Dr. Charles Dunn, who served 22 years as Henderson State University’s president, died May 5 at his home in Arkadelphia of complications from pancreatic cancer. Dr. Dunn became Henderson’s 14th president in 1986 and retired on June 30, 2008. He served longer than any other president in the history of the university.
Dr. Dunn steered Henderson through many dramatic changes during his tenure. Numerous building and renovation projects have changed the face of the Henderson campus. Increased admission standards made Henderson students among the best in the South. The stronger academic focus also led to the success of the Honors College and membership into the prestigious Council of Public Liberal Arts Colleges.
In 1992, Dr. Dunn led Henderson into NCAA Division II and the Gulf South Conference, two organizations in which he served as an active leader. Under the guidance of Dr. Dunn, Henderson continued toward fulfilling its mission as Arkansas’s public liberal arts university.
The development of a strategic plan for Henderson commenced in 1988 with a commitment to fully implement the mission adopted by the Board of Trustees in 1987. Since that time, there were three strategic planning efforts that focused on the institutionalization of that initiative, the first being undertaken in 1993-94, the second in 1997-98, and the third in 2004-05.
The planning efforts undertaken from 1988-2004 enabled the university to develop a strong reputation as Arkansas’s public liberal arts university, to establish higher admission standards that would result in a “diverse, superior student body,” and to literally rebuild the campus. The primary goal of the various planning efforts was to achieve academic excellence.
A first-generation college student from Magnolia, Ark., Dr. Dunn earned his B.A. in political science from Southern Arkansas University (SAU) in 1967 and his M.A. in government from the University of North Texas. After working for a year as a Ford Foundation intern with the Texas Legislature and later as a political science instructor at the University of Arkansas at Monticello (UAM), Dunn received his Ph.D. in political science from Southern Illinois University in Carbondale.
He returned to UAM as an assistant professor of political science before assuming a position with the University of Central Arkansas (UCA) as associate professor of political science in 1975. The next year, he became chairman of UCA’s Department of Political Science and served in that role until 1982, when he became Director of Governmental Relations for the university, a position he held until his appointment as president of Henderson in 1986.
While at UCA, Dr. Dunn developed a very successful approach to winning support from lawmakers and combined this with an effective lobbying style built on high integrity and credibility. During this time, he contributed several research articles and papers on political party leadership, the effects of county government reform on political marginals, and influencing policy in state legislative bodies.
Dr. Dunn is survived by his wife of 47 years, Dr. Donna Jane (Parsons) Dunn of Arkadelphia, and four children: Dr. Aimee M. Shouse of Macomb, Ill.; James D. Dunn of Kawasaki, Japan; Joseph C. Dunn of Little Rock, and Mary E. Dunn of Little Rock; five grandchildren: Emma Shouse, Meghan Shouse, Ethan Dunn, Isabelle Dunn, and Emily Dunn; his father, Charles Edward Dunn of Arkadelphia; his brother, Michael E. Dunn of Leesburg, Va.; his niece, Meredith Ortiz of Silver Springs, Md.; his aunt, Dorothy Cook of Magnolia, and seven first cousins who live in Arkansas, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Texas. He was preceded in death by his mother.
A visitation is scheduled for Wednesday, May 8, from 6-8 p.m. at Ruggles-Wilcox Funeral Home in Arkadelphia. A memorial service celebrating Dr. Dunn’s life will be held Thursday, May 9, at 1 p.m. in Arkansas Hall on the Henderson State University campus. Pallbearers include Dr. James Andrews, Bobby G. Jones, Paul Hankins, Dr. Alvin Futrell, Dr. Kenneth Taylor, Chad Fielding, Tom Gattin, and Kyle Jones. Honorary pallbearers include Dr. Maralyn Sommer, Dr. Robert Houston, Alex Strawn and Paul Dixon.
Memorials may be made to the Charles D. Dunn and Jane Parsons Dunn Scholarship in care of the Henderson State University Foundation, HSU Box 7550, Arkadelphia, 71999-0001.