The Last Word

Ron Dundon's Encore

After 14 years as Encore's own Man, Ron Dundon says goodbye

After serving in the U.S. Navy during World War II, my father returned to Kalamazoo, bought a lot on the city’s east side and built a house for his growing family. Sixty-four years later, I still live in that house.

At times I think all I’ve been doing is spinning my wheels, marching in place. From time to time I hear, “You still live in the same house you grew up in?” and sometimes it’s me talking to myself. I also imagine I hear the grass laughing at me every time I mow it, mocking my 50-plus years of futile attempts to impede its growth. Each fall I rake up the millions of leaves that fall from the 50-foot maple tree that was only a sapling when, as a kid, I nearly uprooted it during a front-yard football game.

But it’s not the house that has kept me in Kalamazoo all these years. It’s the town itself and all this area has to offer for a full, rich life: the good employment options, the dozens of theaters, the fine art and folk art, a literary scene ripe with outlets for poets, playwrights and novelists, nonprofit organizations that help others in many ways, a great public library and free museum, three colleges, and much more. It’s also the people: those who smile and say hello, those who help others who are not capable, the wealthiest among us who created the Kalamazoo Promise, and the public safety and healthcare professionals who keep us safe and well.

This community’s compassion was made very real to me in February 2003 when I suffered a cardiac arrest while playing hockey at Lawson Ice Arena. I was clinically dead for five minutes, but three heroic bystanders performed CPR and an automated external defibrillator (AED) was used to restart my heart. I survived what is usually a fatal incident.

Upon recovery from quadruple coronary bypass surgery, I joined forces with Evelyn Schmidt, mother of another survivor, to form the AED Fund of Kalamazoo County. Our nonprofit group operated for five years, raising money to buy AEDs for fire departments and other first-responders who most needed them. We sold baked goods, solicited service organizations, unions and associations, and took part in former radio host Lori Moore’s cookbook sales. We received donations from a myriad of individuals and corporations as well as grants from several local foundations.

We were even involved in an online campaign to secure a prize from Volvo USA, and thousands of area residents and businesses made the effort to vote for us. The staff of Bronson Methodist Hospital, where I had my bypass surgery, waged an all-out campaign to garner votes. All this awareness and support resulted in a $25,000 award.

Encore magazine played a role, too. I was hired by former Encore owners Rick and Penny Briscoe in July 2000. When I began the AED Fund, Encore ran a feature article (September 2005) that provided much-needed publicity.

In the end, we raised more than $150,000 and donated 59 AEDs throughout the county. Today, Kalamazoo County still ranks as one of the top counties in the U.S. in saving victims of witnessed cardiac arrest.

Now, after 14 years of working at Encore, it is time for me to retire and spend my remaining years enjoying the company of my darling wife, Dixie, and our three cats. One of those cats, Earless Ernie, may be familiar to you because he was in the news a few years ago. We adopted him after he was found beside a road on New Year’s Eve 2008 with his ears cruelly cut down by an unknown assailant. Ernie’s doing great. He’s healthy and full of joy, just like me.

A part of me is joyful about retirement, but another is sad to leave a fun job that introduced me to great people and their stories. I had the privilege of meeting some of the most interesting people:

 

  • I photographed the work of Ross Cousins, an automotive artist for Ford Motor Co. during the golden age of Detroit. As I shook his hand as I was leaving, he reminded me that I was only one step removed from all the famous people he had met and shaken hands with during his career, including Henry Ford and Thomas Edison.
  • I never met a more energetic, enthusiastic person than Sister Ginny Jones who established wonderful hiking trails on the old Nazareth College grounds.
  • I skated at Wings Stadium with Amy Upjohn and Karrol McKay while shooting the cover photo for a story on women’s hockey teams in Kalamazoo.
  • I met Bob Medema and his store full of antiques, and Bill Shields, whose collection of Buck Barry (WOOD-TV’s resident cowboy) memorabilia made me feel like a kid again.

 

All these wonderful people and their stories were found right here in our community. How great is that?

It will be bittersweet to leave Encore. The new owners, Marie and Krieg Lee, have been in charge for two full seasons now and are carrying on the fine traditions of the magazine. They will continue to tell the stories about the wonderful people and organizations that make this a great place to live and grow.

I want to thank all the Encore and Excelsior advertisers, story subjects and others I have worked with through the years. I’ll miss making those reminder calls and writing those emails. But most of all, as a survivor of a near-death experience, I want to remind you that life is both precious and precarious. It can be taken from you in the blink of an eye. So remember, life is sweet. Enjoy.

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About the author

Ron Dundon was Encore Publications office manager and Guy Friday for 14 years. He is a photographer, traveler, music lover and budding theatrical star.