Dorr: Princeton’s Bob Dunn was an accomplished politician, strong environmentalist

The word “icon” is used too much as far as I’m concerned. But it’s a word that might be accurate in describing Princetonian Bob Dunn who died last week at the age of 94.bob-dunn

Bob served in the Minnesota Legislature for 15 years, eight as a representative in four two-year terms, and seven as a senator, resigning before a term was complete to become chairman of the Minnesota Waste Management Board, the environmentalist in him winning out over the legislative side.

I always said he was like Franklin Roosevelt and Dwight Eisenhower, two presidents who likely could have been elected as long as they wanted to be president, Roosevelt dying in office and term limits ending the eight-year run of Eisenhower.

And the reason Bob could have been elected forever is that he was comfortable working both sides of the aisle. A Republican, he worked well with Democrats throughout his legislative career. In fact, at his funeral Saturday, former U.S. Senator David Durenberger, a Republican, was a speaker, as was Peter Gove, a Democrat, the chief of staff for Wendy Anderson after Gov. Anderson appointed himself to be a U.S. senator.

I was a rookie editor at the Princeton Eagle in 1974 and Bob took the time to sit me down one day and explain the ins and outs of the legislative process. He didn’t have to do that but did it willingly, making the appointment himself to do so.

Bob Dunn was the son of a doctor in Edina who had attended Princeton High School. His father’s father, Robert Campbell Dunn, was a state legislator for seven years and was the man who published the first edition of the Princeton Union on Dec. 27, 1876, after growing up in Scotland and coming to the Princeton area from Ireland.

Bob Dunn went to high school at Blake School, began college at Amherst College in Massachusetts, and enlisted in the Marines after his sophomore year there. He served during World War II, finished college and moved to Princeton in 1949 and began working at the Princeton Union whose editor was his aunt Grace Dunn. (Grace had graduated from Johns Hopkins University in Maryland with a degree in botany but came home to help out at the newspaper when her father. Robert Campbell Dunn, became ill. She ended up being editor of the Union for more than 35 years.)

Bob had reenlisted in the Marine reserves, was called back to duty during the Korean War and became an officer. He returned to Princeton, went in with his father-in-law Harold Caley to own Inland Lumber, and then was elected in 1964 for the first of four terms in the Minnesota House of Representatives. He then was elected to the Minnesota Senate and was in his second term when he resigned.

The two committees he was always on as a legislator were those for education and natural resources (environment), his son George told me. Those were his two loves. And a few years after resigning as a legislator he was honored when an area of the Sand Dunes State Forest in Sherburne County was named the Bob Dunn Recreational Area. In 1973 he was a key legislator in the passing of an environmental protection act, working closely with Democrats who were in power at that time in the Minnesota Legislature.

We had a number of conversations through the years, more the last couple years during his time of working out at Princeton Health & Fitness. He’d be on a treadmill or a bike, or lifting some weights (pretty good for a guy in his 90s, I thought) and we’d talk about politics, or other things going on in the world. He was a thoughtful guy, his words measured as he gave an opinion about something.

Sen Durenberger talked at the funeral Saturday about advice he got from former Gov. Elmer L. Andersen (first publisher of the Princeton Union-Eagle when the two papers were combined in 1976) before Durenberger headed to Washington, D.C., for the first time. Durenberger said Andersen told him he should conduct himself like Bob Dunn had when Dunn was a legislator.

Perhaps a look at the Dunn household in the 1970s tells us something about Bob. After his wife died he remarried and at one time there were seven – yes, seven – teenagers in the house. Something might be amiss and his wife Bette would be worried. “Hang in there honey, we gotta do this,” were his calming words, according to one of his children.

There was a bagpiper playing at Saturday’s funeral in honor of Bob’s Scottish heritage and included were a couple songs that Bob had requested. Grandchildren talked, as did son George, an attorney in St. Paul.

“We talked three or four times a week on the phone,” George told me Sunday. “He just loved politics and current events. He was a conversationalist.”

Bob lived a long and productive life and was a man trusted and admired by people on both sides of the political aisle. That, among his many accomplishments, might have been the best one. We need more politicians like him.

One of the meanings of the word “icon” reads like this: “A person regarded as a representative symbol of something.” Bob Dunn fit that description.

Some news items from the Princeton area in 1972.

Fire departments from five communities, with more than 50 firemen, fought a fire for nine hours that destroyed five downtown businesses and left 17 families homeless on Feb. 3. The Gamble’s store, Coast to Coast, Don’s Cafe, the Little Store, and Bovee’s Carpet, Tile and Music Center were all lost on the west side of the street across from what is now the Princeton Mall. There was also severe smoke and water damage at the municipal liquor store and some smoke and water damage also at Frank’s (VFW today) and Ben Franklin (Crystal Cabinet Works training center today). Firefighters were hampered by sub-zero weather (-15, -50 wind chill) and freezing hoses. By mid-morning water in the village’s water tanks was gone. Schools were closed and residents asked to conserve water. Firemen punched holes in the Rum River and water from the river was pumped to the site by a pumper from Milaca, then relayed to a Cambridge pumper, and then relayed to pumpers from Princeton. The fire was thought to have started in the basement of Don’s Cafe and was thought to be under control at 6 a.m. But a fire door had been left open at another business and the fire spread The next day crews from Princeton and the state highway department began a cleanup operation to take away the eight inches of ice that had formed on the city street (Rum River Drive). On one part of the street the ice was almost two feet thick. Damage was estimated between $250,000 and $500,000. It was the eighth major fire  in Princeton in 16 years, resulting in damage to 15 businesses and a number of families being left homeless.

