Sonora native and Korean War veteran Bill Dunlavy died Aug. 3 surrounded by family and friends at Adventist Health Sonora following an 11-month battle with cancer.

He was 88.

Dunlavy was well regarded in the community as a tireless volunteer and historical preservationist who comes from a longtime notable Tuolumne County family.

Sonora High School’s Dunlavy Field is named after his father, Vernon, who was a football coach, teacher, principal and superintendent of the Sonora Union High School District for 37 years.

Born on Aug. 24, 1928, Bill Dunlavy graduated from Sonora High School in 1946 and joined the Army in 1952 a year after earning a bachelor’s degree in business from the University of California, Berkeley.

Dunlavy was on a plane headed for Korea in 1952 when he was reassigned to the U.S. Medical Service Corps in Japan, where he served for two years before receiving an honorable discharge.

“I was disappointed I couldn’t get to Korea. I wanted to get there, but a lot of fellows were in the same boat,” Dunlavy said in an article published by The Union Democrat on Veterans Day 2012.

After the military, Dunlavy spent 32 years working for the Union Carbide Corporation, a Dow Chemical subsidiary.

Dunlavy and his wife at the time, Marjorie, along with their growing family, moved around between California and Oregon as he received promotions, before settling in Marin County for 27 years.

He was also involved as a lay leader and trustee for Aldersgate United Methodist Church in Marin County, as well as a scoutmaster and commissioner in the Boy Scouts of America.

After retiring, Dunlavy moved back to Sonora in the late 1980s and purchased his family home on Knowles Hill Drive that was built by his father in 1928.

“I didn’t want anybody else to live there,” Dunlavy said in the 2012 article.

Dunlavy became involved in many community organizations upon his retirement, including the Sonora Lions Club, Sonora United Methodist Church, Korean War Veterans, Tuolumne County Historical Society, Elks Club, Sons in Retirement, Tuolumne County Road Commission, American Lung Association and Columbia College Foundation.

In the 1990s, Dunlavy and 14 other Korean War Veterans founded the county’s chapter of the Korean War Veterans Association. The group was active in setting up the Veterans Museum in Sonora and secured the Korean War monument that stands in front of it.
The group, which has since been deactivated as membership dwindled due to the ages of its members, also gave out local scholarships and organized fundraisers to help with the displays and monument at the military museum.

Following the death of Dunlavy’s first wife in 2002 after 46 years of marriage, he remarried in 2003 to fellow Sonora Methodist Church member Mary Lou, whose husband of 35 years, Bill Milwee, died in 1999.

“We both came from long marriages and had known each other through church for a long time,” Mary Lou Dunlavy said.

The couple traveled the world together to places like China, Australia and Hawaii, as well as a Mediterranean cruise two years ago during which they visited Venice, Naples and Rome, among other places.

Mary Lou Dunlavy described her late husband of 14-and-half years as a type A personality who was outgoing, kind, gentle, loving, generous and optimistic.

“He always saw the glass half full and I was the opposite, so it worked out,” she said.

Despite battling cancer, Dunlavy would frequently drive around to hospitals and nursing homes and give cards to people he knew who were hospitalized or had fallen ill.

“He’s kind of like the mayor,” she said. “He knows everybody and their dog.”

Bill Dunlavy volunteered often with the Tuolumne County Historical Society, doing maintenance work at the Tuolumne County Museum on the exhibits and building. In April 1997, the society bestowed Bill and Marjorie Dunlavy with the Wheelhorse Award for their efforts.

In 2002, Bill Dunlavy was inducted into the Columbia College Foundation’s Hall of Fame for being a community supporter since 1987. He joined the foundation’s Board of Directors the following year, actively participating at every meeting until the last two.

“He came to every meeting prepared,” said Colette Such, the foundation’s board president. “He was engaged, he was a generous contributor to the foundation and a wise steward of its funds with his background in business.”

Such said within his first few months on the board in 2003 he was named vice president and served as president in 2005. He was also active on various committees at the foundation, including one in which he helped raise $30,000 for the school’s Carkeet Park.

“Bill supported the college and foundation in so many ways for so many years,” Such said. “He was certainly a mentor to me for how to give back to the community.”

Dunlavy’s family described him as an outdoorsman who enjoyed fly fishing, backpacking, hiking and spending summers at a cabin on Pinecrest Reservoir’s North Shore that his family built when he was 4 years old.

He is survived by wife, Mary Lou, his children, Bill Jr., Deborah, Elizabeth, and Claudia, six grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.

A memorial service for Dunlavy is planned for 3 p.m. Aug. 26, at the Sonora Elks Lodge, 100 Elk Drive.

Contact Alex MacLean at or (209) 588-4530.