For 18 years, Peggy Dunn has helped a Kansas City suburb grow and diversify.
Story by Kimberly Stern | Photos by Steve Puppe
It’s a Friday afternoon at Tavern at Mission Farms; diners at the popular restaurant include businessmen and women; girlfriends catching up; a family or two enjoying time together over a late lunch. Owner Kelly Manning circulates the light-flooded room, shaking hands and flashing a million-dollar smile to new patrons and regulars, including Leawood Mayor Peggy Dunn.
“Hello, there,” Manning’s tall frame bends down to greet the diminutive Dunn, one of Tavern’s familiar faces. “Great to see you again.”
Dunn sits in a booth by large windows facing the parking lot, momentarily averting her attention from a half-finished Asian tuna salad to the sea of cars.
“This is truly wonderful,” Dunn says. “It’s exciting to see how people have embraced this area.”
The mixed-use Mission Farms development is just one success that has emerged in Leawood under Dunn’s 18-year watch as mayor. Formerly the home to Saddle and Sirloin—before that, entrepreneurial farmers tended the verdant land—Mission Farms broke ground in 2006. Today the bustling suburban destination, nestled in the heart of Leawood at Indian Creek Parkway and Mission Road, is a testament to the dramatic tax diversification of the city that incorporated in 1948.
Dunn is proud of Leawood’s historic growth over the decades. Recognized as one of the fastest-growing cities in Kansas, the picturesque suburb has nearly 33,000 residents and is expected to reach 40,000 in the next 10-15 years.
“It seems like just yesterday I was wearing a hardhat, touring the land that is now Park Place,” Dunn recalls. “What a great addition that mixed-use development has been to the city, too.”
One of Dunn’s recent favorite projects is the five-acre off-leash dog park between I-435 and College Blvd., just west of State Line Road, that opened to much fanfare in October 2014.
“Between October 2014 and March of this year, we have logged more than 78,000 visitors,” Dunn says.
A familiar fixture on the Kansas City social scene, Dunn supports local charities on both sides of the state line and attractions from Deanna Rose Children’s Farmstead in Overland Park to the Kansas City Repertory Theatre where she and her husband, Terry, caught the opening night performance of “Hair: Retrospection” in late March, to Union Station.
“I invited all three of my first-grade granddaughters to see ‘Cinderella’ at the Regnier Theatre,” Dunn says. “Only one could go, but what a great time we had. Union Station is a rich experience for everyone in Kansas City.”
Dunn sits on the landmark’s board of directors, just one of many civic involvements on her demanding agenda. She lunches three times a year with the group of women who served as mayors of their cities, on the Kansas side of the state line, over the years. Rarely home, she tries to keep Sunday nights free—time to spend with Terry, their four children and 10 grandchildren—five boys, five girls. The couple can often be seen on weekends strolling the trails around their Leawood home, an activity Dunn cherishes.
“It’s an opportunity to talk,” she says. “Our weeks get busy.”
Dunn is a popular mayor who is widely regarded as a kind person; she is affable, engaging, thoughtful, smart and enthusiastic. Although Dunn keeps a grueling schedule, she wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Life inspires me; family inspires me,” she says, sharing a towering slice of Tavern’s famous triple chocolate cake that Manning personally delivers to the table. “I love what I do.”
Reasons to love Leawood abound—its beauty, local food culture, lovely green spaces, public art, dynamic ambience. Add to that list Dunn’s passion to make it the best little suburb in Kansas City.
Main Course: Q&A with Peggy Dunn
• Do you have a signature dish you prepare at home? “Birthday dinners always include my spaghetti and meat sauce recipe.”
• What is one of your favorite weekend past-times? “Walking the trails in Johnson County with my husband, Terry. It’s a great way to unwind and catch up.”
• When you’re not at an event or on an official duty, what’s date night with Terry? “Maybe a movie at the Glenwood Arts and a late-night snack at Tavern at Mission Farms.”
• What would people be surprised to learn about you? “I studied classical piano.”
• What hashtag would best describe your life’s mantra? “That’s easy; it’s a line I heard in Cinderella. #BeKind.”