How we met:  Savings account yields romance, lifetime of returns

Every deposit was chance to see future wife


- Anita Houk,  Memphis Commercial Appeal, February 8, 2009



With all the talk about saving nowadays, Terry Kirk doesn't mind testifying that it certainly served him well. That's how he met his wife, Jean Dunnam.

"She was a teller at Leader Federal, and I had a savings account there," Terry remembers. "I saw her there. She looked gooood."

It was 1953, and Terry was a newly minted photographer in Memphis. Born in Oklahoma, he moved to Memphis as a kid when his dad, desperate for work during the Great Depression, came here for diesel mechanic school. Terry later attended Tech High (Jean did, too, but they never met there). After graduation, he joined the military in the waning days of World War II.

"When I got out of the Army, I didn't know what I wanted to do," says Terry, 81. "My dad taught at the vocational school in Memphis; so, I asked him what kind of classes they had. Photography sounded good to me. On the GI bill they gave us a camera to use. I had a little 35mm."


So he took classes, then became an entrepreneur. "I cut a deal with the Board of Education to make any pictures they wanted in return for using the darkroom and facilities there. I took pictures of buildings, classes. I also made group pictures (for his business). Then I went into nightclub photography.

"I got a partner, and we'd go to nightclubs and take pictures and developed them right there -- in a closet or any dark place that had an electrical hookup, and we put a little enlarger in there. My partner would do the developing and printing, and I'd go out and make and sell the pictures to the customers.

"That's when I saw her at the 1600 Club on Union."

"He was taking pictures of people at tables," Jean says. "Next time he came into Leader Federal, he wrote me a note on a withdrawal slip."

He says, "I wrote on the back of it, 'Would you like to go to a play Saturday? If yes, check here. If no, check here. And if yes, phone number here.'"

"I marked YES," says Jean, "and passed it back to him. (I still have it!) And he called. We went to see 'Guys and Dolls' at the Ellis Auditorium."

It was the first of many firsts for the two, who'd never before seen such a musical production.

"I guess I fell in love pretty quick," Terry admits.

Of course, he kept coming to her teller's window at the savings and loan. "I didn't tell anybody I was going with him," Jean says, "but the girls said they knew I must be because I'd blush every time he came in."

He was hooked. "On the surface, of course, was her beauty. There's her sense of humor. She was just friendly and nice and the kind of woman I wanted. (She's sitting here soaking up all this, but I'd say the same even if she wasn't here!)"

Jean, 78, says of Terry, "He's artistic. He makes me laugh. I really, REALLY get tickled at him. He's thoughtful and sweet."

They dated eight months, but the proposal, they say, was not monumental.

"I'm not good at that at all," Terry says. "Didn't even get her an engagement ring, which I'm ashamed of now and always will be. I should have done that. I think she would have liked it. But I'm afraid it's too late now."

The lack, however, didn't hinder their life plans. They married and had three daughters: Tracy, Shelly and Laury. Jean worked off and on in banking; Terry worked nearly 30 years as medical photographer at Baptist Hospital. He took a wide spectrum of photographs, from organs and surgeries to microscopic pathogens. He even took pictures of Elvis.

"I made a picture of him on his front porch (at Graceland) with his nurse, who was running for a position with an organization, and she got him to pose with her," Terry says. He adds that later -- the exact day and year escape him -- "I took pictures of Elvis in the morgue."

However, Terry clearly recalls a certain day in May 1954 at Central Christian Church on McLean: His and Jean's wedding day.

"May 29," Terry says proudly, then chuckles. "At one time, she thought it was the 27th -- and I never let her forget it."




Terry Kirk, Tech 1940

Jean Dunnam, Tech 1948


"He's artistic. He makes me laugh. I really, REALLY get tickled at him. He's thoughtful and sweet."  Jean Dunnam Kirk, speaking of Terry.