Jan. 27, 1938 — March 6, 2019
Hundreds of thousands of people square dance. But few people become callers, whose individualized, rhythmic patter directs the dancers into their choreographed moves.
When Lawrence F. Dunn was first invited to a YMCA square dance as a young man, he "wanted no part of it," said his longtime companion, Arlene Nowak. Yet he went on to become a busy and popular Western-style square dance caller who founded three local dance clubs.
A lifelong resident of Kenmore, Mr. Dunn died March 6, 2019, in Kenmore Mercy Hospital. He was 81.
Mr. Dunn was the first child of Lawrence M. Dunn and Mildred Rosinski Dunn and the brother of James M. Dunn.
He graduated from St. Joseph's Collegiate Institute in 1956 and studied business at Bryant & Stratton College. He became an early computer programmer, working in what was then called the "IBM Department" of Sylvania in Buffalo, Dunlop Tire and DuPont in Tonawanda. He completed several training classes in IBM computers at each job, then was hired to manage the IBM Department at CA Hackett on Military Road in the Town of Tonawanda. After that company closed, he worked as a computer consultant until he retired in the 1980s.
But Mr. Dunn was best known for his more than 50 years of involvement in the square dance community.
After finally being coaxed onto the floor at that first square dance, Mr. Dunn realized, "Hmm, I can do this; as a matter of fact I'm pretty good at this," Nowak said. A friend's father who was a caller encouraged Mr. Dunn to give calling a try.
Mr. Dunn started calling square dances in 1964. The same year, he formed his first square dance club, the Village Squares, which continues today. He also formed two other challenge-level clubs for more experienced dancers, the Perfecto's and the Diamond D's, which also remain active.
In his early days as a caller, "he used to memorize the whole dance," Ms. Nowak said.
For his 45th high school reunion, Mr. Dunn wrote of the joy he experienced when his students forgot their cares on the dance floor. "While I was at St. Joe's, I never thought that I would become an entertainer, because I was so shy," he wrote.
Mr. Dunn was known for his style and patience with beginners, Nowak said. "Calling is all teaching," Nowak said. "That's what made him happy, introducing people to square dancing. It's such a fun activity, and he made everything fun because of his personality."
While the popular image of Western square dancers includes women in colorful full skirts supported by layers of crinolines paired with men in matching shirts, Mr. Dunn instructed beginners in street clothes, Nowak said. "He did a lot of parties and block parties, and people came as they were, in jeans or shorts," she said.
The Village Square club was known for its demonstrations at the Erie County Fair, the Kenmore Memorial Day Parade, Darien Lake, Cheektowaga Town Park, First Night Buffalo, the Taste of Buffalo and at many other events.
Mr. Dunn also wrote a square dance call, titled "With the Flow," that has become popular and is widely used, Nowak said.
He was a longtime member of CALLERLAB, the international association of modern Western square dance callers.
Mr. Dunn and Nowak met in October 1980, when she attended a square dance in the Polish Cadets Hall in Buffalo at the encouragement of her boss, who was a square dancer. They were together for more than 38 years.
Mr. Dunn was an amateur genealogist for 40 years. In a nod to his half-Irish heritage, he put together a leprechaun costume that he would wear to St. Patrick's Day parties and dances, Nowak said. "He had pointed shoes, green silk clothes and a top hat," she said.
He was a lifelong member of St. Paul's Roman Catholic Church in Kenmore.
Besides Nowak, Mr. Dunn is survived by his brother James, a niece, two nephews and seven great-nieces and -nephews.
A Mass of Christian Burial will be offered at 10 a.m. Saturday in St. Paul's Catholic Church, 33 Victoria Blvd., Kenmore.