Living a dream

Published 2:45 pm Thursday, September 22, 2005

By Staff
Francis Dunn has been blessed throughout life one note at a time
By Janet Little Cooper
Not everyone is fortunate enough to work in the job of his or her dreams.
Atmore native and businesswoman Francis Dunn is an exception. Dunn has seen two of her life dreams come to fruition.
Dunn, formerly Francis Earle, daughter of Marguerite and the late Herman B. Earle of Atmore, got an early start in life that prepared her for success in following her dreams.
She was born into a musical family. Dunn's father played many instruments, but primarily piano, by ear. Her grandmother was an accomplished concert pianist, as well as her aunt. Dunn's childhood was surrounded by music.
"I played the piano for the first time when I was three-years-old," Dunn said, "My dad begged, Julia Kearly, from Atmore to teach me how to read notes when I turned five."
Kearly typically didn't take students until they were at least eight years old and knew how to read, Dunn recalls. Kearly was hesitant because she knew Dunn couldn't read and therefore would not be able to read music.
"My dad told her he didn't care because I could play by ear." Dunn said.
By the time Dunn turned seven, she was playing the piano at her grandmothers church, Annie Jones Methodist in Walnut Hill, Fla. She also played at her parent's church in Atmore, First United Methodist.
"My parents would carry me to my grandmother's church for their nine o'clock service, then would carry me back to our church at 10 a.m. for Sunday school." Dunn said. "Then I would play the piano for the 11 o'clock service."
Dunn had moved on to advanced lessons as she entered the fifth grade. Kearly, her instructor, recommended that Dunn move to another level by taking private lessons with a professional instructor in Mobile. Earle, Dunn's father, took her every Thursday afternoon for years to lessons in Mobile and Pensacola.
Dunn managed school and lessons well. So well that she was able to begin pursuing one of her first loves. At the age of 12, she started playing the piano full-time at First United Methodist, her home church.
In addition to being a full time pianist, Dunn played for the Episcopal Church, Atmore Assembly of God, and was the pianist for two youth choirs at Atmore First Baptist. Dunn also worked as a pianist for Johnson-Quimby funeral home in Atmore as well as playing for the ECHS glee club.
Dunn admits that she didn't have a childhood, but she has no regrets. Dunn was also able to be a cheerleader during her junior and senior high years. Sports were another great love of hers.
"My parents didn't want me to cheer but finally gave in," Dunn commented, "I still love sports. I just can't help it."
Dunn's love for both music and sports intermingled together without interruption as she left Atmore in search of a dream. Dunn graduated from Huntington College with a Bachelor of Music in Applied Organ and Piano.
It was at college that Dunn's life began to pursue yet another dream. In addition to her music and cheer schedules, Dunn participated in a work-study program as a way to assist in her financial needs for school. She worked in the college library for at least two hours a day. And as if that wasn't enough, Dunn was an ambassador who helped freshmen make the difficult transition from home to school. One of the students she assisted in her junior year was also a junior who had been recruited from a college in Madison, FL on a basketball scholarship. The two had to sit together in the twice-weekly religious convocation service.
"We had to sit in alphabetical order, and his last name was Dunn and mine was Earle," Dunn recalled, " We started talking and became friends."
The couple married in 1969 as they prepared to enter their senior year of school together.
"Wayne was in accounting and I majored in music, but also took some law classes."
Dunn said. Wayne Dunn, her husband, shared the same sort of drive and determination she did.
The pair graduated and were made attractive offers right away. Wayne in accounting and Francis in law.
"I worked in a law firm as a para-legal and Wayne was offered a partnership in an accounting firm." Dunn said. The young couple moved to Prattville, AL where Wayne joined the firm and Dunn took a step of faith by accepting an offer from her employer to manage a title company that needed to be reorganized to survive.
"Within two years I was able to succeed in the goals set forth by the company owner," Dunn said, "It was then that they offered me a share of the business."
Dunn's obvious success was a prelude of things to come.
Mr. Herman B. Earle had owned and operated a jewelry store in Atmore all of his daughters life. Dunn spent time in her parents store as a child and traveled with them to market.
"My dad went into business with his eye doctor from Mobile," Dunn said, "His doctor wanted to open a practice in Atmore." Earle opened Atmore Jewelers on one side selling and repairing jewelry while the Mobile ophamotologist did eye exams on the other. Dunn's father bought out the doctor's share when he decided to return his practice once more to Mobile. Earle operated a successful jewelry business for over 43 years according to Dunn.
While the young couple enjoyed success and began a family, Dunn noticed a jewelry store for sale next door to her office. After talking to her husband about purchasing the store, Dunn called home to consult with her dad.
