January 2024

JE Dunn’s Philosophy: Giving Back and Helping Others

John Ernest (Ernie) Dunn had a very “tell-it-like-it-is” personality and wouldn’t shy away from letting people know if they were in the wrong. There was no question where you stood with Ernie Dunn; he’d tell you, with words or, in his younger years, with his fist.  

At roughly 5-foot-9, he could pass for a wrestler, and if he was frustrated, his temper would flare. Despite his hot temper and gruff exterior, Ernie had a heart for giving. He was well-liked in the Kansas City community and had a reputation for treating people right.  

Oftentimes, Ernie’s philanthropy was done quietly and behind the scenes. His heart of giving was also a humble one, and while he was incredibly generous, he wasn’t interested in donating for attention or to gain business. He did so because he believed wholeheartedly in giving back. 

He was so quiet about his giving that in 1965, following his death, a letter published in the Kansas City Star enlightened his family and friends to an act of kindness they were unaware of. The principal of the former Humboldt School in Kansas City shared that Ernie helped pay for clothing and school supplies for children attending the elementary school, located at 11th and Holmes, not far from where he grew up. 

“Mr. Dunn visited the school frequently, becoming acquainted with the teachers and the children, and familiarized himself with the problems that confronted us … He sent a monthly check to use as my staff and I thought best for the children,” the principal wrote.  

There was one caveat: Ernie requested that his support for the school be kept anonymous, as a private matter between the school and himself.  

That act of selflessness wasn’t uncommon with Ernie Dunn. His company, JE Dunn Construction, was built on a foundation of philanthropy, and giving has been a part of the JE Dunn story all along. There is a deep culture of generosity, ingrained at all levels of the organization.  

When Bill Dunn Sr. took over operations in the 1970s, he shared in his dad’s philosophy, contributing at least 10% of JE Dunn’s taxable income to nonprofit organizations. Bill’s belief was that if you were giving something away and expected something in return, then you weren’t truly giving.

The roots of that generosity—treating people well, giving back to the community and serving others—still resonate with JE Dunn employees today. It is very much a part of the company’s culture.  

In 1981, Bill Dunn Sr. and his five sons founded the Dunn Family Foundation, reinforcing the family values of integrity, generosity and compassion. The Dunn Family Foundation is a private charitable foundation dedicated to enhancing the quality of human life and creating solutions to community needs in the greater Kansas City metropolitan area. 

Today, JE Dunn employees dedicate an average of 50,000 hours each year to serving others. In 2022, more than $1.3 million was donated through employee giving.