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Habitat honors ex-Riverdale council member

By Joel Hall

jhall@news-daily.com

At 91, Riverdale's Anne Dunivin still is working hard.

Dunivin says staying active, and helping people, have been the keys to her longevity.

Her community efforts have been so impressive to the Southern Crescent Habitat for Humanity, that it has honored her for more than 20 years of service.

For years, Dunivin has served on the board of the local Habitat, as well as on the family-selection committee, regularly visiting homes and hosting workshops for interested applicants.

Next month, the organization plans to start building the Avery subdivision, a new neighborhood off Iron Gate Boulevard, which will host 51 starter homes. The main thoroughfare of the neighborhood will be named "Dunivin Drive" in her honor.

She is "the support beam" of the organization, said Alberta Grover, program manager of Southern Crescent Habitat, in describing Dunivin.

"She is one of the longest volunteers that we have had at Habitat," said Grover. "We felt a need to honor her. She has a particular outlook on life. She doesn't have that worry tendency. She just smiles and does what needs to be done."

While Dunivin doesn't do the hammering, she travels around the area helping low-income families find safe and affordable housing. She said some people disapprove of her driving herself around at the age of 91, but she ignores them.

"I really believe that you ought to do something worthwhile with your life, besides just looking after yourself," said Dunivin. "I have worked with Habitat, doing volunteer work, it seems like forever.

"I think it's a good way for me to spend my time,"she said. "It gives people a chance to be homeowners, where if they went to the bank and told them what they made and what their debts are, they would tell them, 'no.'"

Dunivin's independent spirit didn't just begin. She said she has been defying the suggestions of others for a long time.

She won two terms on the Riverdale City Council when many thought she didn't have a chance. She also is an accomplished, senior swimmer, and was one of the first women to receive a master's degree in chemistry from Emory University.

When Dunivin began studying chemistry at Emory in the late 1930s, the college itself was not yet co-ed. At the time, women were only allowed to take day classes during their junior and senior years. There were no female dormitories on the campus, and there was only one bathroom for women on the entire campus, Dunivin said.

She said academic choices for women were limited. "There were girls in the library school and in the nursing school, but this was the college," said Dunivin. "I was in Chemistry and that was not a popular course for girls."

Despite being one of only a handful of women to go against the grain, Dunivin received a bachelor's degree in chemistry from Emory University in 1938 and went on to achieve her master's degree in 1940. When she graduated, she wanted to pursue a career in space exploration. However, as a woman, she found it difficult to find a career that matched her talents.

"I never had a job that used the skills I had," said Dunivin. However, "I am glad to know what I know. Your degree from Emory will mean something anywhere you go.

"I have an Emory tag on my car, and its my tag," said Dunivin.

Now, nine years short of the century mark, Dunivin continues to make waves. She swims several times a week, and won a silver medal in 100-freestyle during the 2007 National Senior Olympics in Louisville, Ky.

"I swim real well for 91 years old, and I enjoy it," said Dunivin. "My knee joint is worn out, so I can't do a lot of walking or knee exercises, but in the water, none of that makes a difference."

On Sept. 26, Dunivin will attempt to qualify for the 2009 National Senior Olympics in San Francisco, Calif. She plans to win.

"The lady who beat me [last year], she was a little, small lady," said Dunivin. "I wasn't competitive as a youngster. Now that I am doing these senior competitions, I want to win.

"If she's there next summer and I'm there next summer, I want to beat her," said Dunivin.