‘Counter Culture’ lessons

New book tells the Dunfeys’ amazing story

One of the most fascinating and significant stories in New Hampshire in the second half of the 20th century was that of the Dunfey family and its remarkable accomplishments in New Hampshire hospitality, business, politics and culture.

“Counter Culture: Clams, Convents and a Circle of Global Citizens,” by Eleanor Dunfey-Freiburger, recently published by Peter E. Randall Publishers of Portsmouth, recounts that remarkable tale, is a great read and reminder of what family can do with hard work, ingenuity, faith and a healthy dose of good luck.

The title, referring to the lunch counter at Dunfey’s Luncheon, an eating establishment run by LeRoy Dunfey in Lowell, Mass., tells the story of LeRoy, his wife Catherine and their 12 children.

Beginning with that local eatery, the Dunfey family added other food services in Lowell, headed to Hampton Beach, where they bought and ran a clam stand, and grew that business into seven operations at Hampton Beach, all staffed primarily by Dunfey offspring.

Later, when older Dunfey children headed to the University of New Hampshire, the family bought the Rexall drug store there, founded Town and Campus (a Durham landmark for generations of students), a laundromat and other businesses, again largely run by Dunfey children doing double duty while they completed their studies.

In each step, “all hands on deck,” was the watchword, with each Dunfey child doing his or her share, undoubtedly breaking the child labor laws as they started working before they were 10!

Sons went off to war and returned to the business, additional facilities were acquired and the business morphed into a hotel business when the family bought Lamie’s Tavern in Hampton, which had hotel rooms, expanded it and used that as corporate headquarters.

Leroy Dunfey died at age 59 in 1952, leaving his widow Catherine to supervise the clan. Until her death in 1982, Mrs. Dunfey generally oversaw the business that her sons ran, and which again expanded with the acquisition of Manchester’s Carpenter Hotel, the development of the Sheraton Wayfarer Inn in Bedford on a former turkey farm along Route 3, the acquisition of the Parker House in Boston and the establishment of the Omni Hotel name, with hotels all over the United States and in Europe.

This book is not just about business, however. It is about the ethic of hard work, an evolving Roman Catholic faith, which saw all four Dunfey daughters enter the convent and ultimately leave, and the lives of the 12 children and their various contributions.

All the while, the Dunfeys were involved in the Democratic Party, largely being responsible for its resurgence in New Hampshire in 1962 and beyond. The book has its share of stories of political connections and activities as well.

The Dunfey children also established the Global Citizens Circle which brought international statesmen and women to New England. Pages and pages of pictures of prominent people, like Bishop Desmond Tutu, visiting the Global Citizens Circle, and Dunfey family members can be found in the book, bringing in much of 20th century history along with them.

Eleanor, the youngest of the four daughters, was the first to leave the convent when she met a young Catholic priest, Jim Freiburger, who also was determining how best to fulfill this calling and eventually left the priesthood. They married, and both have been prominent faculty members at Southern New Hampshire University and leaders in New Hampshire education.

Jack, the 3rd son and 5th child who is still going strong in his mid-90’s, was a leader in the corporation and New Hampshire business and politics. William, known as “Bud,” the next son, was an active alumnus of UNH and prominent member of its board of trustees. Richard attended law school and later was the chief justice of the New Hampshire Superior Court. Robert and Walter were prominent business and cultural leaders in the family corporation and the state.

What the Dunfey family has contributed and continues to contribute to New Hampshire can be found in this book. It is important as history, but also as an example of what one talented family can do in America, and how it can give back if its values are intact.

Brad Cook, a shareholder in the Manchester law firm of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, heads its government relations and estate planning groups. He can be reached at bcook@sheehan.com.

Categories: Cook on Concord