Miss Dunne didn’t create snooty clubs. She built superior teams by recruiting the right people and forming a culture of cooperation and a sense of family. She created ensembles, both musically and in the interpersonal sense.

That year, Preble was well-represented at the state music competition. Swing Choir earned a top rating as usual. It also won the St. Norbert College swing choir festival earning the right to appear on the evening concert with the St. Norbert swing choir. A road trip to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, a night club gig, a guest appearance at a private school, and the biggest spring concert I’ve ever seen are some of my fondest memories of that year, not to ignore the great friendships we all enjoyed.

Miss Dunne has long since retired, but her legacy lives on. Today, Preble’s show choir, Center Stage, is on Parade Magazine’s list of top show choirs in the country. In fact Parade has named them one of the top 3.

The summer of 2010 a gathering of former Swing Choir members, representing classes that followed the 75/76, came together and celebrated. We were thrilled to have Miss Dunne, now in her late eighties, join us. What a treat to see her again over 30 years later and let her know how much we appreciate her contributions to our musical development and our lives. Tony, the only sophomore of the 75/76 group attended, too. I had to ask, because kids can be so cruel. It would have been easy for the lone sophomore to feel like the odd man out of a group top-heavy with upperclassmen. Instead, he said it was the best year he had in school. That’s family! That’s teamwork! That’s the legend and legacy of Betty Dunne, teambuilder.

Green Bay Preble H.S. Swing Choir, 1976

NOTE: Betty Dunne passed away October 2, 2012.  I will miss her, as will the hundreds of former students she inspired.

Knock, Knock — Who’s There?

Every so often, probably more often than we realize, Opportunity comes our way. But, Opportunity is quite the clever one, often teasing us with extra laps around the block and a gentle tap rather than a loud knock. Let me share such a story which began over 13 years ago when Doug Williams of the U.S. EPA introduced me to Geoff Raymond of Sydney, Australia who in turn introduced me to another Aussie named Gary Lear. The connection led to the development of CleanPro, which was based in part on an environmental software tool I helped develop for the EPA. This certainly was an opportunity, but not the one I referred to.

“Jumping at several small opportunities may get us there more quickly than waiting for one big one to come along.” — Hugh Allen

About a decade later, Gary dropped by my office during a trip to the U.S. I remember how much fun it was to finally meet him in person, even though I can’t remember the reason for his visit or what we talked about. Being the sentimental person that I am, I took his picture and filed it away. Opportunity was merely making her extra lap that day.

“Opportunity is a bird that never perches.” — Claude McDonald

Because Opportunity prefers tapping to knocking, I’ve learned that it pays to look out the window now and again to see if she’s standing on the front porch. In the late spring of 2008, while sorting through some old papers, I discovered a fax cover sheet with Gary’s name. It was curiosity that caused me to use to look up his contact information. There were actually, two Gary Lears listed in Australia. Thinking to myself, “Why not?” I mentally flipped a coin and dialed. With free international calling, I had nothing to lose. “Hello. Is this the same Gary Lear who worked with UDRI to develop CleanPro? This is Clancy Cross.”

“Learn to listen. Opportunity could be knocking at your door very softly.” — Frank Tyger

Since that day, when I reconnected with Gary and discovered Opportunity (better known as Development Beyond Learning) I have been blessed to meet some warm, talented, creative, intelligent, and highly motivated people who are now my colleagues and business partners. One of these is a 29-year old entrepreneur named Josh Mackenzie, who will be touring the U.S. beginning with a week at the NACE conference in Las Vegas, a week in Dayton, Ohio, and short stops in Chicago and San Francisco. I am so looking forward to introducing him to the Miami Valley during the week of June 15-19. (Josh’s itinerary is available here.)

Thanks to that fax cover sheet, LinkedIN, and a little curiosity, we are now immersed in an ambitious international expansion project to bring Development Beyond Learning to North America. Funny how Opportunity behaves, “aye mate?”

“The secret of success in life is for a man to be ready for his opportunity when it comes.” — Benjamin Disraeli

God bless,

— CC