Jul 26, 2014

Plymouth Auto Aficionado Margaret Dunning Cruises to 102

Car buff and museum benefactor Margaret Dunning celebrates 102nd birthday.

Plymouth Auto Aficionado Margaret Dunning Cruises to 102 Plymouth Auto Aficionado Margaret Dunning Cruises to 102

Classic car enthusiast and philanthropist Margaret Dunning says there's no secret behind her ability to remain younger at heart than her years might reflect.

Dunning, a longtime Plymouth resident who often draws attention while cruising in her favorite automobile — a 1930 Packard 740 roadster — turned 102 on Tuesday.

"No secret at all," Dunning said, "It's just a nice world to live in."

Dunning celebrated her 102nd birthday Thursday with friends at the , a downtown landmark that could aptly be called the House That Margaret Built.

The museum is celebrating its 50th year this year, but it was Dunning's generosity as its primary benefactor that allowed it to remain a functioning chronicle of Plymouth's history.

Dunning had put forth $100,000 of her own money in 1971 for a 15,000-square-foot building to house artifacts from her hometown when the Plymouth Historical Society was in need of a new building. When the musem needed additional space for an Abraham Lincoln memorabilia exhibit in 1998, Dunning against stepped forward with a $1 million personal donation to add an additional 9,800 square feet across two floors.

"She has been a wonderful friend of the museum, of course," said Elizabeth Kerstens, executive director at the museum. "She has been generous with the money she's been fortunate to make, and it has, I believe, greatly impacted this community."

Dunning, who never married, was a bank worker in the 1930s and 40s, and was once a victim of a bank robbery, Kerstens said. Later, Dunning became a business owner, operating Dunning's, a department store in downtown Plymouth, through the 1950s and 1960s.

Dunning a living witness to Plymouth history

Dunning shares a unique perspective of the history reflected in exhibits at the museum she built: She's a living witness for much of it.

"You get interested in (the historical periods), and you go back and start reading more and more, and you go, 'I guess I was there at that time,'" Dunning said.

Kerstens said Dunning's sharp recollection of history in Plymouth helps when identifying people and landmarks featured in items donated to the museum.

"It's fun because sometimes, if we get a picture or an artifact, we will occasionally ask Margaret, 'Do you remember?' for whatever it is, and nine times out of 10 she will," Kerstens said. "Though she says her 'forgetter is getting better.'"

Dunning said sometimes it doesn't occur to her how much Plymouth has changed in the time she's lived here.

"I always say I don't see any changes, then people start pointing things out and (I realize) yes, I have seen a lot of changes," Dunning said. "You wear into them, or they wear into you."

Lifelong car buff fond of her Packard roadster

Dunning took a liking to automobiles while growing up on her father's potato farm in nearby Redford in the 1910s and early 1920s.

Now sporting a classic car collection of her own, she treasures her prized 1930 Packard 740 roadster, which she said she has owned — and maintained — for about 60 years and showcases at exhibits.

"I've always loved Packards very much," Dunning said. "They've been very much a part of my life."

This year, Dunning has been invited to exhibit the roadster at the Concours d'Elegance in Pebble Beach, CA in August. She previously exhibited the vehicle at Plymouth's Concours d'Elegance event in 2011 and has participated in the Woodward Dream Cruise in Metro Detroit in multiple years.

The vehicle also earned Dunning a feature story in the New York Times in 2011.

"(That car) has brought a lot of attention," she said. "It is an eye-catcher and it's the first car to get 100 points at the Classic Car Club. It's an old sweetheart of a car."

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