Nancy Dunis loves Lake Oswego history so much that she has actually become history. In a manner of speaking.
With her program “Bringing History to Life” Dunis dresses up to resemble Lucille Pollard, a Lake Oswego pioneer woman with such a fascinating history that she is believed (by the gullible) to be the ghost haunting the Oswego Heritage House.
Even if Lucy Pollard isn’t a ghost, she certainly had lots of style in the manner of women in her day. In her performance Dunis wears a large and magnificent hat similar to the one Lucy wore on her wedding day over a century ago, plus all of the other fashionable garments worn by classy women in 1900. Nancy is a blast from the past.
“People just love it,” Dunis said. “They really get excited by the show. It’s a way to show people history instead of them just reading about it.” With a big smile, she added, “Lucy Pollard became my alter ego.”
Normally, those who love history as much as Nancy don’t go to her lengths in their programs; such as, say, dressing up like George Washington or Carrie Nation. But being a person with limitless enthusiasm, Dunis chooses to go the limit.
Surprisingly, it wasn’t too long ago that dressing up like the legendary Lucy would have been the farthest thing from Nancy’s mind. Like so many people, she was not a history lover, or even a history liker. The transformation of Nancy Dunis began when her brother purchased the antique refrigerator from the estate of Dr. William Cane. The wonderful relic set Nancy on a brand new path. She calls it “connecting the historical dots.”
“I started meeting so many people that had strong connections to Lake Oswego history, like Adrienne Brockman,” Dunis said. She has been connecting dots ever since.
Nancy was born and raised a Lake Oswego girl. However, she did have a taste for adventure, and after earning college degrees in Oregon, she decided to go to San Francisco in the late 1960s, during its Summer of Love glory days. It was a time of long hair, free love, marijuana, and no baths.
However, unlike everyone else going to San Francisco, for Dunis there was “no hippie stuff.” She journeyed to Frisco because a friend invited her for a visit, and she ended up staying 10 years. Nancy resisted the lure of Hippie-dom and became a hardworking American girl, and today she laughs about all of the unlikely jobs she took to keep on trucking.
“I gave trampoline lessons, I was a lifeguard, I investigated bad checks being written all over California, and much more.” This was all done so Nancy could afford to go to college and attain her teaching certificate for California, because “being a teacher had been my lifelong dream.”
Unfortunately, Dunis’s dream soon took a belly flop. Brimming with youthful optimism she gladly accepted a position teaching sixth grade at a private school in Walnut Creek, CA. Two years later she couldn’t leave the teaching profession fast enough. She looks back with amazement.
“I absolutely hated teaching,” Nancy said. “Two years was enough. There was so much red tape and bureaucracy, I had no control.”
The breaking point for Dunis involved none other than the headmaster’s daughter. “All students were required to write an essay on California history,” Nancy said, “and it had to be perfect, written in ink and in cursive, with absolutely no errors.”
But the hapless girl did make one infinitesimal mistake (a misspelling) on her essay, and she attempted to correct it by using a tiny piece of paper and gluing it over the error. All heck broke loose.
“It was her own dad who came down on her!” Dunis said.
After this straw broke the camel’s back, Nancy ended her decade in the Capitol of Love and headed back to Lake Oswego for a complete life makeover. For someone as energetic and imaginative as Dunis the transition wasn’t that hard. She decided to become a businesswoman, an entrepreneur. After all, it was in her blood.
Nancy said, “When I started my business, people asked me, ‘Are you related to Dunis Distributing?’ “
Indeed, she was. Her father was Lou Dunis, a highly respected Portland businessman, and his credibility helped Nancy start her own business – Dunis & Associates – in 1980. It was an event planning company which had as many as 400 employees. She did business with such mega corporations as Kellogg’s and General Mills, and there were plenty of highlights, such as meeting Tony the Tiger, the world’s foremost exponent of frosted flakes. It was grrrrrreat.
After many years of profitable planning, Nancy sold her business and went into another extremely unusual line of work. Twelve years ago she joined her brother’s business and became a professional mole trapper. “It’s been really fun,” Nancy said. “Nobody can set a trap as well as my brother. My job was to go get ‘em.”
Besides protecting the lovely lawns of Lake Oswego, Dunis became committed to all kinds of community projects. She finds that her hand always shoots up when volunteers are sought for a project, and she is currently hoping to reach some level of self restraint.
But that doesn’t apply to Lake Oswego history, because
Nancy cannot resist connecting the dots. Besides her living history program, Dunis wrote a column for the Oswego Heritage Council retelling Lake Oswego history, called “From Our Vault” for the Lake Oswego Review. This effort also sparked excitement and enthusiasm, and Dunis struck a chord of dismay when she decided to end the project.
“I’m not a history researcher,” she said. “I’m a re-teller of history stories. I was surprised to find so many history lovers out there, but I shouldn’t have been. The writing in the articles was so personal. When it ended I felt I was letting down so many people.”
Nancy is still a very enterprising soul and her business ideas keep coming, some of them pretty off the wall. Recently, she reactivated Dunis & Associates as a public speaking and writing business.
Still, Lake Oswego history comes first in the heart of Nancy Dunis. She now plans to collect people’s tales of local history and put them in a book. And when it comes to portraying living history, the sky’s the limit. “I love it,” Dunis said. “It’s such a passion.”