Gil Dunn tells great stories. Here’s one of his all-time best:
“Back then every boy had a major league baseball hero. Mine was Jimmie Foxx. I followed his career, but only got to see him play once because Baltimore, where I lived, was a minor league town. I saw Foxx at an all-star game in Washington. I was ten years old, and I knew he was born in Sudlersville and Sudlersville was on the Eastern Shore.
“When I (grew up and) moved down to Kent Island, I didn’t have the vaguest idea I’d ended up in the same county as Sudlersville.”
“One day, the Kent Island little league team had a game scheduled in Sudlersville and I couldn’t wait to get there. I asked the man sitting next to me to tell me something about Jimmie Foxx. He said who wants to talk about that guy? I said what are you talking about, he’s a great ballplayer, The Beast.
“I couldn’t believe it. I said, that doesn’t sound right. I’m going to start a little museum to give this man some recognition.”
The nonbeliever sitting next to Gil pointed at a house across the street and said Foxx’s relatives lived there. Gil paid a visit and the long-retired power hitting first baseman’s elderly aunt referred Gil to a Florida address.
Gil wrote a couple letters, told Foxx about his start-up museum and requested something of a personal nature from his hero. A glove, a cap, part of a uniform – anything. There was little positive response. Then one day, out of nowhere, Jimmie Foxx showed up at Gil’s drugstore, where Gil’s collection of memorabilia was on display. Foxx had brought with him a car trunk-load of baseball history.
“We went out to his car and he told me, “They didn’t seem to want any of this down in Sudlersville, you may as well take it,” and Bingo, he hands me all this memorabilia. Didn’t charge me a plugged nickel. Just gave it to me!”
Gil sounds like he can still hardly believe it.
Longtime residents and visitors alike recall Gil Dunn’s Kent Island Pharmacy with great fondness. One of the main reasons is that shrine to baseball, heroes, and honorable intentions that Gil built and shared with the public.
Among the precious rarities ‘Double X’ entrusted to Gil was a uniform Foxx wore while playing on an all-star team, with Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig in the lineup, that barnstormed Japan on a pre-World War II goodwill tour. The uniform is probably one of sixteen like it ever in existence.
Gil Dunn lent those treasured textiles to the Babe Ruth Museum years ago. Ownership and value seem to be of little concern to Gil. His original goal of spreading the gospel of Jimmie Foxx more than satisfied, Gil shrugs his shoulders, holds up his hands in a whatcha-gonna-do pose, and laughs loud and hard, “And they’re still borrowing it!”
After graduating from high school, Gil Dunn worked at Bethlehem Steel, attended Loyola College, served in the Air Force, and married his New York sweetheart named Florence Handford. Gil worked as a pharmaceutical representative for a few years, a career path that led to unexpected opportunities. In 1952, a friend told Gil that Kent Island needed a new pharmacist. Gil asked where the heck that was. The friend told him, “Go across that bridge they just built, and when you get off that bridge, that’s Kent Island.”
Gil obtained the required education, and when he and Florence arrived on the Eastern Shore, they saw their future. The Bay Bridge was new and Rt.50 was something locals were just starting to get used to. Housing opportunities and the needs of the community were growing. Just off the westbound highway construction had started on the brick and block commercial strip known as the Nichols Building. There was to be a new Acme supermarket and a Fox Brothers department store there. The Dunn’s Kent Island Pharmacy opened in 1953 and became a fixture at ‘the shopping center’ for more than forty years.
Gil says back then the Eastern Shore “was a whole lot different. Slower paced. Quieter. Nobody locked their doors. Everybody was cordial.” The Dunn family felt welcome from the start. They noticed Kent Islanders waved at anyone passing, no matter that “They don’t even know who you are!”
Gil and Florence raised five children on Kent Island and stayed involved with their extended community through their church and numerous charitable organizations. Among his civic activities, Gil Dunn supported local sports teams and little leagues, is a past president of the Kent Island Heritage Society, and was the founder of the Kent Island Band. And while Gil might be best remembered for his pharmacy, his Jimmie Foxx museum, or his boisterous laugh and genial, joy-of-life personality, for me it’s always going to be in the way he tells his stories.