100-year-old Thompson House Resident Bernice Dunbar had a dream come true when she was able to dance with a partner, Fred Breunig. (submitted photo)
100-year-old Thompson House Resident Bernice Dunbar had a dream come true when she was able to dance with a partner, Fred Breunig. (submitted photo)
Monday May 27, 2013

BRATTLEBORO -- Bernice Dunbar, a 100-year-old Thompson House resident, recently had the chance to dance with one of her friends that she met at the Guilford Community Church several years ago.

He is a resident of Brattleboro, and his name is Fred Breunig.

"I told him I wouldn't push him around," said Dunbar. "Or I would try not to."

On May 18, a band came to Thompson House to play music for her to dance with Breunig. It is part of the Thompson House's "Dreams Happen" program, which enables some of its residents to fulfill fantasies regardless of the limitations their age might pose.

The dance with Breunig made Dunbar happy. She smiled as she recounted the memory. Her dream was to dance with a partner and that partner ended up being someone who has visited her weekly for the past 10 years.

Dunbar said she's always loved music. As a lifelong resident of Dummerston, she used to go to dance events held in town.

"I've always enjoyed dancing, since I was a little girl," said Dunbar. "We always had dances at the Town Hall."

Both her mother and father participated at those events, where she learned how to fox trot and waltz by watching them as well as other members of the community.

"She's a natural waltzer," said Breunig. "She has been dancing for close to 95 years." Dunbar couldn't remember how long she danced with Breunig, though. The band played for about an hour and she would dance, rest, then get back up again to dance more.


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One of the songs the band played was "Let Me Call You Sweetheart."

Breunig told the Reformer he thought they danced for about five or six times during the hour.

"It was great. She has a very good rhythm like she's always had or I assume she's always had. She talks about how she danced all her life," said Breunig. "I remember in 2005, when I remarried. She was at the wedding reception, and we had a waltz there."

Breunig said she's been like a surrogate mother. His own mother died at the age of 90 in 2009.

"My wife and I just developed this love for (Dunbar)," he said. "My own mother lived in Ohio and continued to live there after I settled in the East. It's been great, these past 10 years, that I could have someone to visit and sort of fill that role in my life. It's been exceptionally wonderful to continue to have my relationship with (Dunbar.)" Dunbar was born in the same year as his own father, which is another connection Breunig has made. He died "quite a while ago, but he would have been 100 this year as well."

When she was younger, Dunbar played the violin. She played during her school years and then sometimes as an adult.

"We'd have entertainment or something and they'd ask me to play. I was no expert, I can tell you that," she said.

Dunbar was a school teacher and taught all eight grades. She remembers teaching at school houses in Londonderry and Dummerston.

At the Thompson House, Dunbar attends every activity offered to residents. She has art work on display during art shows and does crossword puzzles regularly.

When asked if she feels 100 years old, Dunbar was quick to answer.

"No," she laughed. "I don't know what 100 feels like. I don't know. I'm not sure."

Dunbar has lived by some fundamental rules, which have helped her to grow older graciously and look forward to each and every day.

"No drinking, no smoking and no bad jokes," she said.

Chris Mays can be reached at 802-254-2311, ext. 273, or cmays@reformer.com. Follow Chris on Twitter @CMaysReformer.