Dunning Bridge dedication

By Wayne E. Rivet
Staff Writer

TOUCHING MOMENT — Sally Dunning (left) sports a big smile as she and her daughter, Jessie (Dunning) Toohey, cut the ribbon at the bridge’s boardwalk entry while Peter Lowell looks on, signifying the official opening of the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge — the gateway to Pondicherry Park in Bridgton. The dedication ceremony was held Saturday. (Rivet Photos)

As Sally Dunning walked through the sudden snow squall and across the boardwalk leading from the bridge, she smiled.

She knew Bob was looking down, and he would be very proud of the tribute — the Bob Dunning Memorial Bridge — his friends and community built in his memory.

“Three years ago in this season, folks gathered in shock and sadness. Today, we gather with joy and gratitude thanks to a multitude of generous donors, and talented people, this visionary process has come to fruition,” Sally told a large gathering Saturday afternoon, just feet away from the bridge that bears her late husband’s name. “The idea was conceived and then manifested through inspiration, dedication and in July perspiration.”

A well-known craftsman who restored and enhanced many of the historic homes in the Lake Region, Bob died of a heart attack on Nov. 23, 2007 at the age of 57. History was a fascination. Bob founded the Bridgton Historical Society’s annual Woodworkers’ Show and was vice president of the Rufus Porter Museum. He gave selflessly to his community as a volunteer firefighter, teacher and writer. At his memorial service, Bob was remembered for his kindness, thoughtfulness and generosity.

At that time, Deborah Heffernan, who along with her husband, Jack, were involved in developing Pondicherry Park in the center of Bridgton. She felt a good way to honor Bob would be to name the gateway bridge that spans Stevens Brook to the new park in his memory.

Heffernan saw her friend as “a bridge to so many people,” so the idea seemed a fitting one.

Saturday, everyone in attendance couldn’t agree more.

“This bridge really encompasses the important elements of Bob Dunning’s life. First of all, the community. The community has come out to create this great tribute. Family. Some of his family has braved the trip up from Florida and midcoast. And, his craft,” said Peter Lowell, executive director of Lakes Environmental Association, who opened the dedication ceremony. “It’s been a fabulous project, not just the bridge but the entire park project. The community support has been wonderful. It’s been great to see people help out either on the trails or the bridge. We’ve had a lot of fun doing it, chipping in.”

Lowell pointed out the entire park project is still $25,000 short of completion.

“Skip your Christmas gifts and let’s polish off Pondicherry Park,” he suggested.

With her son, Dan, by her side, Sally Dunning said the bridge met all of Bob’s expectations.

“In carrying Bob’s name, all agreed that the bridge needed to be accessible, environmentally sensible and aesthetically pleasing. This beautiful bridge speaks for itself,” she said. “No other monument could be a more fitting way to acknowledge and honor this precious life. Each day, the world as we know it changes for someone. Live well. Do good work. Pay it forward. Be gentle with yourself and with others. Celebrate the gifts we bring to each other.”

Sally thanks all the volunteers, donors and the community for the special gift bestowed upon the Dunning family.

“Thank you all for the gifts to Bob, to me and to my family. Thank you for this gift to yourselves, and your children and your grandchildren,” she said. “Thank you for this gift that will keep Bob’s memory alive, forever in our hearts today and for all of our tomorrows.”

Builder and leader of the bridge construction, Andy Buck, was deeply touched by the spirit and dedication volunteers displayed building Bob’s bridge.

“This was one of the most remarkable projects I have ever been involved in because all of you have been so determined and so dedicated to get it done, which obviously we did,” he said. “The most remarkable thing to me was watching Mike Toohey, reading the inscriptions on each peg. (It was a) very emotional experience…Very moving.”

Buck described how each bent was put together on the deck, and how workers then paused to listen to Toohey read inscriptions on each peg (purchased by community members as a fundraiser) before pounding them into the timbers.

“It seems to me, those messages really spoke of the community’s gratitude and love for a man who gave so much of himself to this town,” Buck said. “It seems fitting that all those hardwood pegs, so inscribed, are now giving strength to this bridge — tying it together, making it whole, not just for today but for generations to come.”

Sally and her daughter, Jessie (Dunning) Toohey, officially opened the bridge by cutting a big red ribbon. Attendees walked from the park entrance (between the Downeast Industries building and Bridgton Community Center, off Depot Street) across the boardwalk and bridge, and marveled at the construction and wonderful view of Stevens Brook. Some picked up their pace when a sudden snow squall added a holiday touch to the moment.

A wine and cheese reception was held following the dedication ceremony at the Magic Lantern, where 100 glasses of wine and sparkling cider was poured to make a toast — to Bob’s memory and to the spirit of community.

To make a contribution to the park/bridge project, go to www.pondicherrypark.org

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