When her husband Bob died in a motorcycle accident sixteen years ago, Connie Dunnington understood that life as she knew it had changed.
The couple, married 13 years, were parents of two daughters, then 12 and 10.
Connie knew she needed to redefine her family’s life, creating some new traditions while preserving others. So she resumed an old love - horseback riding, sold the building that had housed Bob's orthodontic practice and built an arena, and introduced her children to the Stirrups and Irons 4-H group, the same club she'd belonged to as a child. She went on to become the club leader, a position she still holds.
She also embraced one of Bob's traditions - and made it her own. A dedicated community volunteer, he'd signed on early as a member of the board of The Foundation at KVH, a non-profit that works to improve community health care.
Two years after Bob's death, Connie got a call. Bob's seat on the board was still vacant, the caller said. Would she be interested in filling it? The answer was yes.
It was a way of continuing his legacy and adding to her own. The board was trying to raise $1 million for an endowment fund but some were questioning whether the effort should continue. She knew Bob had been determined to reach the goal.
"Being on the board maintained some continuation, some kind of a sense of tradition," she says, noting that she and Bob both served terms as president. And after all, she was no stranger to the nuts and bolts of board service. She'd been there helping Bob from the beginning.
"Back in the early days there was no hired director. The board basically worked out of the trunks of their cars," says Connie, who recalls putting together the organization's annual mailing on her kitchen table while her children napped.
Eventually the hospital helped the foundation hire a director. "At that point everything changed," she says. "Everything got easier. We reached the goal. We came up with a plan for how to use the income off the million dollars."
Since 2005, The Foundation has donated over $1.5 million to KVH, including income from the endowment along with other fundraising, to support a variety of projects. Currently, the foundation is running a campaign to help fund the purchase of the first digital mammography machine at KVH.
Foundation director Michele Wurl calls Connie an enthusiastic volunteer who helps with "virtually every foundation activity." That includes helping organize the annual Magical Evening, the foundation's primary fundraising activity as well as leading the annual Tough Enough to Wear Pink campaign during the rodeo. Last year, proceeds funded a free mammogram day.
"We sell beads, t-shirt, bandannas, anything that isn't tied down. One year we sold a pink bucket because someone wanted it," Connie says, laughing.
Her laughter - warm and engaging - is also energizing. That's classic Connie, Wurl says. "She's always willing to do whatever it takes to get the job done. She's smart, funny and truly dedicated to improving health care in this community."
That the foundation has been as effective as it has been is no accident, says Connie who lauds the relationship between the foundation and KVH administration. "You have to have a good relationship and work together," she says. "In the past, it wasn't always that close."
What makes her proudest she says is "just to hear the positive attitudes of people working here. Every time this hospital gets named in the Top 100 you know people are doing things right."
How long will she remain on the board? Connie, now 60, flashes a smile. "It's the same thing I say about 4-H," she says. "I will do it until I don't enjoy it - and right now, I enjoy it."