Margaret Dunning Drives to College—At 102!

Margaret Dunning Drives to College—At 102!

Margaret Dunning drives her 1930 Packard 740 Roadster to classic car shows—and she’s twenty years older than her car.

Margaret was born in 1910 on a dairy farm west of Detroit to Charles and Elizabeth “Bessie” Dunning.

It was a bygone era. Margaret reveled in motoring from a young age. When she was 8, Charles taught her to steer his Model T while he operated the controls. She soon conquered the farm’s truck and tractor.

Having Henry Ford as a neighbor didn’t hurt.

She remembers Ford fondly:

Dad would come in and say, “Well, Henry’s outside and I’ve asked him to stay for dinner.” Mom had made huckleberry pie and offered Henry some.

He said that was his favorite pie—I think he was being polite, but he was marvelous just like that.

But at age 12, she got her driver’s license out of necessity. Charles died and Bessie had arthritic feet. The Model T passed to Margaret.

Mother and daughter eventually gave up the farm. They moved to Plymouth, Michigan, where Bessie built the house where Margaret still lives.

Margaret graduated from Plymouth High School in 1929 and studied two years at the University of Michigan. She dropped out at the Depression’s height because Bessie needed her in the family business.

Margaret Dunning Drives to College at Age 101 at LaterBloomer.com
Margaret Dunning as a Red Cross volunteer, 1943

70 Years of Service

During World War II, Margaret volunteered in Plymouth’s Red Cross motor pool, driving a truck. After, she spent several decades in banking, starting on the bottom rung as a teller.

In 1947, Margaret purchased Goldstein’s Apparel on Plymouth’s Main Street. She renamed it Dunning’s Department Store and sold it in 1968 for a tidy sum. Her next act, as her community’s greatest philanthropist, began with endowments to the Plymouth District Library and its Historical Museum.

From 1962 to 1984, Margaret served on the board of Community Federal Credit Union, including 19 years as president. During her tenure, the Credit Union increased its assets from $1 million to $40 million. In 1989, the Board established the Margaret Dunning Scholarship Fund to honor her contributions to Plymouth.

Last month, Today.com featured her and her gorgeous Packard. “I love the old cars,” she said. “I love the smell of gasoline. It runs in my veins.” She waxed poetic about changing her own oil and spark plugs all these years.

The FRAM Group, an auto products manufacturer, noticed the article. In a special ceremony at the Plymouth Historical Museum, they presented her with a full scholarship to the University of Michigan, eighty years after she dropped out. She’ll also get free auto parts for life.

I’m very, very pleased about it. I feel that I’ve been granted a few years that other people do not have, and I am really very happy that I have this beautiful old world to live in.

What most versions of the story leave out—Margaret didn’t need that scholarship. She’s one of those “millionaires next door” and could have financed her own education. Clearly, the gesture itself touched her.

I’ll have to figure out just what I’ll study, but it will be in business…I’m still running a business right now. It’s a trust fund.

Back to that Gorgeous Roadster

Margaret bought it in 1949. She’s given it four upholstery jobs and 22 coats of hand-rubbed lacquer. The Classic Car Club of America awarded it 100 points—its only perfect score.

In addition to the Roadster, she owns a 1966 Cadillac DeVille, a 1975 Cadillac Eldorado convertible, and a 1931 Model A. Her “everyday car” is a 2003 Cadillac DeVille.

Ninety-four years after learning to drive, Margaret still makes special road trips. Just last summer, she motored from Michigan to California at the invitation of Pebble Beach Concours d’Élégance. There, she chatted with Henry Ford III and Edsel Ford II, and shared her personal photos of Henry.

Margaret Dunning Drives to College at Age 101 at LaterBloomer.com
Margaret Dunning and her 1930 Packard (Mike Cardew photo)

Bertha Benz, the woman who pioneered the world’s first road trip in 1888, would be proud.

(Update May 17, 2015—I’m sad to report that Margaret passed away today, just before her 105th birthday. But what a life!)

Sources

31 Responses

  1. Roxana (Swartz) Argast
    | Reply

    Debra,

    Thanks for this interesting story about Margaret Dunning. She’s an inspiration and role model for those of us who are younger.

    Two years ago I saw a Packard show in Galena, Illinois, and instantly fell in love with these beautiful cars – I wonder if Margaret’s car was in this show….

    • Debra Eve
      |

      You’re welcome, Roxana. I’ll bet Margaret’s car was there. She doesn’t seem to miss a show!

  2. Lindsay
    | Reply

    Another story that expands the notion of what is actually possible in this world. Margaret Dunning looks great! And is.

    • Debra Eve
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      Thanks, Lindsay. I keep saying I’m going to finish my Ph.d when I retire — don’t know what I’m waiting for, but Margaret truly proves it’s never too late.

