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  • Writer's pictureTeresa Nguyen

Alan Dunwiddie

1923 - 2023

Story by Teresa Nguyen

June, 2023

Alan Dunwiddie - Photo by Teresa Nguyen

World War II Veteran - U.S. Army Air Corps

Former Parker Pen Employee

Beloit College Graduate

Former Chairman of the Board at Merchant’s Bank

Founder of the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin

Former Local YMCA Board Member

Former Boy Scouts Board Member

Former RCHS Board President

Former Nature Conservancy Board Member

Community Pillar

The Early Years

Alan was born in Janesville in 1923 when Janesville got its first City Manager, Henry Traxler. General Motors was newly established and the Janesville High School on Main Street opened to students! Alan had one younger sister named Joan.

His mother’s grandmother, Grace Mouat, came here in 1845 from the Shetland Isles. In 1850 she married David Jeffris who had driven a herd of cattle here from Charleston, Illinois. Alan’s grandparents, Benjamin Dunwiddie and Nellie Gray moved here from Green and Lafayette Counties around 1880.

Alan’s family lived on St. Lawrence Avenue, just three blocks from the old Jefferson School. He recalled playing with the neighborhood kids and he made a lot of good friends. Alan switched to Roosevelt for 5th and 6th, back to Jefferson for 7th grade and then into the Janesville High School on Main Street.

Originally Janesville High School on Main Street, now the Marshall Apartments and JPAC

Alan’s grandfather’s law partner at Dunwiddie & Wheeler Law Firm built what later became Paul Ryan’s house on St. Lawrence Avenue. Alan lived across the street and remembered going over during the construction of the house to play when the builders left. Even then, they couldn’t afford to pay a carpenter for his time picking up nails, so they’d leave lots of goodies there at the end of the day, nails and whatever scraps the kids might find.

Before high school, Alan used to shovel walks and mow lawns. He was paid 50 cents for mowing or shoveling a corner lot! Movies were 10 cents, so he’d take his sister to the movie, buy popcorn and still have 20 cents left over.

Janesville High School

Alan fondly recalled going to the Beverly Theater on South Main Street, and the Myers Theater on East Milwaukee Street, (both gone now). The Jeffris Theater was next to the Monterey Hotel. He remembered when the downtown had the old Carnegie Library, and north of that was Bauman’s Grocery Store, Janesville Floral Company, Dorothy’s Beauty Salon, and C-M Office Supply.

The Jeffris Theater in downtown Janesville

Alan and his good friend, Don Avery, were the football team managers. The team had Coach Kitelinger and Alan remembered that Janesville had beat Beloit in 1937 for the first time in 25 years! That night the town went wild! It was a big rivalry back then with the Beloit football team.

When Betty moved to Janesville from Racine, Alan had just moved into the same neighborhood the previous year. They had a class together, but weren’t dating in high school.

Both Alan and Betty graduated in the Class of 1941. The war was just around the corner.

Right out of high school, Alan worked for the Parker Pen Company in its Quink plant where they made quick drying ink. After that, he enrolled at MIT in Boston. That’s where he was at the time of the attack on Pearl Harbor.

Entering World War II

The next year, Alan was a Private with the U.S. Army Air Corps, where he worked as a weather man. Alan was stationed at the University of Minnesota for 6 months of training, then to Chanute Field, Illinois, to prepare for the war.

They would record the local weather conditions four times a day; send it out via teletype all over the world to our US air fields. A meteorology officer would take all of the coded weather figures to prepare a weather map. The whole procedure took around two hours to get the map out for the local flyers. But the data was often 2 hours old by the time a pilot would get it, so he really didn’t know what to expect. These days you can just Google the weather on your phone and have an instant report!

Most of the time Alan was at airfields in Alexandria, Louisiana, Alamogordo, New Mexico and finally in Newfoundland. He said that he felt closer to home in Newfoundland than when he was in New Mexico!

For those who stayed home, it was a tough time here. Many of their classmates died in the Bataan Death March. It was hard to lose their friends.

At the Monterey Hotel. Betty - seated on the piano bench on the right

During the war, which had been going on for some time, all the young men were gone, of course. So, a group of young women decided to buy corsages, put formals on and go over to the Monterey Hotel for a dinner. They had a beautiful dining room and the food was wonderful. They even hired a photographer to come and take a group picture. Betty, Alan’s future wife, was among these friends.

At that time, one of the women got a call from her parents telling her that her brother, who was a pilot, had been shot down in the war in the Philippines. The girls all went to their friends’ house with her. It was a very sad time in our history and the community was close.

Back in Janesville

After the war, Alan came home and attended Beloit College, graduating in 1949. He spent a year doing graduate work in mathematics at Washington University, St. Louis, Mo. When he came home from there, about 7 o’clock one night, Alan got a phone call from Bob McRoberts, President of Merchants Bank.

