Leawood Mayor Builds on UMKC Foundation

Elizabeth Golden

Peggy Dunn is dressed in a bright pink suit. Her fingernails are painted a vivid shade of orange and her dark brown eyes move with every expression. Trinkets and pictures sit on her desk as her computer constantly beeps with incoming emails. Dunn, UMKC alumna, is the current mayor of Leawood, Kan.

An avid piano player with an interest in helping others, Dunn graduated in 1972 with a degree in sociology and several years of work in the Conservatory.

“I had been playing piano since third grade,” Dunn said. “I loved it, but I wanted to go into liberal arts so I would have a broader base.”

She originally began her college education at the University of Kansas, working on a degree in psychology.

“My boyfriend – now husband – went to Rockhurst University,” she said. “It was difficult because I spent every weekend on the road. I felt like being closer to him would be better for me.”

They met her senior year in high school after being introduced by their parents.

“Our mothers went to high school together,” she said. “We were set up on a blind date. It was such a blind date that he didn’t even know what I looked like. My sister opened the door and he thought it was me. We’ve been together ever since.”

After transferring to UMKC, she decided to focus on sociology instead of psychology because she believed there would be more opportunities.

“In order to get a good job in psychology, I would have needed to get my PhD,” she said.

Dunn was a member of Phi Kappa Phi and Mortar Board,working part time as a bookkeeper and helping her boyfriend organize fraternity parties. Dunn graduated with honors.

She married in December 1971, only a few months before graduating.

Following graduation, she said she realized it was one of the worst times to graduate with a degree in sociology.

“There were very few jobs available,” she said. “Even those with master’s degrees were struggling to find work.”

She took a job working as an administrative assistant for Folgers Coffee and taught piano on the side.

After two years, Dunn left Folgers to start a family, but continued to teach piano for the next 10 years while she stayed home to raise her family.

Seven years and four kids later, she transferred her love of social work to volunteer work and began to become actively engaged in the Leawood community.

“I started working on some boards and with many nonprofit organizations,” she said.

She was the board chairman of the United Way of Greater Kansas City and currently serves on several boards, including the Johnson County Community College Foundation, the Salvation Army, Starlight Theatre, Children’s Mercy Hospital, the Greater Kansas City Community Foundation, the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts and Union Station.

Dunn is extensively involved with the university and the Bloch School. In 2009, she began working as a senior fellow for the Bloch School’s Midwest Center for Nonprofit Leadership. She is also co-chairing UMKC’s 80th anniversary with class of 1967 graduate and two-time Pulitzer Prize winning journalist Jim Steele.

“I feel fulfillment through community involvement,” she said. “It makes me feel worthwhile for helping out.”

Through her volunteer work, she started to work alongside elected officials who encouraged her to run for city council in 1993.

After two terms – four years – on city council, she was encouraged to run for mayor. She ran in 1997 and has held the position ever since.

“I really enjoy it,” she said. “I love working with people.”

She said she feels the community has greatly improved since taking over the position.

“We used to be a bedroom community, but we’ve grown into a diversified tax base,” she said. “The community has experienced such rapid growth.”

In 1997, Leawood landmarks such as Town Center Plaza weren’t even in the planning stages.

“There was nothing here,” she said.

According to the 2012 census, the population was estimated to be more than 32,000, a 15 percent increase.

She has overseen the development of Town Center, Park Place and the recent move of the AMC Entertainment corporate headquarters.

The increase in population and buildings wouldn’t be possible without the city’s volunteers, she said.

“We have 300 paid staff members as well as 300 volunteers,” she said. “We couldn’t do it all without the volunteers. Volunteering really is such a great way to leave a handprint on the community.”

She believes her personal and professional accomplishments wouldn’t be possible without her own volunteer experiences.

“Volunteering has truly enriched my life and given me a broad circle of friends,” she said. “I’ve definitely gained more than I’ve given. My advice for others is to grow, learn and take time to give back. You’ll never be sorry.”

Dunn said UMKC had a big impact on her future, and credits the university for many of her accomplishments.

“UMKC was an excellent choice for me,” she said. “Students were so serious about academics and professors truly cared.”

Living in Kansas City also attributed to her passion for volunteering and community involvement.

“A great city needs a great university,” she said.