A youthful twinkle dances in Jessie Dunn’s eyes as she looks in the mirror and then at her daughter, Barbara Glidden. She still cuts her own snow-white hair, takes care of her Terra Cove home in Nokomis and tends to her garden. Her pants and shoes are pristine white, and her shirt contains no wrinkles. A rose blush is evident on her cheekbones; light-blue eye shadow makes her soft brown eyes pop; and pink lipstick lines her kind smile.
Dunn was born Jan. 20, 1913, in London. On Sunday, she will become a centenarian. The walls of her home are lined with paintings, family photographs and evidence of her travels. Collectible porcelain dolls, teddy bears, books, aged photographs and plates adorn her home. It’s clear her life has been full of love and adventure.
When Dunn was a baby, her family moved to Detroit to join her uncle in the dairy business. While in high school, Dunn worked to save money for college. In 1929, she stood in line at the bank — she was 10th — to withdraw the money she had saved. But before it was her turn, the bank’s staff told everyone there was no money. The Great Depression had hit. She walked out of the bank and immediately into a dime store across the street where she got a job making $10 a week. The job paid her way through Michigan State University.
Dunn met her first husband and the love of her life, Robert Glidden, in her early 20s while working at Fisherman’s Paradise, a tourist resort in Michigan. They married June 30, 1940, in Birmingham, Mich. She gave birth to her only child, Barbara, three years later and moved to Mount Pillar, Ohio. Robert Glidden ran a Western Auto Store while Dunn was an art teacher at a school.
“In a town of 4,000 people, everyone knew Dad and, of course, Mom,” says Barbara Glidden. The family would visit Sarasota every year until they moved here in 1960. Dunn and Robert Glidden purchased their Siesta Key home on the Grand Canal for $1,000.
“Everybody wanted to live on Siesta Key,” Dunn says. “It was a beautiful place to live.” Today, Barbara Glidden lives in that home and maintains the large property. Robert Glidden died of prostate cancer in 1971. Dunn’s next two husbands also died of cancer. Her third husband, Mal Dunn, died in the early ’80s. Dunn has not remarried.
But, even after the loss of three husbands, when asked the most challenging thing she’s faced, Dunn says, “I don’t think I had any difficulties. I am a very positive person, and I can’t think of anything I would have changed.”
Dunn worked as an art teacher for more than 40 years. She started teaching while living in Detroit and later in Mount Pillar, Ohio, where she would take her students on field trips to bigger cities. This was before field trips became the norm. Dunn wanted to show her students various art mediums, and in a small town such as Mount Pillar, that was difficult to do. A local reporter wrote about their trips.
In 1962, Dunn became the first art teacher in Sarasota County Schools. Her aged face breaks into a grin as she reminisces about her drive across a grass field to get to the small Brentwood School.
“Teaching art was no effort for me,” Dunn explains. “I would try to connect it with holidays and things happening with the world and country.”
She didn’t believe in grading her students’ creativity.
“We didn’t grade Picasso,” said Dunn, “so I didn’t feel I should grade my students.”
Dunn has been on two world tours; the second one was 10 years ago, when she was 90. She spent two months traveling from Greece, to Yemen, to Bangkok. She flips through photographs of her riding a camel, smiling in front of the pyramids and enjoying the tropical breeze in the Caribbean. In many photographs, she stands with locals who were naturally drawn to her smiles and quick wit, a trait she acquired from years of teaching. Barbara Glidden recalls while they were in Egypt there were guides wary of whether Dunn could climb hundreds of steps in the pyramids.
“She just said, ‘Give me that,’ and grabbed the ticket,” Barbara Glidden says laughing. “She has always been feisty.”
Dunn has lived her life by her personal motto: “Love many, trust few, paddle your own canoe.” At 100 years old, Dunn is happy with her life and wouldn’t change anything. “I am very fortunate to have lived to 100. I have been around the world twice, have lost three beautiful husbands to cancer,” she explains. “I am never depressed or unhappy, and I don’t hope for a lot. I accept life as it comes.”