Kelly’s Story

Kelly Dunham

Kelly Anne (Buchanan) Dunham

February 20, 1969 – May 24,2020

The world lost a great one on May 24, 2020, and we thought it important to let you know the breadth and the depth of this greatness.

Kelly was born in Sarnia, Ontario to Marianne and Bill Buchanan. It was in the basketball community where she made her mark but her whole life was spent in a variety of sports and activities. Family was central to a childhood filled with fun and laughter, two aspects everyone who knew Kelly can relate. Before basketball become her true passion she played volleyball, floor hockey, and soccer at Bridgeview Public School in Point Edward. Kelly found some of her future leadership skills while involved in Brownies, Girl Guides and Pathfinders, where she especially loved the camping outings and where her friends became like family. She was also a strong bowler, played fastball with the SMAA (Sarnia Minor Athletic Association) and she even played piano until she was in grade 8, with Grandma McGuire ( Ina) as  the practice supervisor.

Growing up in The Point she developed some strong friendships that meant a lot to her for the rest of her life. She enjoyed meeting up with these friends to catch up with them and their families whenever she came back to visit her parents. They would reminisce about spending time at Canatara Beach, cruising the strip at Canatara, swimming under the Bridge and enjoying Albert’s fries.

Time spent with cousins Sue, Rick & Mandi Neely on weekends and holidays meant a lot, as did family time in Tobermory at her Great Aunt Eva & Uncle Reg’s cabins on Gilles Lake (now Mountain Trout Camp) and many lessons were taught by Kelly’s Grandparents (Keith & Lenore Buchanan) – how maple syrup is made, ice fishing, making homemade bread and snowmobiling to name a few. Summer day visits which turned into sleepovers were enjoyed at Orchard Lake Camp Ground with Gram and Grandpa Buchanan. 

When Kelly was a teenager through late spring and into the summer, the Buchanan’s spent most weekends at Lambton Miniature Harness Racetrack in Sarnia, Ontario for several years. 

B. G. (Buchanan & Girls) Stables was established during this time. Kelly and Marnie helped their Pops Bill, harness their seven horses.  Marianne’s time was spent as a Race Secretary. Many friendships were developed over the years where the races took place.

Once in High School at S.C.I.T.S (Sarnia Collegiate Institute & Technical School) – Kelly played on numerous school sports teams: basketball, volleyball, soccer and in track and field she called herself a “chucker” –throwing discus, shot out & javelin. She also showed her leadership in bettering girls’ athletics by joining the GAA (Girls Athletic Association) and she participated in the Annual S.C.I.T.S Revue and school fashion show. 

Basketball became her true passion, and this is where her work ethic and enthusiasm for competing paid off. She played on several teams during her high school career: Southwest JDP team, Ontario Provincial Teams and her S.C.I.T.S. Blue Bombers became OFSAA Gold Medalists in 1987. The OFSAA title is especially meaningful as Head Coach Rick McLellan brought along some junior players for experience and that meant that Kelly and Marnie shared in the Ontario title.

That sense of family was extremely important to Kelly. The summer after graduating high school, Kelly found a new family when she started working at Olympia Sports Camp in Huntsville. OSC is a place where you have a family for life and it is where Kelly was shown how to spread her wings, take risks, and get up after you fall, lessons that she would use in mentoring students and players throughout her life as a coach and administrator. Dave Grace, director of Olympia became a very influential person in Kelly’s life. Kelly impacted many, many campers and staff for years at Olympia through her evolving roles as counsellor, unit leader, full time staff, and eventually giving back as a coach. 

After graduating from S.C.I.T.S. Kelly played for the University of Windsor Women’s Basketball Team for one year before she took her talents, and the next almost two decades of her life, to Mohawk College in Hamilton, where she earned two diplomas in the classroom and much success on the basketball court, and was a member of the softball team for two years.

In the 1990-91 season Kelly was an OCAA All-star when the Mountaineers won the Ontario championship and finished fourth at the CCAA nationals. For her efforts Kelly received Mohawk’s Female Freshman of the Year Award. The next year Kelly stepped up even further as she again was an OCAA All Star when Mohawk won provincial bronze. She was also on Mohawk’s softball team and  Kelly earned Mohawk’s All Round Female Athlete award, as well as the Coach’s award for Women’s Basketball and was the SAC (Student Athletic Council) Varsity representative. In her final year of Mohawk Athletics Kelly led the team in scoring and was named to the OCAA All Star team for the third year in a row. Her burgeoning leadership skills were on display as well because she was team captain for the second year in a row and was now the chair of the SAC. In the classroom Kelly graduated in 1991 from Office Administration and in 1993 from Recreation Leadership. She received the WK Warrender Award for student involvement.