It was announced that Burlington Northern was seeking abandonment of rail service between Milaca and Princeton.

Princeton policeman Doug DeMars and reserve officer Elton Stanchfield pulled the unconscious body of Robert Holter from a fire in a Princeton apartment. They got the call on a new police hook-up to fire calls, got there before firefighters and were credited with saving Holter’s life.

Princeton firemen rescued 8- and 9-year-old boys who had fallen through the ice of the Rum River below West Branch Street. They were hanging onto a clump of brush. One brother had tried to rescue the other and he fell through. They were treated at the hospital and released.

Bill Musselman, coach of the University of Minnesota men’s basketball team, was the guest speaker at the annual athletic banquet held at North Elementary. His team had won the Big Ten title for the first time in 53 years.

Princeton firefighters and Cambridge firefighters responded to a fire that started with an explosion in a garage attached to Luttrell’s Store nine miles east of Princeton. The store and buildings were lost, damage estimated at $35,000.

Airway Products announced plans to build a new building  of about 5,500 square feet. It’s still there today, just south of the building that housed Westling Mfg. near the ice arena. The building was occupied that October.

Princeton received notice of a $435,000 grant that was expected to triple the size of the industrial park.

A 10-inch rainfall that fell over a small area of east central Minnesota produced a flood that covered the local golf course and forced the closing of Highway 169 from Princeton to Onamia and some other area roads where there were washouts.

Work began in August on space to complete a new Ben Franklin store to replace the one destroyed by fire in February. The new store was to be 15,000 square feet (now the Crystal Cabinet Works training center). In November there was picketing at the site by union workers from the Twin Cities.

The PHS football team was shut out six times but won its Homecoming game with Foley, 26-14. The Princeton Jaycees announced the formation of a city basketball league. The league later grew to 10 teams with teams from surrounding towns participating.

In 1972 city elections were still being held in December, despite a presidential election in November, and Mike Brand and Fran Barg were elected to the council. Also running were Barney Klabunde, Doris Elliott, Suellen Hammons and Tom Springer.

The Princeton budget for 1973 was estimated at $369,171.


March 29. 1962 – It was announced that the Jaycees would sponsor a donkey basketball game, with Al Wilhelm as coach of the merchants and Howard Solheim as coach of the teacher team. Proceeds were to go toward the new athletic field (track and football.)

March 30, 1967 – Returning regulars among 39 out for baseball were Ross Johnson, Tom Enger, Tim Enger, Curt Wetzel and Art Skarohlid.

March 30, 1972 – Junior Bob Hedenstrom was named all-conference in basketball and sophomores Tom Rogde and Mike Solheim were honorable mention.

March 31, 1977 – Bob Drake (692) beat Bill Enger (667) for the singles title at the Kenby Lanes bowling tournament. Doubles winners were Roy Warolin and John Lundberg (1,281).

March 25, 1982 – Figure skating classes were held for the first time at the local arena . . . Cambridge returned to the Rum River Conference after a seven-year absence. Cambridge was in the Skyline Conference for a year and the Central Lakes Conference for six years.

March 26, 1987 – Lee Dettmer resigned after 10 years as wrestling coach . . . All-conference in hockey were Todd Seifert, Dean Groebner and Bob Hurt. Terry Seifert was the team’s MVP . . . Mike Sternquist and Bryan Hoff were all-conference in basketball . . . Henry Halvorson was MVP for the wrestling team and Halvorson and Chad Winkelman were all-conference . . . Karry Schimming wss MVP of the conference in girls basketball and was all-conference with Kelly Keen and Judy Bornholdt.

March 26, 1992 – Tanya Dorr, Corrine Lundell and Alison Ringaman were all-conference in basketball. Lundell led the conference in scoring for the second straight year and the team averaged 64.3 to opponents’ 39.4 in Rum River play. Lundell scored 869 points in the two years. Ringaman shot 51 percent from the field in RRC games and Dorr led the team in assists (86) and steals (64) . . . Tom Erickson and Craig Wills were repeat all-conference selections in hockey.

April 3, 1997 – Nate Cook and Eric Hanson were all-conference in hockey and Hanson was the team’s MVP.

March 21, 2002 – No. 6 seed Princeton (8-20) beat No. 3 Duluth Denfeld 70-50 to advance to the Section 7AAA basketball semifinals and then lost 72-33 to Grand Rapids. Chad DeHart (16), Mark Patnode (15) and Paul Burroughs (12) led in the Denfeld game . . . All-conference in hockey were Joey Bacon, Karl Larsen, Josh Miller and Matt Cederberg.

March 22, 2007 – Jared Berggren, a junior, led the basketball team in scoring with an average of 21.2, in rebounds with 12.3 and blocked shots with 5.7 a game. Berggren, verbally committed to Wisconsin, shot 58 percent from the field. Ryan Fay was second in scoring at 11.7

March 22, 2012 – The Princeton 12U volleyball team took first place in the Silver division at a tournament in St. Cloud . . . Daryl Toberman (686) had the high series in the Wednesday league at Kenby Lanes and Justin Thompson (258) the high game.