Oral History of Sue Dunning
Interview conducted by David Sherwood March 8, 2008
Sue Dunning is a good example of the All-American girl. She grew up in a town she loved where adventures and experiences followed her. Her journey as a youth in Gilbert, good and bad, helped shape her future.
Born March 12th 1948 to parents Ralph and Alice Crater, Sue had an older sister Virginia and an older brother Thomas. They lived in Colorado until the town they lived in, Holyoake, became depressed with lack of work. Ralph and Alice wanted their children to be able to go to college, and they couldn't give their children that if they stayed in Holyoake. They decided to move to Gilbert because Sue's uncle owned the Pharmacy in town. Sue's mother became a teacher there and taught at Gilbert Elementary. Her father was a barber by trade, but had to work on paving the town streets and sidewalks until he could get his license to cut hair in the state of Arizona. Once he got his license he opened his own barber shop.
When asked about how it was to grow up in Gilbert, Sue exclaimed, "I was a free spirit, and there wasn't any dangers out there." She could ride her bike anywhere she wanted, walk anywhere she wanted, and do almost anything she could think of. Her friend Betty would float little messages down the canal where Sue would scoop them up with a net. They had telephones, but this way was much more enjoyable. Her "great adventures" started at about age 10. Sue and her friends started a club with the focus of education. They wanted to educate themselves about any and everything. One of the activities that they did was to call the local manager of a cotton gin and arrange a tour. The manger took them through with no hard hats or anything. She remembers seeing hot dripping water and watching the seeds be ginned and the cotton bailed. No adults aided in arranging the tour or went along with them, just the club. On a different occasion, Sue and her friends wanted to go shopping in Phoenix. They were driven into Mesa to a bus stop. They then took the bus to downtown Phoenix to go to Diamond's Department Store. Sue remembers buying two dresses and a blouse. These were some of her first store bought clothes. After shopping they returned to Mesa by bus where their ride was nowhere to be found. The girls decided to start walking home. They walked a little ways until their ride found them. With no worries or dangers on their minds, they had a carefree day. Another activity the girls were involved in was to dig a new community pool. In the alleyway behind her house, Sue and her friends started digging a hole. They kept digging it bigger and bigger. They thought that when the city saw the hole, they would have to make it the new city pool.
Another time, Sue remembers being dropped off with only five dollars at the State Fair. She was able to ride every ride and eat anything she wanted. Her parents did not pick her up until late. Sue also remembers spending her summers at the community pool. There would be student counsel parties or church parties, but the kids did not need a reason to get together and they would stay there all day. She bought her first Dr. Pepper in the bottle at the pool, and still loves it to this day. These are just some of the many wonderful memories of her times growing up in Gilbert.
When her family moved to Gilbert, she was in the fourth grade. She was very home sick her first year in Arizona, but had no problems after that. She remembers popping popcorn in the court yard for five cents a bag. She enjoyed running and was part of track and field. "It was a traditional, typical school with its ups and downs, but I had good times." Sue said she is a "life long learner". She has a Master's in Education through ASU, and teaches at Gilbert Elementary. She continues to take classes to this day.
While in college Sue met Jerry Hurst and they got married. Soon after they had their first child. Sue then started teaching at Gilbert Elementary where her mother had taught. But when she became pregnant with her second son while working at the school, problems arose. It was the school policy that pregnant women could not teach, and she had to take a leave from the school. Around the same time, Sue's husband left her. She was now a single mother, pregnant, and without work. Sue's parents stepped in to help her during this difficult time. Because she couldn't work, Sue was able to further her education during her pregnancy withthe help of her parents. She went to ASU to get her Master's degree in Education during this time.
The following years were difficult for a single mother. After graduating, she returned to teaching and was making $6000 a year. She had to find a second job to be able to support her family. She was a single mother for sixteen years. Her parents continued to watch her children while Sue was working a second job to be able to pay the bills. During this time she was able to buy a home one street over from her parents. After years of working a second job as a waitress, Sue went to work for Sears. It turned out to be a good job for her. They would give her more work during the summer months, and then cut her hours back during the school year. While working at Sears, Sue met Bill Dunning. Their co-workers were trying to set them up, but before she would go out with him, she had to find out what kind of man he was. She asked everybody she could, what he was like; did he drink, do drugs, what was his life
style, but everybody told her he was a great guy. He passed the test, and they began dating. Sue and Bill have now been married twenty years, and have blended family of six children. Sue says that Bill is, "my best friend."
Living through the woman's movement was "bitter sweet." Sue remembers only a few times in her life where she felt discriminated against. In school she really enjoyed the sciences and hoped to become a scientist or dietician. One day her chemistry teacher took her into his office and showed her a group IQ test that had been taken. Her teacher said, "You're too dumb to go into science and you should drop my class." Another time was when she had to take a leave from teaching after becoming pregnant. When she signed her first mortgage, she remembers the verbiage being that she was just a single mother, and the lenders were going to let her try to take a loan. She was also told that she was just a woman, and would not be able to understand politics. All of these things lead her to believe that things had to change. No one had the right to tell anyone that they were too dumb to do anything. The women's rights movement gave women a voice and the ability to speak up and stand up for themselves. Along the way, Sue thinks something was abandoned with this new found freedom: the basic moral values that mothers would teach their children. As a teacher, Sue sees the way that children talk to their parents and the way they act. She believes that while much good came from the woman's movement, family and morality suffered for it.
Sue loved growing up in a small town, with good friends, a great family life and strong morals. This town helped mold her into the woman she is today. Sue has lived a good life and is a perfect example of what a mother really is. She knew what was required to raise a family and sacrificed with a happy heart to do so. Because of her strong determination to succeed, she rose above her challenges.
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Photos courtesy of the family.