John Franklin Dunham, 84, of Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, died peacefully at his home on Thursday, September 30, 2021. He lived in Wellsboro all his life, where he was a community leader for nearly 60 years.
Born in Wellsboro on January 19, 1937, John was the son of Franklin L. and Mercedes Nickerson Dunham and named after his maternal grandfather, John Nickerson. He graduated from Wellsboro High School in 1954 and received his Bachelor of Science degree in Economics from Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania in 1959. He attended the University of Pittsburgh, where he received a master’s degree, and then served in the U.S. Army and the Pennsylvania National Guard. He worked in both Pittsburgh and Cleveland and then returned to Wellsboro to help with the family business RJ Dunham, Inc., an independent department store founded in 1905 by his grandparents Roy J. and Fannie Dunham.
A gifted musician with a beautiful tenor voice, John participated in musical groups his entire life, entertained in stores at Christmas parties as a young child, attended state music festivals in high school, directed the United Methodist Church choir, and sang in the Wellsboro Men’s Chorus and his beloved college choir Singers at Allegheny College. It is fitting that through his love of music he met the love of his life, Nancy Watkins, when they both attended an Allegheny College Singers concert in Emporium, Pennsylvania in 1965. They married on July 21, 1968 and celebrated over 53 years of marriage and worked together as life partners and business partners.
John and Nancy settled in Wellsboro, where they raised their family and John dedicated his life’s work to his community. He owned and operated Dunham’s department store with his father and brothers and was President of the company for many years. In addition to his business activities, he served on the board of the Wellsboro Hotel Company, most recently as chairman of the board. During his time with both organizations, he supported various construction and improvement projects, including the expansion of the first floor of Dunham’s Department Store in 1980, the expansion of Dunham’s Hardware Store in 1983, the renovation and construction of Penn Wells Lodge in 1986, the renovation of the Arcadia Theater in 1996 and, among other things, the renovation and expansion of Penn Wells Lodge in 2012. He also served several terms as President of the Chamber of Commerce, was a curator of Mansfield University, president of the Green Free Library, president of the Wellsboro Rotary Club and a lifelong member of the United Methodist Church. He has received many honors for his dedication to his community, including Rotary’s Paul Harris Fellow and the Wellsboro Alumni Award.
When not busy with his many work and community projects, John also enjoyed spending time with his family, traveling, swimming, long distance running, and pampering any family dog beyond reform. John faithfully attended the Allegheny College Choir reunions with Nancy and loved reuniting with classmates from high school and college. He loved being home visiting friends and meeting customers at Dunham’s, or drinking coffee and reading the paper on the porch of his Pine Creek cottage. He will be fondly remembered by his family and many friends as a kind and generous man with a wonderful sense of humor, fantastic dance moves and a warm smile.
John preceded his parents and brothers R. James Dunham and Robert Nickerson Dunham in death. He leaves behind his wife Nancy and two daughters. Ellen Dunham Bryant (Shawn) and Ann Dunham Rawson (Joe) from Wellsboro, four grandchildren, Madeline Wotherspoon Bryant, Jack Dunham Bryant, Katherine Nickerson Bryant, Jeff Robert Rawson, all from Wellsboro and brother-in-law Edward Watkins (Chris) and family from Connecticut. The Dunham family hosted many overseas exchange students who became like family, including Kathia Chacon (Juan Carlos) from San Jose, Costa Rica and Hector Hernandez (Tammy) and their children Marisa, Alexandra and Nathanial from Kentucky. He is also survived by niece Judy Dunham Shaal from Ohio and nephews R. James Dunham III (Dianne) from Wellsboro, Peter Dunham from New Jersey and Bruce Dunham (Carol) from Maryland, as well as many great-nieces and nephews.
The family would like to thank family friend Mike Wood and the Wellsboro Physical Therapy staff, whose help and care has enabled John to stay at his home while battling the effects of Parkinson’s Disease.
The family will hold a public memorial service on John’s life at Wellsboro United Methodist Church at a later date. Instead of flowers, the family seeks donations to the Wellsboro United Methodist Church Organ Fund, 36 Main Street, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, 16901, or the Dunham Scholarship at Allegheny College, 520 N. Main Street, Box 21, Meadville, Pa. , 16335, which funds the Tioga County and area students attending Allegheny College. The Tussey-Mosher Funeral Home, Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, was entrusted with the arrangements. To share a reminder or condolences, visit www.tusseymosher.com.
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