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Northwest Missouri State University

News Release

Nov. 14, 2011

Estate gift to Northwest honors couple’s life together

Laura Belle and Bill Dunning

Laura Belle and Bill Dunning

The Willard F. Dunning estate gift will provide unrestricted support of approximately $125,000 to assist Northwest Missouri State University through the Northwest Foundation’s Venture Fund, which provides financial assistance for the University to respond to special opportunities.

“The Dunnings have demonstrated their generosity in meeting special needs of the University,” said Stacy Carrick, Northwest’s vice president of finance. “This is great news for Northwest and allows us flexibility in funding projects that will benefit our students’ success and the University’s tradition of excellence.”

Dunning, known as “Bill” to his family and friends, was born in St. Joseph in 1920 and attended high school in Winfield, Kan. After a 20-year career with the U.S. Air Force, Dunning retired as a captain in 1960. He then became an aircraft parts salesman for Aviall and was a licensed aircraft mechanic.

In 1964, Dunning married Laura Belle McGrew Phelps, who was raised on a farm near Graham. She enrolled at Northwest in 1934 and then began her career as a vocal music instructor. After her son, Gary Phelps, started school, she returned to Northwest, completed her degree in 1963 and taught in St. Joseph.

The Dunnings valued education and were proud that Gary graduated from college. Gary was dean of students for his alma mater, William Jewell College, at the time of his death in 2001.

“Laura Belle really enjoyed teaching, and Northwest enabled her to do so,” Gary’s widow, Carolyn Phelps, said. “It was tough being a re-entry student, and she appreciated that.”

Phelps recalls inviting the Dunnings to accompany her several years ago to an awards dinner on the Northwest campus. Phelps, who also attended Northwest, had been nominated for a “Beacon Award” for inspirational teachers by her former fifth-grade student, Jealaine Vaccaro Marple, a 2000 alumna who was a Northwest student at the time.

“This made an impression on Bill and Laura Belle as they valued education, and it also served to reconnect the couple with Laura Belle’s alma mater,” Phelps said.

The Dunnings shared 39 years together before Laura Belle’s passing in 2003. Bill died in 2010 at the age of 89, and his estate provision for Northwest is made in both of their names in honor of their many years together.

For more information about the Willard F. Dunning estate gift or other giving opportunities, contact the Northwest Foundation at or 660.562.1248.

For more information, please contact:

Mark Hornickel, Communication Manager | 660.562.1704 | Fax: 660.562.1900

Northwest Missouri State University
215 Administration Building | 800 University Drive | Maryville, MO 64468