Mary Dunson

Mary Dunson

1941 - 2023

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Obituary of Mary Dunson

Mary Dunson, beloved coach and mentor to generations of athletes in Auburndale, Florida, died on March, 31, 2023 at the age of 81. Her loss is profoundly felt by the community she served for years and her family who adored her. Her last days were spent with some of her volleyball players, collegues, and family and friends; she died peacefully surrounded by the people who love her.

A person of unending kindness, profound strength, infectious laughter, and unfailing trust in her faith; Mary Dunson’s life was a one of merit and pure goodness. A life etched with a fierce competitive spirit and a desire to seek one’s personal best.

Lightheartedness and kindness spiraled through her life; she was an extraordinary coach and educator who always—always saw the best in the students she taught. Her life is a perfect example of Everyday Greatness, and she called on her students to seek greatness in their lives.

She loved her family and was always ready to help no matter what; Mary was not just a role-model in her professional life, she was a beacon of goodness in our family. She was an extraordinary daughter, sister, aunt, and cousin, with a tremendous capacity to love unconditionally. We are grateful for the gift of knowing and loving Mary Dunson.

Her interests were many: gardening and simply being in nature, traveling with Sandy and friends, sports-as a participant or spectator, planning family reunions in Alabama, creating a sanctuary for backyard animals, cooking with family, watching the sunsets on Lake Elbert, and celebrating and supporting the success of hundreds of her students and her family.

Coach Dunson was born in Atmore, Alabama and grew up in Winter Haven, Florida. At age 6, she decided that she wanted to be a PE teacher and she fulfilled that goal by receiving a BA in Physical Education from Florida Southern; she taught PE and coached form 37 years. When she retired from coaching, the Winter Haven News Chief reported, “Mary Dunson, the colorful coach of Auburndale High School girls’ volleyball team will retire. Dunson, whose dynamic style spurred AHS in the state playoffs six times in eight years. She was the first female coach in Polk County to win 100 games in any sport; she did this with her outstanding volleyball teams.”

Coach Dunson was an accomplished athlete herself, but coaching was the love; she quickly established herself as a respected and beloved figure in the community. She was known as Coach Dunson, but affectionally known as “Dunt.” She was known for her unwavering dedication to her athletes, her tireless work ethic, and her ability to inspire and motivated even the most reluctant players. She coached, countless teams: swimming, volleyball, softball, track and ran the weight program for the football team at AHS.

Her accolades were numerous: she was named the Lakeland Ledger’s Coach of the Year in 1979, 1980, and 1984. The Tampa Tribune named her Coach of the Year in 1984, and the Winter Haven News Chief honored her with Coach of the Year in 1979 and 1980. She was Head Volleyball Coach from 1978-1985; her teams were District Champions in 1978, 79, 80, 81, 84, and 85. County Champs in 1978, 79, 80, and 84. Her volleyball record in Polk County is 117 wins and 30 losses.

Volleyball is not the only sport that Dunson influencenced. In addition to coaching tennis, swimming and assisting in softball, she was the track coach at AHS from 1977 until 1982. Her track teams were District Champs from 1978 until 1981 and County Champs in 1979, 80, and 81.

She helped many students to garner college scholarships through athletics and supported their journeys.

Mary Dunson was a coach of extraordinary merit; her legacy runs throughout the Auburndale community and our family. She will be profoundly missed by those who loved her.

She was preceded in death by her father, Jesse Dunson and her mother, Leo Dunson Ziglar. She is survived by companion, Sandy Simmons; sisters, Robbie Dunson, Del Freeman, Donna Dunson, and step-sister, Winifred Hollingsworth; niece, Christy Brown and family; great nephew, Aaron and Kathryn Brown; great niece, Ellie Brown, Taylor and Ryan Kilpatrick; beloved honorary brother and cousin, Les Dunson, Jr. and extended family and dear cousins locally and in Tallahassee and Alabama.

Visitation will be April 6th Thursday, 6-8 pm & funeral services Friday April 7th at 10:00 at Oak Ridge Funeral Care, Winter Haven. Interment at Lakeside Memorial Park in Winter Haven. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to Auburndale High School athletics or Good Shepherd Hospice.

A luncheon will be held at Donna's residence immediately following the interment, please see the family for the address.


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6:00 pm - 8:00 pm
Thursday, April 6, 2023
Oak Ridge Funeral Care
2425 Havendale Blvd
Winter Haven, Florida, United States
863 967 5090

Funeral Service

10:00 am - 11:00 am
Friday, April 7, 2023
Oak Ridge Funeral Care
2425 Havendale Blvd
Winter Haven, Florida, United States
863 967 5090


Lakeside Memorial Park
US Hwy 17
Winter Haven, Florida, United States