Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Retiring Fontbonne President Sets Goals -- in Spanish

Newspaper article St Louis Post-Dispatch (MO)

Retiring Fontbonne President Sets Goals -- in Spanish

Article excerpt

Together with nine undergraduates, Meneve Dunham is struggling through beginning Spanish at Fontbonne College. She forgets that the "u" after a "g" is silent. She garbles vowels. She unconsciously bites her pen in class.

The only hint of her status is the respectful Doctora by which the instructor addresses her. Unlike the other students in their sweats and flannels, she's in tweed. She's Fontbonne's president.

Three times a week, Dunham, 63, audits Maureen Marugan's class to learn Spanish in preparation for her retirement Dec. 31. Marugan admires the president's courage: "A foreign language is a great equalizer," she said.

Dunham wants to move to Bonita Springs, Fla., and spend some of her retirement tutoring Spanish-speakers in literacy - hence the Spanish class.

"I wish I'd started last year, but it was hard to block out the time in my schedule," she said last week in a smoker's gravelly voice.

Her goal seems in keeping with a college president described by colleagues as hands-on and detail-oriented. When Fontbonne was planning its student activity center, now a year old, Dunham got wrapped up in its design and construction.

"They probably would have given her a hard hat if she had been there much longer," quipped Gary Zack, a vice president at Fontbonne. Instead, Fontbonne's trustees gave her a more durable honor: They named the center after her.

When Dunham came to Fontbonne in 1985 from Mount Mercy College in Iowa, "she was exactly the right person for the job," Zack said. Dunham had belonged to the Sisters of Charity, but she was the first lay president of Fontbonne, which is affiliated with the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet.

She said the trustees had charged her to build the financial stability of the college, increase enrollment and tackle deferred maintenance. The first year was hard, because stemming the college's deficit meant that she had to make many cuts, she said.

Almost nine years later, Fontbonne has:

Balanced its budget.

Raised more than $11 million in two capital campaigns and increased its endowment to $2.9 million from $71,000. Dunham hopes for even more to reduce the school's dependence on tuition, which accounts for more than 80 percent of revenue. …

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