Biographies

Dunn Home Supply, Eskridge, Kansas

-by Greg Hoots-

Dean Dunn was born in 1926 in Eskridge, Kansas, the son of local pharmacist, Preston Dunn and his wife Dora. Preston Dunn had moved to Eskridge with his parents when he was just a boy, and he became a civic and political leader in Eskridge and throughout Wabaunsee County.  Preston and Dora Dunn had another son, Dale, who died of polio before his third birthday in 1925, and Dean was raised as an only child.

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Preston Dunn, seen behind the counter at the left in this 1930s view, operated the Rexall Drug Store in Eskridge for over 50 years.

Inez Wolford was born in 1926 in Osborne, Kansas, one of three daughters of Chancey and Pearl Wolford.  The family moved to Eskridge when Inez was just a small child, and Inez and her sisters attended school in Eskridge.

Just two months apart in age, Dean and Inez attended the Eskridge schools together, both graduating in the class of 1944.  After graduating from high school Dean went to school at K-State in Manhattan, and Inez enrolled at Washburn College in Topeka.  Eventually, both Dean and Inez decided to leave their studies at college, and they each returned to their hometown, Eskridge.

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Preston Dunn’s Rexall Drug Store was located at 111 South Main Street in Eskridge, Kansas, as seen in this 1950s photo.

Dean and Inez were married on September 9, 1949, and one week later the young couple opened a furniture store on Main Street in Eskridge, just across the street from Dean’s father’s pharmacy.  In a 2006 interview with the Topeka Capital-Journal, Inez recalled, “We started out selling furniture, but there aren’t enough people to buy furniture in this town.”  The couple began to diversify their business and added various lines of household goods, as they became a true variety store.  Dean Dunn remarked in the same newspaper story, “We sell a little bit of everything, except food, and we even sell a little of that.  We’re the Wal-Mart of Wabaunsee County.”

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Dunn Home Supply opened in Eskridge on September 9, 1949, and this photo was taken shortly after the store’s opening. Rissler’s Plymouth dealership is visible to the left of Dunn’s store in this view.

In the Capital-Journal interview, Inez showed a pair of work gloves to the reporter, saying, “These are something we have that they don’t have many other places around here.  We also make keys and sell toys and odds and ends.  We still sell small appliances.”  Dean explained the nature of their business, declaring, “If I don’t have it, you don’t need it.”

Dean took a special interest in his customers and went the “extra mile” to serve their needs and preferences.  Once, this author found himself removed from his leather work gloves one cold day, and I happened to be at Dunn’s store.  I inquired about gloves, and Dean showed me his full line of work gloves, which included everything from economy-minded cloth gloves to a very nice elk skin leather glove.  Dean’s top of the line gloves were made by the Geier Glove Company.  The gloves were constructed of incredibly soft leather, and were offered in half-sizes, just as shoes are, providing a perfect fit.  I picked a specific glove, an elk skin pair with a gathered cuff and reinforced layer across the palm.  “Oh, you like the roping gloves,” Dean remarked.  Then, he took a pocket-sized notebook from a desk and entered my name and the size and style, 9 ½ Ropers, on a line under several other names, styles, and sizes.  Then, when Dean placed his order from Geier gloves, he would make sure he always had my size and preferred style in stock.  It was just another service that the Dunns provided for their customers.

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Dean Dunn photographed this night view of the display window at Dunn Home Supply in the early 1950s.

Dean never was a hard-sell salesman.  He took pride in having exactly what the customer was seeking, and while he always offered to help a customer with his selection, he was never pushy in his sales techniques.  I was once inside Dean’s little work room in the store, and I noticed above his desk there was a cartoon tacked to the wall.  It showed a disheveled hobo with the caption, “Selling is like shaving, you need to do it every day or you are a bum.”

Dunn Home Supply was an institution in the town of Eskridge.  Everyone had shopped there, and everyone knew the Dunns on a first-name basis.  For twenty-five years, Inez Dunn was the City Clerk of Eskridge, and as the town had no formal City Hall at the time, the Dunn’s store served that function. One could pay their utility bills, apply for a building permit, or complain about the neighbor’s dog at Dunn’s store.

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The Dunn’s took advantage of the crowd in town to have a sidewalk sale on the day of a fall parade in Eskridge in this 1960s view.

The Dunn’s store harkened to a golden age of the small town in Kansas that thrived during the 1950s through about 1970.  During those years, virtually no residents of Eskridge (and other small towns in Kansas) commuted to the cities to work.  Everyone made their living in their hometown or in the county, at least.  Virtually everyone who lived in Eskridge shopped in Eskridge.  During those years, no one would ever think of buying their groceries in Topeka, for example, and hauling them home to Eskridge.  For more than a half-century, Dunn’s Home Supply served all of the needs of the residents of Eskridge.

Dean Dunn had a keen interest in photography.  Dean sold cameras, film, and flash bulbs, of course, but he also took many photographs of Eskridge and Lake Wabaunsee throughout his life.  Dean had an impressive collection of historic photos of Eskridge and Lake Wabaunsee.  There were few things that would delight Dean more than if someone would ask him about details of the history of Eskridge or ask to see a historic photograph.

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This real photo postcard, from the Dean Dunn collection, was taken the morning after a disastrous March 15, 1914 fire swept through the Eskridge business district.

Dean and Inez Dunn had three children, Douglas, Lisa, and Kristen, all of whom grew up in Eskridge.

The Dunns continued to operate the store as they both entered their eighty-first year.  In 2007 the couple’s health forced them to close the store.  Dean passed away on July 17, 2008 and Inez died on December 15, 2012.

Below are 50 historic photographs from the Dean Dunn collection.  Click on any image to view the collection in a gallery format, and you may view any photo as a full-screen image in the gallery.

 

 

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