Archdeacon: Remembering Frances Winborn, the ‘mother of Dunbar’

They met at a Welcome Stadium track meet during their junior high days.

Although they came from different neighborhoods and would go on to different high schools – Frances Hudson to Dunbar, Anna Key to Roosevelt and Alice Kirksey to Roth – they had some things in common.

“We were all just poor black kids trying to make it,” said Anna (Key) Earley.

And the avenue they all shared was sports.

Frances — whose last name would later become Winborn when she married the late Donald Winborn — grew up on Roejack Drive in the Pinecrest neighborhood with an older brother Oscar and four sisters.

“She was a tomboy who tried to follow after our brother,” younger sister Mary Brown said with a laugh the other evening. “I tried to do some things in sports but, honey, nobody could do it like Frances.”

Frances was a volleyball player at Dunbar, fenced and was a Wolverines cheerleader for four years.

Anna starred at Roosevelt and Alice shined at Roth.

“We were always competing against each other, and we became great buds,” Anna said. “They called us The Three Amigos.”

The three all went to Central State, studied education and shared one dream.

“Our big hope was to come back to Dayton and teach at the school we’d graduated from,” Anna said.

They each did that, but Frances — in part because Roosevelt and Roth eventually would close — immersed herself in her school the most.

She started teaching at Dunbar in 1968 and a decade later, after marrying Winborn, she briefly moved with him to Denver. She missed home and when they returned here, she spent a year at Wilbur Wright until she could get back on staff at her alma mater.

She coached volleyball, was the cheerleading advisor, and then spent seven years as the assistant athletics director.

Credit: Ron Alvey

Credit: Ron Alvey

In 1997 she was named the AD, the first woman ever to hold that post at Dunbar, and she did her job with love and passion.

After the Wolverines won the Division II state basketball title in 2006, I remember being at the big post-tournament celebration in the Dunbar gym and seeing her take the microphone in a hand where the fingernails all were painted royal blue, which is Wolverine blue.

As she was about to speak, someone in the crowd reminded her she once was a cheerleader.

“Yeah, but I was skinnier then,” she said quietly, before pausing, smiling, and finally deciding to put some old school polish on the gleaming new trophy.

She began a slow, melodious chant from years gone by:

“Hey, hey team.

“You sure look good to me!”

Older people in the crowd remembered the cheer and joined in and soon the young people did too, until the whole gym was rocking.

“She always wore blue and white,” Anna said. “She bled blue. She just always, always, always loved Dunbar. It was that way her entire life.”

That life ended early last week when she died at age 78. A couple of months earlier she had suffered a massive brain hemorrhage that led to a stroke.

Her funeral will be April 23 at noon at the Greater Allen A.M.E. Church at 1620 W. Fifth Street in Dayton. Her family will receive visitors at the church beginning at 10 a.m.

She is survived by her brother Oscar Hudson, who lives in Detroit, and two sisters — Mary Brown and Detrice Mitchell — both of Dayton. Two of her sisters — Olla Mae and Agnes — preceded her in death.

Her husband, Donald Winborn, died in 2010.

‘Miss Dunbar’

Although she never had children of her own, Frances really had “lots of kids,” said her sister, Mary Brown. “She cared deeply about all her students. She loved those Dunbar kids. I called her Miss Dunbar.”

Anna Earley — who came to Dunbar after Roosevelt closed and became a celebrated girls basketball and track coach there, while also guiding the cross country and tennis teams — remembered her longtime friend as “The Mother of Dunbar.”

I saw her love for her students again in 2014 when Norris Cole — the Dunbar and Cleveland State star who went on to win two NBA titles with the Miami Heat — put on a basketball camp for kids at Centerville High.

She showed up as a volunteer helper, as did Anna and a couple of other former teachers who were now retired.

Frances had taught Cole in the ninth grade and had been the AD when he was playing four sports at Dunbar.

She beamed as she talked about him never forgetting his roots. Two weeks after the Centerville camp he would put on another one at the Salvation Army Kroc Center on North Keowee Street. In between he would pay a couple of visits to Dunbar.

“He might have been small early on, but he played everything — football, baseball, track, and basketball,” she said. “He was fearless. And he was just as good in the classroom. He just didn’t sit back.

“He’s just a wonderful, wonderful young man. I love him to death.”

Anna heard her speak just as glowingly about many other former Dunbar students over the years.

“If you wanted to make her mad, just say something (critical) about Central State or Dunbar,” she said with a laugh.

“She loved Dunbar.”

“Even after she retired as the athletic director, she’d come back over to school just to sell tickets at events. She stayed close and supported her school.”

A ‘true communal servant’

Mary Brown said her sister was a “true communal servant.”

“If people in the community needed something, if they were sick, or needed a friend, she was there for them.”

Anna said Frances exuded goodness:

“She was a mild person. She never raised her voice. She was a real Christian. I was around her all those years and I never once heard her say a cuss word…Oh no, no, no.

“She didn’t smoke, she didn’t drink, and she wouldn’t play cards. I don’t think you’ll find anybody with anything adverse to say about her.”

Mary agreed: “When I think about the love of God, that’s who I think about – my sister. She’s going to be greatly missed by so many people.”

Especially those at her old school .

Like Anna Earley said:

“Frances was the mother of Dunbar.”

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