Biography of Bobbie J. Dunning

Bobbie J. Dunning. Some men in the course of their careers gain wealth, others high public position, but probably the greatest good fortune that comes to any one is a wealth of esteemed and true-hearted friendship such as surrounded the late Bobbie J. Dunning of Kansas City, Kansas. He was one of the widest known Masons in the state, and had pre-eminently the faculty of making and retaining friends. He was by no means unsuccessful in business, and started in a small way, and though still a young man at the time of his death, he built up one of the most complete jewelry stores in Kansas City, Kansas.

His life was a continuation of the careers of pioneer families in this section of the state. Mr. Dunning was born in Kansas City, Kansas, November 29, 1868, and died there February 2, 1911, at the comparatively early age of forty-three. He was one of the three children of Robert and Alvira (Bebee) Dunning, the former a native of Philadelphia and the latter of Council Bluffs, Iowa. Alvira Bebee was a granddaughter of one of the first white men to come into the Indian reservations of the West, being sent by the Government long before white settlers had chosen the country west of the Missouri River as homes. Robert Dunning was a painter and decorator by trade, and coming west at an early age lived for a time at Council Bluffs, Iowa, where he married and in 1854 he brought his family to Kansas, locating at Old Wyandotte. He was one of the pioneers in what is now Kansas City, Kansas, and for many years was employed as an interior decorator and also as a builder. He founded and built the old Dunning Opera House, the first theater in either Kansas City, Kansas, or Kansas City, Missouri. It was located at the corner of Fourth and State streets and was a famous show place in its time. It was the first place in Kansas City, Kansas, used to hold city and county conventions. Practically every leading troupe or theatrical played in the house, and those who can look back in their careers fifty or sixty years have many interesting recollections of the old play house. Robert Dunning operated this house until his death, about 1891. He was prominent in the Masonic Order and gave his time and means liberally for the good of the community. His wife was well known socially and active in the Congregational Church. Robert Dunning was a republican without political aspirations, and became a very successful man, though he had begun life with very little school education.

B. J. Dunning grew up in Kansas City, Kansas, attended the public schools and was a graduate of the Palmer’s Academy. He was still a boy when he entered the jewelry store established by his brother Edwin, and learned the trade of jeweler. At the age of eighteen he was active in business and gradually built up a large trade. He was one of the first opticians in Kansas City, and the practice of that profession was a large factor in his success. At the time of his death he had one of the largest stores in Kansas City, Kansas, and also owned considerable real estate. Public spirit went hand in hand with business success, and he was ever ready to give time and thought to the consideration of a movement for the general benefit, and found the greatest delight in aiding and working with his friends. He was also a factor in democratic politics and was at various times mentioned for public office, though he steadfastly refused to consider any such proffers.

On November 28, 1889, Mr. Dunning married Miss Minnie Banbury, who was born at Ingersoll, Province of Ontario, Canada. Her parents, Charles and Almira (Waggoner) Banbury, were natives, respectively, of England and Canada. Jesse F. Woodward, a grandfather of Mrs. Banbury, was a private in the War of 1812, serving throughout that struggle and being given a grant of land for his services in Wisconsin. His father, Caleb Woodward, was a Revolutionary soldier and captain of a company. The Waggoner family originated in Germany, and in coming to America the ship on which they were passengers was captured by pirates and they were held for some time as prisoners. The Waggoners came west from New York.

The late B. J. Dunning attended worship in the Congregational Church. He found the best expression of his social spirit through the Masonic Order. He was a member of Wyandotte Lodge No. 272, Ancient, Free and Accepted Masons, but was especially active in the Scottish Rite bodies. He was secretary of the building committee and one of the organizers of the Masonic Temple of Kansas City, Kansas, and on account of his important services was given the supreme honorary thirty-third degree in the Scottish Rite. He was also a member of the Abdallah Temple of the Mystic Shrine at Leavenworth and was frequently a delegate to national conventions. Both he and his wife are members of the Eastern Star. Mrs. Dunning since her husband’s death had shown great capability in the management of the business, in which she is actively assisted by Mr. Dunning’s brother Edwin. Mrs. Dunning is an active member of the Presbyterian Church. She had one son, Robert, who is now a student in the Kansas City (Kansas) High School.


Kansas City Kansas,

Connelley, William E. A Standard History of Kansas and Kansans. Chicago : Lewis, 1918. 5v. Biographies can be accessed from this page: Kansas and Kansans Biographies.

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