"My dad told me that if I wanted to buy a jewelry business, I could buy his," Dunn said,
"But you'll have to come home." Dunn went home to visit her parents. She had no idea how much that one visit would change her families life and lead her closer to her secondary dream in life.
"I discovered that my dad had been diagnosed with a terminal illness called Bight's Disease." Dunn said, "My mom wanted me to come home."
The Dunn's moved to Atmore in 1978 and took over the family business,
According to Dunn, her husband agreed to get her set up in the business, but ultimately wanted to open an accounting firm in Atmore.
"He watched my dad on the bench. Wayne loved it and my dad loved him," Dunn said, "Wayne was a natural." It wasn't long before Wayne deicide he could have the best of both world's. He would do all the books for the jewelry store as well as repairing and selling.
The Dunn's had to transition from a really good situation where they were in Prattville, to the slow-paced life of Atmore. The family faced a traumatic series of events within months of returning home.
"Little did I know, when I came back in 1978, that my grandmother would die, followed by my father's death on Thanksgiving Day in 1980." Dunn added. Losing family members that were very dear to her was not the only thing Dunn could not foresee.
Dunn would return to her first love of music at her home church – First United Methodist.
"I was able to walk right back into the organist position when we returned in '78." Dunn added. Her passion and drive, similar to that of her father's, continues to be full time organist at First Methodist as well as choir director for both children and adults.
With her dreams still in sight, Dunn began selling china in the jewelry store. She also became a registered National Bridal Services Consultant.
"I played the piano for the first time in a wedding 30 years ago," Dunn responded, " After being registered, I started participating in weddings out of town." Thus the beginning of a dream Dunn had for years.
"I started sewing when I was six or seven years old, Dunn said, " Millie Lambert, a lady who worked for us, taught me how to sew." She began cutting patterns out of newspaper and began smaking clothes for her Barbie's as rapidly as she could. Dunn recalls making wedding dresses and veils for her dolls.
Dunn's husband encouraged her to pursue her dream. In 1992 she bought the gutted building next door to Earle's doing major renovations prior to opening Jasmine's Place on Oct. 31st. Dunn moved all of the china from Earle's to Jasmines. The store became an immediate success with customers in the market for formals, china, fine clothing, tuxedos and bridal gowns.
" We had been told by others in the same market to prepare for at least seven years of breaking even," Dunn recalls, "Our first year scared us because it was so tremendous."
Dunn already had an established name in the area as a bridal consultant. People were familiar and comfortable with her.
"I was scared to death. The jewelrlly store was a good security blanket," Dunn recounts, "I had been in it all my life" But Dunn moved on knowing that her parents would be proud of her by not allowing anything to hold her back
Dunn has never dreaded going to work for the past 13 years. Jasmines is a place she loves to be. The only regret she has is that she didn't open Jasmines sooner.
"I didn't have enough confidence in myself to do this sooner than I did." Dunn said.
She may have waited, but Dunn has certainly fulfilled a life long dream. According to her, the inception of Jasmines has been the most wonderful time of her life.
"I continue to share in my customers lives at some of the most important points of their time," Dunn added, " When they have babies, the mothers bring them in for me to see. I get pictures all the time."
Dunn believes that God has blessed her life with the people she has met has a result of her business.
"I have truly belonged to God since a young child," Dunn said, " All of these things in my life have been in his (God) control."
Health issues that began eight years ago with a stroke are forcing Dunn to close Jasmine's. Her doctors have wanted her to do so two years ago, but Dunn has found it hard to let go. A degenerative muscular problem is making the decision for her.
Dunn will shut the doors to one dream in the near future, but will continue her pursuit of her first love, music. Dunn will remain at First Untied Methodist playing, singing and leading others through her god-given musical abilities as long as the church will have her.
"Earle's will stay open." Dunn added, "I plan to help Wayne out as much as I can."
Dunn, who has accomplished so much, refuses to live in fear of her medical condition. She already has her eyes set on another mission that will involve local disaster assistance and recovery in the wake of natural and manmade disasters.
Dunn doesn't like to use the word retirement, she would rather think of it as a time of more things to come. Whatever path Dunn finds her self-walking down in years to come, you can be certain it will be one of success.
"We are just small town people who love and care about others." Dunn commented.
The Dunn's have two daughters, Christy and Tracy along with three grandchildren and one more on the way.

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