John Asher Dunn, or Brother Cuthbert as he was also known, was born on June 19, 1939, in Oklahoma City, OK to John Edwin Dunn and Cora Etta White Dunn. He died peacefully on Tuesday, July 4, 2017, surrounded by the warmth of his family and best friend. He attended St. Gregory's College in Shawnee, OK, as well as the University of Oklahoma, Norman; but graduated with a degree in Philosophy from St. John's College in Collegeville, Minnesota. He received his PhD in Anthropology/Linguistics from the University of New Mexico in 1969. He taught at Oregon State University, the University of Northern British Columbia, and the University of Oklahoma, from which he was an emeritus professor of Linguistics in the Dept. of Modern Languages, Literatures and Linguistics. His academic field of expertise was Native American languages, with the bulk of his work done with the Tsimshian language spoken in northwestern British Columbia, Canada, and southeast Alaska. He also did work with Plains Apache in the Anadarko area of Oklahoma. His Tsimshian work was done primarily in Kitkatla, British Columbia; Prince Rupert, B.C.; Metlakatla, Alaska; and Hartley Bay, B.C. He published a dictionary and grammar of the Tsimshian language (Sm'algyax) in 1978 and 1979, respectively. They were reissued in a single volume in 1995 by the Sealaska Heritage Foundation. He also worked through much of the early and mid 1990s with several other scholars and native speakers to develop an updated Sm'algyax orthography, which was used in producing the Teachings of Our Grandfathers set of books for School District no. 52 of Prince Rupert, British Columbia. These 6 books are used to teach native children their ancestral language and history. For the past 20 years, he has been working on development and linguistic justification for his theory that Tsimshianic languages (Sm'algyax, Gitksan, and Nisga'a languages) have roots in Proto-Indo-European. The completion of that work was published in 2017 and is entitled A Tsimshian Proto-Indo-European Comparative Lexicon.
Prior to his academic life, when he was in his early and mid twenties, John had been a postulant monk at St. Gregory's Abby in Shawnee, OK and at St. John's Abbey in Collegeville, MN. During that time, he became very interested in Gregorian Chant. He was encouraged by a monk to adapt English text to Gregorian Chant. He spent 50 years thinking about and working on this project. In the past few years, he had joined the Community of Solitude (CoS) and returned whole-heartedly to complete this work. He designed a personal liturgy of the hours that contains selected Psalm passages. They are sung plainsong. This work was recently published and is entitled Cuthbert's Little Plainsong Psalter.
John was an active member of St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral in OKC for 25+ years. He sang in their choirs, served in the Education for Ministry program, and organized the St Paul's "Oakerhater" Whirlwind Mission of the Holy Family Vacation Bible School in Watonga, OK. He also volunteered at the food pantry at St. George's Guild and participated in many other volunteer activities. In addition, he was an avid genealogist. He went to family reunions on all four sides of his family, gathering genealogical data and sharing the data he had collected with others. He credits his great aunt Hanna Asher and his cousin Monte Hendrickson for stimulating his interest in genealogy. Additionally, he sang in the Canterbury Choral Society in Oklahoma City for four years.
John met his future wife Luceen LaTorre in graduate school at the University of New Mexico in 1965, and they were subsequently married on June 17, 1967. John was a devoted father to his daughters Margaret (Peggy) Dunn and Sarah (Stella) Dunn, as well as to his beloved sons-in-law Dr. Keith Heinzerling (Peggy) and Paul Apelgren (Stella), all of whom survive him. He was predeceased by his parents and grandparents. He is survived by his siblings Joe E. Dunn (Diann) of Shawnee, OK and Elizabeth Dunn Moffett (Pete) of Coweta, OK, and by many nieces and nephews, as well as by his best friend Ron Smith. A memorial service was held on Monday, July 10 at 2 pm at St. Paul's Episcopal Cathedral at 127 NW 7th Street, OKC, OK. Another service for the interment of cremains at the Columbarium of St. Paul's Cathedral will be scheduled at a later date.
Memorial contributions can be made to the John Asher Dunn Prize in Linguistics #41741 c/o University of Oklahoma Foundation at 100 Timberdell Road, Norman, OK 73019-0685.
Published on July 12, 2017