  3. Anne Williams Smith
    | Reply

    Just wanted to let you know, I just posted a link to this on my blog. I really enjoyed it! Thanks

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, Anne! Margaret has been in the news all week, but I couldn’t resist writing about her too! Thanks for the link.

  4. Darlene Foster
    | Reply

    I love stories about women like this! Thanks for sharing.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      You’re welcome, Darlene. She’s a real find 🙂

  5. Dave Leggett
    | Reply

    Great blog post Baby!

    Really enjoyed reading it.
    A total self starter who did it all on her own and still gave back and continues to still have “that spark” and total zest for life!
    She clearly reads as someone who sees the glass as “half full” – great attitude.
    Very inspirational!
    Thanks for posting.
    Love
    Dave
    X X X

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, sweetie. She’s definitely my inspiration too. There’s so much of her story I couldn’t include here. Hopefully there’s an autobiography in the works, as we talked about!

  6. David Stevens
    | Reply

    What a trooper! So many memories that she must have…thankyou Debra
    be good to yourself
    David

    • Debra Eve
      |

      You’re welcome, David. She certainly is!

  7. Jennette Marie Powell
    | Reply

    What a cool story! Ms. Dunning was a big achiever even before she became a “later” bloomer. Learning to drive – and heck, even being able to start a car – when most women weren’t able, was a big accomplishment!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      That’s so true, Jennette. We forget how easy cars are to drive now. Back then, it took a lot more effort. In one quote, she said it’s not driving that has become hard, but steering. Apparently the Packard has a big, heavy wheel. Thanks for the comment!

  8. Chris Edgar
    | Reply

    What an incredible background and obviously deep reservoir of ambition she had / has. I get the sense that this kind of varied set of explorations and accomplishments comes from taking a lot of joy out of life, which is the only thing I can imagine motivating a centenarian to drive across most of the country.

    • Debra Eve
      |

      It is mind-boggling. I’ve got a few relatives who shouldn’t be on the road and are no where near her age! She seems like a very joyful person and you’re right, it must keep her driving (literally). Thanks, Chris!

  9. florence fois
    | Reply

    Debra, whenever we get down about not having enough “time” to follow our dreams, we need to think of the great individuals you feature here. Margaret is no exception 🙂 I have a clear picture of her attending classes with kids 80 years younger … what a lesson they can learn from her !

    • Debra Eve
      |

      Thanks, Florence. It’s such a great story and I hope, after the media hoopla settles, they don’t forget her. This is a reality show I’d love to see filmed!

  10. Marianne
    | Reply

    Wow! 102 and going to school. That is one heck of an accomplishment. Margaret Dunning is surely an inspiration. I would love to sit at the feet of this awesome woman. Thanks for sharing, Debra.

    • Debra Eve
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      You’re welcome, Marianne. I still harbor a dream of finishing my graduate degree, so Margaret’s my idol!

  11. Sandra Heska King
    | Reply

    I wonder if she knew my great-grandfather, Edwin Baxter. He played the dulcimer in Henry Ford’s orchestra. I’d love to live to 102 and look as beautiful as she does!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      How interesting about your great-grandfather, Sandra. I used to play the fretted dulcimer. I would have loved to hear that orchestra. She does just make you want see the other side of 100, doesn’t she?

    • Sandra Heska King
      |

      There is still music floating around online, and we have some of those old thick records. Grandpa played the hammered dulcimer, and we still have the one he played in the logging camps (carried it wrapped in burlap) and the one in the console he played in the orchestra. My dad used to go to those dances as a kid.

      Margaret gives me hope!

    • Debra Eve
      |

      I loved the sound of the hammered dulcimer. I did give it a try, but it’s not easy, so I settled for the 3-string fretted, which is gorgeous in its own way. I swear there’s a novel in this somewhere — your grandfather, the logging camps, the dulcimer, and Henry Ford. I can totally see it, Sandra!

  12. Gene Pantano
    | Reply

    Geezz.. GOD Bless you Margaret…. Lost my mother -“MARGARET” to a darn drunk driver… She liked cars.!! She was born in 1909..
    Wish I had you to help me on my 1923 DORT !! Stay well..and enjoy your gift ..You looked great in a Uniform ! SERGEANT MAJOR – US ARMY – Retired

    • Debra Eve
      |

      1923 Dort, amazing. Take care and thanks for the comment, Gene!

  13. Donald Wilson
    | Reply

    I grew up in Plymouth and have seen the Packard from time to time on the streets of Plymouth. Margaret is a gift to the community of Plymouth and her presence will never fade away. I remember visiting her department store as a kid growing up in Plymouth. Growing up in Plymouth was also a special gift too.

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      After reading Margaret’s life story, I thought Plymouth sounded like a special place. Thank you for confirming that and also for your comment. That Packard must be something to see for real!

  14. Patti Lowery
    | Reply

    Amazing!!!

    • Debra Eve | @DebraEve
      |

      Isn’t she? I check the internet from time to time to make sure she’s still alive. At last check, she was still going strong!

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