Northsider living full life with lots of adventures in his 102 years
From ferrying troops across the English Channel during World War II to sneaking into Alabama football games with the help of a legendary coach, Von Dunaway has squeezed a lot out of life.
At 102, the Fondren resident is still going strong.
Although he now uses a motorized scooter to get around his house and can no longer drive, Dunaway still keeps busy.
He’s an active member of the Woodland Hills Baptist Church and the Metro Jackson Lions Club.
In his 80s, Dunaway was still climbing on the church roof to address problems.
At 101, Dunaway was only a few meetings short of receiving a Lions perfect attendance award.
His secret to longevity?
“The doctor told him he could have a drink at night with dinner,” said Robert Brown, one of Dunaway’s assistants. “His grandson works at a wine store, so he keeps him supplied.”
“What are you telling him?” Dunaway asked, making a playful fist.
Dunaway’s secret likely lies in his sense of humor and his penchant for penny-pinching.
He’s getting as much value out of life as possible.
Listeners have reveled in his stories about how he was able to get into Alabama football games without buying tickets, and how he was able to travel across country on just $50.
As for getting into football games for free, Dunaway had a connection.
The longtime Jackson resident knew Alabama coach Paul “Bear” Bryant.
Dunaway would carry equipment in for the team and watch games from the sidelines.
The scheme worked well, until Dunaway was caught cheering for Ole Miss.
The Sharkey County native is one of three sons born of Emma and Jabus Dunaway. His older brother Pat played minor league baseball and was a college professor. His brother Murphy was a college professor as well, and also coached football.
As for Dunaway himself, he never finished his four-year degree, but he did play ball at Pearl River Community College.
After his stint at the two-year school, Dunaway had offers to attend Mississippi College and Louisiana Tech, but turned them down.
Instead, he went to work, and proposed to and married his wife, Mildred.
“I was in Rolling Fork and she was at Lake Washington. I got transferred to Birmingham and said, ‘I ain’t gonna leave you here,’ ” he said. “George Cartwright owned 15,000 acres and he was making a take on her.”
The two were married in 1937. Mildred passed away in 2000.
Prior to World War II, Dunaway worked in the industrial refrigeration industry. He didn’t serve during the war, but still contributed to the war effort, helping to manufacture cold storage units to store military landing craft.
His work later transferred him to Great Britain, where he worked in a shipyard and was later ordered to help serve on a hospital ship.
“They told me to come on. They didn’t ask if I would go,” he said. “I said I wanted to talk to the queen.”
On the ship, Dunaway helped care for injured troops who were being carried from mainland Europe to the British coast.
After the war, Dunaway returned to the states, where he continued to work in industrial refrigeration. He ended up with a territory stretching across much of the Southeast.
“I did that for a while, and then I bought the business,” he said.
In 1950, Dunaway started his own company, Capital Welding and Supply, or Capweld, for short. Capweld led Dunaway back to Alabama, when his firm landed a major contract in Tuscaloosa.
After work, he’d go watch spring practice at the University of Alabama.
“Construction people get off at 3 p.m., (so) I was going every afternoon,” he said.
Dunaway, who knew Bryant through another coach, built Bryant a “coaching tower.”
The tower was designed to give Bryant a better view of his players during practice.
It was well-received by the coach. However, the tower was not sanctioned by the university, and school officials threatened to sue Dunaway if the legendary ball coach got hurt while using it.
“I had to go back and put screws in everywhere there was a nail,” he said. “I put enough … in it to build a 10-story building.”
Brown laughed. “He’s got stories.”
Dunaway never officially retired, but years ago turned Capweld over to his son Dean. Later, Dean sold the company to a firm in Memphis.
Dunaway has two children, Dean and Gayle, as well as numerous grandchildren and great-grandchildren.
Dunaway moved to Fondren in 1979 or 1980, and shortly after joined what was then the North Jackson Lions Club.
“I was trying to get out of the house,” he said. “My wife was good at finding chores for me.”
Even into his 90s, Dunaway continued to help with the club’s major projects, including helping manage parking for Jackson State University football games.
A few years ago, he was recognized with the “Popeye Award” by president Brenda Newhouse. And this summer, he was recognized with a special club award.
Newhouse said Dunaway is an inspiration and example for others.
“Von has always had such a positive outlook on life. When you talk to him, you can’t help but (be) happy.”