Upon graduation, Kelly’s time at Mohawk was far from over. In many ways it was just beginning. After gaining so much success as an athlete, it was now time to help others, and that is where Kelly’s true strength rose. She began her post-graduate career in 1993 in the Athletics department, and her various roles throughout the college community showed not only her skills as a caring administrator and teacher but the respect she garnered across campus. Through the years she worked for the Continuing Education department, was a Student Success Advisor and community outreach for athletics. Kelly found a real niche as Alumni Relations Coordinator, where she built relationships with Mohawk graduates and kept them engaged with events, programs, and volunteer opportunities. This happened from 2005 till she left the College in 2019 to work in the athletic department at McMaster.

While busy with her career Kelly found time to coach as well, she mentored hundreds not only with her knowledge of the game but by showing the players the passion they had to play with. You couldn’t be in a room with Kelly, much less on her teams, without catching her incredible enthusiasm for life. She was an assistant at Mohawk under the legendary Earl Begg and then took the head coaching reins for 7 years. Not only did she coach basketball, but she also taught by paying it forward. Every year her teams would support a family in need at Christmas and encouraged her players to volunteer at the annual Alumni Christmas Holiday Party.

The Mohawk honours kept coming. In 2010 She received the President’s Award of Excellence for her involvement with young girls’ basketball in Hamilton for her efforts with both the Transway Basketball Club and the CANUSA Games, a yearly multi- sport athletic competition between Hamilton and Flint Michigan. In 2015 she won another President’s Award of Excellence for her contributions to the Mohawk Women’s Day Committee and in 2017 Kelly was inducted into the Mountaineer Hall of Fame in the Athlete category and in 2021 she received a posthumous 2021 Mohawk Alumni of Distinction – the Affinity category for all her support of Mohawk.

But the Kelly Dunham story always comes back to basketball. Lots of basketball. She was Head Coach of Team Ontario from 1998-2001, coaching at the 2001 Canada Summer Games. Aside from her Mohawk head coaching experience Kelly was an assistant with Theresa Burns at McMaster from 1995-2001and returned in 2019 as varsity operations coordinator. She also coached with the Transway basketball program at all ages and was a coach and coordinator for CANUSA basketball for years. 

Through her coaching Kelly became a confidant for many young basketball players and through playing in the Hamilton Women’s league and Ontario Senior Women’s league Kelly became friends of many in the Hamilton community and became an integral part of basketball in Hamilton and beyond.

Anyone who had the great fortune to meet Kelly Dunham had a friend for life. The great thing about Kelly was that that friendship was maintained no matter how much you saw each other. Get re-connected and two things happened; she gave you a big bear hug and she made you feel better than before she walked in. She had great success as a player and coach but as with any true hero, the stuff on the court pales in comparison to the impact made off the court. Whether it be S.C.I.T.S. Olympia Sports Camp, Mohawk College, McMaster University, Transway, or CANUSA, Kelly’s impact was immense, and now it must become lasting.

When Kelly passed away on May 24, 2020, after a brief one-month battle with cancer the basketball community, in Hamilton and all of Ontario was rocked. Many basketball people lost someone who brought so much life into their involvement with the sport. As with any tragedy this just didn’t make sense. To make matters even worse, because of COVID the basketball community had no way to share the grief with each other, nor with Kelly’s husband Doug or her two kids Mitchell and Ally. The social media platforms lit up with tributes and the phone chains were province wide. Kelly’s daughter Ally, in beautiful words in the obituary, says it for all of us:

“Mom, life seems really unfair because you, being the amazing woman and people person you were, who touched the lives of more people than you know, got taken away from us all far too soon. You’re infamous for your smile that could light up any room. Your infectious laugh, so big that it echoed through walls. Your big opened-armed bear hugs that wrapped around every soul you touched. You always found a way within your schedule two times as big as a normal person’s to be our family’s rock. You always supported us playing lacrosse, playing golf, or going horseback riding. We know you’ll continue to watch over us and cheer us on, on the field on the golf course and in the arena. We are so glad that your legacy will continue on with the Kelly Dunham Memorial Athletic Financial Award with two places near and dear to your heart, Mohawk and McMaster. We love you. LuLu Lah.”

Ally Dunham

Kelly was a consummate team player and fierce competitor who always rose to the occasion, no matter the challenge. Now it is up to us to pay it forward and play it forward in her name.

Following Kelly’s passing in 2020, Doug Dunham and a group of Kelly’s friends established the Kelly Dunham Memorial Foundation. The Kelly Dunham Memorial Foundation is registered with – Revenue Canada Charitable Number: 76755 8349 RR0001

Kelly black and white image