Birthdays a joy for Natchez resident

Published 12:52 am Monday, June 14, 2010

NATCHEZ — When March came, Natalie Dunn’s children were ready.

The countdown began.

“It was huge!” Dunn said.

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She was referring to her last birthday on April 9. And it was the big one.

“I’m half of 100!” she said with the excitement of a girl turning half of 10.

At age 50, Dunn exudes a fresh, youthful energy.

When The Dart landed at Dunn’s new house on Somerset Drive Friday, she was just settling into her routine.

She’s a runner, biker, tennis player, coach, teacher and a mother.

Even though her family teases her with constant reminders of her age, she said she loves her birthdays simply for the joy of celebrating life.

And even better than using her energy to keep in shape, which she does, Dunn has put her spirit to productive use as an educator for the past 25 years.

Dunn currently teaches English to at-risk students at Central Alternative School. She said she loves waking up every day eager to find out about what the kids will teach her.

“Every day I see a light bulb go on,” she said.

“I guess I just like working with the underdog.”

Dunn is certified in English, science, physical education, and has her master’s degree in health. She has also coached basketball, softball, volleyball, tennis and track.

Dunn said she knew she wanted to be a teacher and a coach since eighth grade.

“It’s my life’s calling,” she said.

She has taught in a number of schools and with a variety of ages.

She even taught in prisons through a Workforce Education program with East Central Community College in Decatur and once ended up in a room surrounded by prisoners during a power outage.

Dunn said she was not worried about her safety, even though the door automatically locked and the generator failed. Instead, she was more concerned that the inmates still got a chance to pass the GED test she was there to administer.

Educating in prisons is all about trust and respect, Dunn said, and she is proud of the inmates she saw make progress toward their futures.

Dunn wrote a letter on behalf of one inmate that helped him get a job to maintain the grounds of the Mississippi governor’s mansion.

Dunn said the inmates always tried to show her their best side.

“That’s all you see if that’s what you look for,” she said.

She applies the same attitude to her students at Central.

She said when the children come to her classroom, she gives them the benefit of the doubt that they have never done anything wrong and treats them that way. She said when she does this, they tend not to disappoint her.

She said test scores have improved under this direction.

“I hate negativity. It’s such a drain,” Dunn said.

Dunn said she tries to be a blessing to others because she thinks it is God’s purpose for her.

But her energy is not exhausted by her career.

Dunn has just settled into her house on Somerset Drive with her daughter Savannah, 17, her college-student son Jordan, 20, her cocker spaniel Patrick and her Pekinese-Pomeranian-mix Champ.

The Natchez native had not lived in the area since she was 18, and it took a divorce to get her back to mom, dad and the Miss-Lou.

After college, she and her husband moved to Plano, Texas, where their son was born. She then moved to Decatur where their daughter was born. After going through a divorce in a town smaller than Natchez, she packed up her children and puppies to head to where her heart was and make a new life.

Dunn runs, bikes or plays tennis at least five days a week. She has run one marathon, two half-marathons and participated in many triathlons.

For a side-project, Dunn has been sprucing up her new home. She moved to Vidalia in late 2006 when it was hard to find a house for sale after Katrina, but she recently moved to Somerset Drive.

She restored the wood floors in her living room, painted and antiqued the kitchen cabinets, and plans on converting her carport into a workout room—all on her own.

She said she would love to start an exercise “boot camp” in Natchez because the town is seriously lacking in the physical fitness industry. In addition to her teaching certifications, she’s also a certified personal trainer.

Now as she plants herself back in her hometown, Dunn said she doesn’t just want to live in Natchez. She wants to be part of the community.