John C. Dunham

The objectives that guide the Dunham Fund are forever linked with Fund Founder John C. Dunham and his family. It was Mr. Dunham, after all, who determined that the Fund he created in 1996 should “be dedicated through wise gifting to making the world a more comfortable, safer place for mankind to live and prosper.” And it was John Dunham, speaking as the entrepreneur and businessman that he was, who visualized the Fund “as a self-sustaining money maker, as well as a gifting organization.” A history of Mr. Dunham and his family is synonymous with the history of Equipto, the Aurora company founded by Mr. Dunham’s father, Thomas M. Dunham, in 1907.

At first, Equipto manufactured sidecars and headlights for motorcycles. As automobiles began to capture the public’s imagination, however, the company began producing body parts for Ford Motor Company’s Model T chassis.The connection with Ford was fortuitous: It was a Ford dealer’s need for heavy-duty shelving that led Thomas Dunham to create not only the shelving but the then revolutionary concept of space utilization products – adjustable steel shelving that to this day remains Equipto’s core product.

John, born in New Jersey but educated at West Aurora High School, and North Central and Babson colleges, followed his father into the family business, often sweeping floors and running errands as a youngster.

In 1931, when John was home from college, Thomas challenged his son to join the company, saying that “If you are man enough to have a wife and four-week old son, you are man enough to sell on commission!”

John accepted the challenge, and he and his father achieved great success designing and selling their steel shelving equipment. John eventually served as president and chairman of the company, retiring as chairman of the board in 1994.

Widely known and highly respected as a champion of enterprise and education, his philanthropic passions, Mr. Dunham conceived the philanthropic direction that in 1996 led to the formation of the Dunham Fund. During his lifetime, Mr. Dunham was a strong supporter of several Aurora-area educational institutions, where he inspired students to achieve excellence in scholarship, character development, work ethic and commitment to community service.

The Dunham legacy continues with the Dunham Fund, which today is the largest private foundation in the Aurora area