By Contributing Editor Blair Drake
For Mary Dunagan, the military has always been a part of her life. The daughter of an Army officer, she was born in Washington, D.C., and spent her childhood moving and traveling. “It wasn’t always easy, but I thoroughly enjoyed growing up in the Army,” she said. Her goal was to marry an Army officer and continue moving and seeing the world. She did just that.
In 1956, she married Frank Dunagan, who went on to serve a 20-year career in the Army, retiring as a lieutenant colonel.
When he died in 2014, Mary Dunagan turned to her family, friends, and volunteer work to help her get through the devastating loss. That included the Cape Canaveral (Fla.) Chapter of MOAA, which she and Frank had been involved with for many years. “My husband was very active in the chapter,” she said. “So I also got very involved. In the earlier days, we did a lot of things together. We planned trips and dances and a lot of entertainment for the chapter.”
A few years after Frank’s death, Dunagan volunteered to serve as surviving spouse liaison for the chapter, a role that allows her to help others get through the grief of losing a spouse. As surviving spouse liaison and chairperson of the chapter’s auxiliary committee, Dunagan works to ensure surviving spouse members are fully integrated into the chapter, are aware of actions and initiatives, and participate in activities and events.
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Her goal is to not only be a resource for the chapter’s more than 250 surviving spouse members but also keep them busy. One way she does this is by planning regular activities, such as trips and luncheons.
Additionally, she works with the chapter’s vice president for membership and support to actively recruit and retain members. In 2019, she assisted with sending over 250 invitation letters and emails from MOAA-provided lists to potential members. She also organizes notification calls to surviving spouse and spouse members for annual membership renewal reminders.
For her work, Dunagan was named the recipient of MOAA’s 2020 Surviving Spouse Liaison Excellence Award.
“Mary exemplifies MOAA’s creed to ‘never stop serving,’” said Col. Stephen Bond, USA (Ret), vice president of the Cape Canaveral Chapter. “As a military spouse and surviving spouse member of MOAA and our chapter, she has performed a lifetime of service. Mary continues to serve the physical and emotional needs of others. More importantly, she has been invaluable in her service to the 256 surviving spouses and all 1,200-plus members of the Cape Canaveral Chapter.”
In addition to her efforts with the chapter, Dunagan is a member and historian of the Cape Canaveral Ladies, a group of 50 volunteers who stand as a final witness at the burials of veterans at Cape Canaveral National Cemetery. Since 2016, members have participated in over 7,000 burials to ensure no veteran is buried alone.
Dunagan said she’s proud to be a part of the Cape Canaveral Ladies and of her work as a surviving spouse liaison.
“I’ve met so many people,” she said. “It just makes you feel good to be able to help surviving spouses. It’s very rewarding.”
She also encourages all MOAA chapters to have a surviving spouse liaison. “[New surviving spouses] need someone to talk to, someone who understands what they are going through,” she said. “I think it’s very important for every chapter to have this role.”
Blair Drake is a contributing editor for MOAA and lives in Souderton, Pa. She previously served on the editorial team of Military Officer magazine for nine years.