Jeff Rankin  |   Published April 12, 2017

Remembering a Legend

Bunce, former board chair, provided vision for modern campus
  • Peter Bunce (right) examines drawings for a renovation of the former Carnegie Library with President Bruce Haywood, the architect and other trustees.
Peter H. Bunce, who guided Monmouth College through difficult times as its board of trustees chair from 1974-84, died April 12, 2017. He was 87.

Although he had no personal ties to Monmouth College, Bunce was an active member of the board of trustees. He served on its executive committee for 45 years and continued to attend board meetings long after his retirement.

President Dr. Clarence R. Wyatt wrote in an email: “Lobie and I were privileged to know him for only a few years, but it is clear that his ambition for the College, his devotion to its mission, and his respect and affection for his colleagues on the Board informed all that he did for all of those years. The joy with which he lived his life will continue to inspire all of us who were blessed to know him.”

The founder of a St. Louis construction firm who later became a contracting consultant, Bunce lent his professional expertise and leadership to the design and expansion of the College campus, which has more than doubled in size since he joined the board in 1971.

Remarking on Bunce’s influence, current board chair William Goldsborough ’65 in 2013 said: “Peter is one of the senior people I have admired during my 25 years on the executive committee. He is a smart, sharp guy who has made innumerable important contributions to the college, especially in his work on the buildings and grounds committee. The curb appeal of this institution is spectacular, thanks in large measure to Peter’s vision.”

A native of Palmerton, Pa., Bunce attended Princeton University, where he majored in economics. He enlisted in the Air Force after college and served as a combat intelligence officer before founding his steel building company in 1959.
Bunce’s connection to Monmouth College came about in 1970, when he met Bruce Mainwaring, the president of a steel tubing company.

Mainwaring had been a classmate of newly-installed Monmouth President Richard Stine at the University of Pennsylvania. Mainwaring was preparing to join the Monmouth College Senate — which preceded the Board of Trustees as the College’s governing board— and he suggested to Stine that Bunce be added to the College’s governing body.

“I talked to Bruce at a meeting in Florida,” Bunce once reminisced, “and he said, ‘You ought to get interested in Monmouth College.’ And I was interested. My older sister was on the faculty of Oberlin (College in Ohio), so I had an interest in academic affairs, and I was also doing business in the area, constructing bank buildings.

“I made the mistake in dropping by campus just to see how things were going, and they took that to mean that I was really interested in the job!”

It wasn’t long before Bunce was asked to succeed Caterpillar CEO Lee Morgan as chairman of the Monmouth governing board. That was a turbulent period in the College’s history, as it teetered on the brink of financial insolvency, but Bunce skillfully piloted the college to calmer waters. One of his most significant achievements in those years was convincing a dean from Mount Union College in Alliance, Ohio, to accept the presidency.

“In those days, we didn’t have a consultant; we ran the search ourselves,” Bunce explained. “Our only really good candidate was DeBow Freed from Mount Union. We offered the job to him, but he declined.”

During a business trip to the East Coast, Bunce stopped at Alliance and had a conversation with Freed.

“I told him we knew we were in trouble, and we needed someone who also knew we were in trouble, and who wanted to fix it,” he said. “As a result of that talk, Freed decided that he was that person, and it was largely through his strong management that we were able to get back on our feet financially.”

Pete Loomis, retired physical plant director, who worked with Bunce on many campus building projects, said that Bunce was invaluable to the successful completion of many projects, which tended to grow in scope until they exceeded their budget.

“This was usually the point at which Peter would arrive from St. Louis and gently bring us all back down to earth,” Loomis recalled. “With his years of construction experience and his keen eye for detail, he helped us see what was important — and what was not.”

Richard Valentine, who served as vice president for external relations for 11 years, also recalled Bunce’s leadership, which focused on students.

“First and foremost was Peter’s concern for the students and their experience at Monmouth College,” Valentine said. “Peter always arrived early for board meetings so he could walk around campus to get a sense of what facility opportunities might present themselves. He was very passionate about having the best physical plant possible for students, and loved to hang out with them in their community spaces to learn not only what they liked about Monmouth College but also to find out what would make it a better experience.

“Those important impromptu conversations always made their way to the board room during our meetings. Concerning board meetings, you could always expect a sincere and well-thought-out response on any issue from Peter. With a board membership largely made up of alumni, Peter looked at issues objectively and from a more worldly experience base.”
Bunce’s leadership did not end with his tenure as chairman. He served as national chair of a capital campaign from 1983-86 that raised more money than all previous drives combined and reached its goal a year ahead of schedule.

In honor of Bunce’s leadership, Goldsborough and his wife, Beverly, in 2012 made a gift to create a permanent garden known as Bunce Plaza on the east side of the College’s Center for Science and Business.

“I love this campus, I really do,” Bunce reflected at the time. “It’s just a wonderful surprise that my name will now be attached to it.”

Bunce’s survivors include his wife, Gail, for whom the plaza is also named. The Memorial Service will be conducted at Saint Peter’s Episcopal Church in Ladue, 110 N. Warson Rd. at Ladue Road, on Wednesday, April 19 at 11:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, memorials appreciated to Grace Hill Settlement House, 2600 Hadley St., St. Louis, 63106 or to Circus Flora, 3547 Olive, Suite 210, St. Louis, 63103. Condolences at 
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