Wilmette, Community

In retirement, local do-gooder drifts into new hobby

They say when one door closes, another one opens, and nothing could be more true for Wilmette’s Mark Dunn.

When this longtime resident retired from his engineering profession in early 2024, he discovered time to pursue a passion, challenge his creativity and give back to the scouting community he cherishes.

Dunn has been involved in scouting since his own childhood and served as a scout leader for Wilmette’s Troop 9, sharing, “I always loved scouting both as a child and as a parent. Camping, in particular, was always my favorite.” 

Once Dunn’s own children grew and left the nest, Dunn remained committed to scouts through his volunteerism with The Wilderness Engineering Society. He and other volunteer tradesmen regularly visit the legendary Camp Ma-Ka-Ja-Wan ensuring the camp’s safety. 

Over time, Dunn noticed a lack of appropriate boats at the campground, making the once revered rowing merit badge obsolete. Boats from the past were weather-worn or deemed unsafe; the newer aluminum boats did not allow for the same rowing skills to be displayed in order to earn the badge. 

The situation, however, was not hopeless. A specific boat known as a Bevin’s skiff, would provide the type of experience a Scout needed for the merit badge and beyond. 

Nick Roberts, Southeast Illinois Council Scout executive/CEO said that, “Bevin’s Skiffs are used as training boats for Scouts to learn rowing techniques, boat safety, navigation and other skills required for the badge. In addition, these boats offer versatile and engaging ways for Scouts to learn watercraft skills, enjoy recreational activities, and foster teamwork and leadership in the outdoor environment of a Scouts BSA camp.”

Armed with this knowledge, Dunn put on his engineering hat and thought deeply about building Bevin’s skiffs himself. First, he learned how to construct a canoe from start to finish. With this mission accomplished, Dunn discovered a kit and a plan for making a Bevin’s skiff through the Alexandria Seaport Foundation.

“I’m an engineer, but I’ve always been inspired by the craftsman,” he said. “This project certainly challenged a new part of myself. “Most importantly, building the Bevin’s skiffs is really about giving back; I hope my work inspires scouts to give back to others as well.”

Today, Dunn can be found camped out in the garages of any willing friend who will allow him to layer epoxy and fiberglass, paint and polish onto the boats. He is currently working on three boats in a friend’s garage and has set a mid-spring date to complete and take the boats to camp. 

For Roberts, Dunn’s dedication toward the project is the epitome of altruism and the true definition of a scout.

“Mark gives unselfishly of his time. His many positive experiences at the camp as a youth and parent, clearly had a lasting impact by shaping character, building life skills, fostering social connections, and instilling values that guide young men and women toward personal and professional success and fulfillment,” Roberts said. 

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Alexa Burnell

Alexa Burnell is a Wilmette resident who has been covering the North Shore for the past seven years, previously for The Wilmette Beacon and its sister newspapers.

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