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Olivet says final farewell to Dr. D. George Dunbar

Posted: Jan 03, 2017

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Dr. D. George Dunbar (1934-2016), revered music professor at Olivet Nazarene University

Dr. D. George Dunbar ’58, beloved Olivet Nazarene University music professor for 30 years and former director of Olivet’s Orpheus Choir, passed away on Dec. 24, 2016. He is remembered for his humility, faithfulness to God and gentleness by the thousands who studied and served with him. And his legacy continues to live on in Olivet’s School of Music.

The Service of Celebration to honor Dr. Dunbar was held at College Church of the Nazarene in Bourbonnais, Illinois, on Jan. 4, 2017. His family requests that memorial gifts be made to the Orpheus Memorial Scholarship Fund at Olivet.

A native of Canada, Dr. Dunbar once noted that he conducted "The Star Spangled Banner" and "God Bless America" countless times before becoming an American citizen in 1998 — 41 years after coming to Olivet as a music student.

Recalling George Dunbar as a student, Dr. Harlow Hopkins ’53 — retired chair of Olivet’s music department and Dr. Dunbar’s friend for 62 years — says: “He was a tall, thin young man with a serious demeanor who sang bass in Orpheus Choir and had eyes for a soprano named Linda.” In 1960, George Dunbar and Linda Luttrell ’59 married.

As a student, Dr. Dunbar also played string bass in the Olivet Orchestra and was a pitcher on the intramural softball team. Early on, Hopkins observed Dr. Dunbar’s innate musicianship plus his heart for choral conducting and training young vocalists.

“He was born to be conductor of Orpheus Choir,” Hopkins says.

After graduating from Olivet, Dr. Dunbar later joined Olivet’s faculty. Three years after his arrival, University President Harold W. Reed chose him to succeed Dr. Walter B. Larsen and Mrs. Naomi Larsen as the third director of the renowned Orpheus Choir. For 27 years, Dr. Dunbar directed 60 to 70 student singers each year in that choir, along with the Concert Singers (for 17 years) and the Chancel Choir at College Church of the Nazarene (for 11 years).

During his tenure, Dr. Dunbar expanded the reach and musical ministry of Orpheus Choir nationally and internationally. Choir tours throughout Olivet’s five-state region plus California, Canada, Mexico and Israel blessed countless people and drew hundreds of students to enroll at Olivet.

“Dr. D expected so much from us,” shares one of Dr. Dunbar’s students, Teresa Garner ’86/’87 M.A.E., now a professor in Olivet’s School of Theology and Christian Ministry. “He set the bar high and believed we could reach it. Then he set the bar higher. When I was a student at Olivet, he also believed I was worth his time. His kindness will never be forgotten.”

The Service of Celebration concluded with a fitting tribute. Former Orpheus Choir members in attendance surrounded the College Church sanctuary as they sang, “The Lord Bless You and Keep You,” conducted by current Orpheus Choir Director Dr. Jeff Bell. The song has been the choir’s benediction for decades and was sung throughout Dr. Dunbar’s tenure.

Under Dr. Dunbar’s direction, Orpheus Choir appeared twice at the National Cathedral in Washington D.C.; three times at the Air Force Academy in Colorado Springs; once at the Bruton Parish Chapel in Williamsburg, Virginia; 20 times at the Bill Gaither Praise Gathering; 10 times at the International General Assembly of the Church of the Nazarene; and several times in Indianapolis, Indiana, singing the national anthem before NBA games.

Dr. Dunbar earned a degree from Canadian Nazarene College, a bachelor’s degree in church music and a bachelor’s degree in music education from Olivet, a master’s degree in voice from the University of Illinois, and a Doctor of Musical Arts degree from the University of Southern California.

He began his teaching career at Cascade College in Portland, Oregon, before joining Olivet’s faculty. During his tenure at Olivet, he received the Faculty Member of the Year Award in 1980, the “O” Award as an outstanding alumnus in 1982, and the Teaching Excellence Award in 1989.

When he retired from Olivet in 1999, the D. George Dunbar Orpheus Award was established. It is given to an outstanding member of the choir who "embodies the spirit of excellence and ministry" taught by Dr. Dunbar.

Dr. Dunbar is survived by his wife, Linda; a daughter, Kathleen ’90, of Seattle, Washington; a son, David ’93, of Bourbonnais; a sister, Ruth Markus, of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada; and two grandchildren, Jordyn and Joshua. He was preceded in death by his parents and his sister, Jean Jensen.

Click here to view the Service of Celebration on demand.

U.S. states represented among Olivet's student body, as well as 17 countries