NORMAL – It took a little cajoling from the staff of Bloomington-based Boys & Girls Club to get Dorian “Dodie” Dunson to attend Normal’s annual “Mayor’s Appreciation Reception” Thursday, July 17 at the Braden Ballroom of the Bone Student Center on Illinois State University’s campus. But seeing him surprised as Mayor Chris Koos named Dunson Normal’s “Citizen of the Year” made convincing him to attend worth it for colleagues and family members who saw the honor bestowed on him.

Koos told the gathering Dunson “effected the quality of life for countless individuals in our community.”

Dunson, 60, told the gathering after being announced for the award, “I love the community. I truly love the community.” He added he met his wife of 35 years, Jaci, 39 years ago in Normal so the Town has “a special place in my heart.” Hearing that personal note, those attending the gathering applauded. He thanked Koos, City Manager Pam Reece, and Town Council members for the honor.

Prior to announcing Dunson as the recipient of the honor, Koos informed the gathering of roughly 300 people that the mission of the Boys & Girls Club was to “empower all young people, especially those who need it most, to reach their full potential as a productive, caring, responsible citizen.” He added the Town “has a history of recognizing citizens of the year who are humble and unassuming, never expecting or receiving recognition. It’s these kind of characteristics to identify these kinds of individuals who have had a lasting impact on our lives.”

After Dunson’s name was announced by Koos and applauded by those in attendance, Koos detailed some of the reasons he was given the accolade. “Dodie is described as a mentor, coach, role model, friend, and father figure to countless youth. He goes above and beyond, coaching kids in sports and in life.” Koos added Dunson has been described as “quiet and impactful.”

After the formal program, Dunson told reporters, “You know, I was really caught off guard. I didn’t expect it. I thought we were coming as a group, as a club, for an award. I had no idea. My wife, my co-workers kept me off guard.”

“I have a passion for what I do,” Dunson added during the interview. “I work with the youth in the community, sometimes, the youth nobody really wants to work with. I’m there for them to help them build dreams, to help them overcome a troubled past and life that the kids have.”

Having grown up in public housing in Bloomington, Dunson said he has overcome his circumstances in order to get where he is currently. He referred to his mother as “my rock, who taught me right from wrong. I try to instill in the kids there’s a better way of doing things.

Dunson said his job is “second nature” to him. “If you’re a caring person, you care about the kids and you believe in them. Kids will trust you.” Asked if the kids who are at the Boys & Girls Club will be inspired by his winning the award, Dunson said, “They will be. They will be.”

The Boys & Girls Club took over the Western Avenue Community Center in 2017, Dunson pointed out, adding he has had a personal relationship with the center for 44 years.

Jaci Dunson said a phone call from City Manager Pam Reece let her on her in on the honor her husband was to receive about three days before the event. She said to keep from giving it away, she called her sister out of town to inform her of the honor.

Dunson is the 66th individual named for the honor since it was established in the 1950s. Past recipients have included: Clarence Ropp (1960); Howard J. Hancock (1976); Hal Riss, Jr. (1982); Stanley R. Ommen (1994); Edward Jelks (2004); and Myra Gordon (2012). The honor has gone to a married couple five times during its history, the last couple to receive the honor being Dan and Kathy Steadman in 2014.

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