Merchants and Savings Bank in Janesville, WI

McRoberts wanted Alan to come work at the bank. He told Alan, “Show up tomorrow morning at 8 o’clock. And wear your old clothes.” So, Alan wore his old army fatigues and spent two weeks with the president’s son cleaning out the bank’s basement!

They paid well. Alan was a man of principle and always showed up on time. They kept him on doing everything throughout the years, starting in the basement and ending up in the boardroom as Chairman of the Board!

Meeting Betty

Alan says that there was another girl at the bank who, apparently, had her eye on him. Betty and her friend, Barbara, decided to help this girl out. So, for a while, Alan was taking out 3 girls at the same time, Betty and the other two! But then, he always seemed to take Betty home last.

Betty recalled, “After I’d been with him a few times, trying to fix him up with my friend, I started to think that he was so nice. And, oh, he was very handsome! When I got to know him, I fell in love with him. We had the nicest dates! Our first date was when he asked me out for dinner.”

A year and a half after Betty started working at the bank, she and Alan married in Janesville at First Congregational Church.

First Congregational Church - Janesville UCC

Betty and Alan used to walk everywhere around town. They would walk from near Palmer Park to the Vets Club for breakfast, or to the Wedge Inn by the hospital. A hike of several miles. They did that every Saturday morning, weather permitting! It was good exercise and fun.

Alan continued working at the bank until his retirement.

Starting the Community Foundation

After retirement, Alan took over running the Janesville Foundation, a charitable private foundation founded by the Parker Pen Company. In that position Alan became familiar with the prospect of a Community Foundation.

He gathered a few friends and they founded the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin. They each put in $1,000, and starting with only $5,000, hired a secretary to run it. And it took off! Approval from the IRS as a tax-exempt public foundation came in 1992. Now, it serves 11 counties and has grown into the millions!

The following is from a 2017 CFSW newsletter article:

In 2017, the Community Foundation of Southern Wisconsin celebrated 25 years of matching personal philanthropy with community need. Back in 1991, local resident and retired bank professional, Alan Dunwiddie, was working with investments and individuals interested in creating scholarships for local students.

Fueled by the notion that this could be something much bigger and managed organizationally, Alan approached his friends about starting a community foundation to not only direct scholarships but raise and manage funds that could transform communities for the greater good. His vision at the time was, "Let’s see what we can do."

Wyatt Jackson, President/CEO of CFSW and Foundation Founder, Alan Dunwiddie - Photo courtesy of CFSW

Twenty-five years later, what started with just $5,000 is now more than $55 million. Suddenly the ‘we’ in his comment takes on a far bigger significance.

Alan says, ‘We’ve had the support of a lot of people. Some bigger gifts, sure, but many, many small gifts. The real service of the Community Foundation is that those small gifts are pooled to become big gifts, invested and managed very well to have significant impact.

I am most proud that I’ve been part of the Foundation transforming a lot of small gifts into large ones. We’ve been able to do a lot of good. A lot of good that will last forever.’”

Other Community Involvement

Alan was also involved in the YMCA and the Boy Scouts, serving on their boards. He assisted a great deal in fundraising.

Other rewarding activities were serving on Board of Directors of The Nature Conservancy. Alan negotiated their purchase of the Newark Prairie in Rock County. It’s now a State Scientific Area and managed by Beloit College for research.

For a brief time in the 1950s, Alan served on the Board of Directors and was President of the Rock County Historical Society.

A Lasting Love

Alan and Betty were married for 72 years! How inspiring. When asked about his secrets to a lasting love, Alan advised, “Try not to get mad at the same time! Can you imagine her mad? And walking together, just being side by side, you’re not confronting each other.”

Alan & Betty Dunwiddie - Photo by Teresa Nguyen

Betty and Alan traveled a lot together. They traveled through the St. Lawrence Seaway, also to Australia, England, Scotland, Scandinavia and France. Alan said that his favorite trip was through the South Pacific, traveling from Singapore to Indonesia.

Betty noted that during their married life, they did a series of things with friends. They went square-dancing, cross-country skiing in winter and canoeing in the summer. They also did a lot of walking, and that’s her tip for all couples out there.

Betty says, “Sometimes when you’re out walking, and the weather is just right, you see different things. It’s a time when you’re having fun and you can just relax and let the conversation flow.”

Rock County Living

Alan grew up here and told the story of when he was about 2 years old and he had wandered downtown trying to find his dad. He knew he went to work that general way. Someone recognized Little Alan and saw to it that he made it back home. Everybody knew everybody back then.

Betty remarked that Janesville was “a beautiful place to raise a family, our 3 children.” And now their family has grown with grandchildren and great-great grandchildren.

On June 1st, 2023 Alan Dunwiddie, Betty’s lifetime love, passed away at 99 years of age. Our community lost one of its greatest. May his legacy live on with this story and with his beautiful generosity toward this community.


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