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Published: Friday, 2/1/2013

Mark Dunham, 1955-2013: Teacher was dedicated to struggling students

BY MARK ZABORNEY
BLADE STAFF WRITER

PORT CLINTON — Mark Dunham, a math teacher in several of Toledo’s public high schools known for working long hours to tutor struggling students, died Saturday at his home in Ottawa County’s Catawba Island Township. He was 57.

Mr. Dunham learned in May that he had pancreatic cancer, his wife, Susan, said. During his illness, he received mail from hundreds of former students — including some from the early part of his 28-year career. Many were handwritten letters of a page or more.

“I have two full boxes of them,” his wife said. “It was quite incredible, and it gave him great comfort that he had really helped these many students.”

Mr. Dunham taught the last several years at Toledo Early College High School. Despite his commute, he often arrived before his colleagues, who would find him working with students, some of whom “were taking some pretty heavy University of Toledo math classes,” said Randy Nissen, a history teacher at the school.

“He was dedicated and kind and funny,” Mr. Nissen said. “He took things in stride, and he was really good at what he did, and the kids adored him.”

Mr. Dunham previously taught at Waite and Rogers high schools and East Toledo Junior High School.

He hated to give anyone less than a passing grade. He took it as a personal failure, his wife said. That hardly led to grades without merit. Students had chances for extra credit, and he tutored them.

“His style was you need to learn the essentials, and he felt it wasn’t fair to pass somebody on if they were only going to fail in the next thing,” his wife said.

“He wanted to help people to go forward in their lives and wanted to teach them that mathematics is essential to every part of life,” she said. “It doesn’t matter what you go into, you’re still going to need to understand mathematics.”

Mr. Dunham had a quick smile and a quick wit and was a teacher outside the classroom too, his wife said.

“If you had the opportunity to meet Mark Dunham and to know him well, he would be not just a friend, but a mentor to everybody he met,” his wife said. “He would challenge people to become the best they can be.”

He played varsity tennis at Port Clinton High School and Oberlin College and coached the sport at Rogers and Waite in Toledo. He taught that tennis is a sport for gentlemen and gentle ladies, with elements of art and grace akin to dance, his wife said.

He was born Aug. 26, 1955, in Fort Knox, Ky., to Nancy and Richard Dunham. He grew up in Port Clinton and was a 1973 graduate of Port Clinton High School. He attended Oberlin College and received a bachelor’s degree in history from Miami University.

His parents were respected teachers in the Port Clinton schools.

“He thought it was a really good thing to follow in their footsteps to make a difference,” his wife said. “He decided he wanted to be a teacher, and there was a huge demand for mathematics at the time, and he was skillful in mathematics. He was just an overall smart guy.”

He received a teaching certificate in mathematics from Bowling Green State University and later a master’s degree in mathematics education from the University of Toledo.

He was a new teacher and a newlywed as he started his math teaching career in the Put-in-Bay, Ohio, schools for two years. The couple lived on South Bass Island at the time, with Mrs. Dunham commuting to her mainland nursing job by ferry or plane.

Surviving are his wife, Susan Dunham, whom he married Aug. 26, 1982; son, Michael Dunham; parents, Nancy and Richard Dunham; sister, Suzannah Wittenmyer, and brother, Theo Dunham.

Memorial services will be at 11 a.m. Feb. 9 in the Gerner-Wolf-Walker Funeral Home, Port Clinton, with visitation after 10 a.m.

The family suggests tributes to Stein Hospice.

Contact Mark Zaborney at: mzaborney@theblade.com or 419-724-6182.



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