People fondly remember Rufus Dunham, known as “Dad Dunham,” the longtime agricultural and farm life sciences teacher at Cary High School. R.S. Dunham Park on Walnut Street, often called Dad Park, is named after him.
Rachel Dunham: My husband’s name was Rufus Sheldon, but everyone called him Dad because he was bald-headed since college. He got his bachelor’s degree from NCSU in 1930, and in 1955 he got his master’s degree in propagation of plants. He taught the boys agriculture for 40 years at Cary High School.
After college, I taught at Cary High. There was a cafeteria in the basement, which is where I met him. All the teachers wanted him. He was anything but good looking, with his bald head. He was a very jovial man, always happy. I was older than him, just a few months, and he always bragged about it.
After we married, we had an apartment in the boy’s dormitory at Cary High. We eventually built our house on Kildaire Farm Road in the 1930s. I taught for several years after we were married, until we had our son and daughter. Dad died in 1997 from cancer.
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Carl Mills: I became principal of Cary High School in 1953. Our students needed vocational training to get jobs after graduating. Cary High only offered home economics and agriculture as vocational training, so other than those two options, they would have to go elsewhere, move away. So at the very least I had to keep the agriculture program going.
Dad Dunham was the guy who made that happen. We designed a horticulture program, where instead of having farm or 4-H projects, the kids would have projects at home. Dad Dunham was a prince, absolutely one of the best. His was a labor of love when dealing with kids.
Clyde “Sonny” Keisler: As an agriculture teacher at Cary High, Dad Dunham had a lot of impact, not just from what he taught but by being the person he was. He was a good role model for a lot of people.
Isobel Stephens: My husband was taught by Dad Dunham. I became good friends with Mrs. Dunham and kind of adopted them as parents. Dad had the driest sense of humor. I loved both of them.
Robert Heater: Mr. Dunham taught me agriculture. During the summertime he would be called on a lot to castrate pigs. He’d come by and get me to help because I was handy.
C.Y. Jordan: Dad Dunham taught me vocational agriculture and was my Sunday School teacher. We went to the same church where he was active. He did so many things to develop the morals and character of the people that came his way. Gov. Jim Hunt did his practice teaching here with Dad Dunham. I’ve heard it said that he held Dad in high regard.
Cary’s Heritage is taken from the book, “Just a Horse-Stopping Place, an Oral History of Cary, North Carolina.” The book is a collection of oral history interviews conducted between residents and Friends of the Page-Walker Hotel.