Barry and His Books


Barry Dunn reads ‘And the Mountains Echoed’ Collegian photo by Symmone Gauer

Symmone Gauer and Andrea Huete


​​“If I could give any person a gift, it would be reading,” President Barry Dunn said.

Anyone who knows President Dunn knows that he has a deep love of reading. Books inspire him, and they challenge him to be a better person. They help one explore and understand emotions, history or relationships. As such, Dunn has a very large book collection. 

Dunn mainly focuses on reading three types of books: Pulitzer prize-winning novels, biographies of great people, and leadership and management/higher education books.

He rotates the three types, and he reads every night. Dunn says he tries to learn from the mistakes of others, but he wants to try to emulate their successes. As someone who is always on the road toward self-improvement, Dunn says reading is a big help in that. 

“He’s a lifelong learner—always has been,” his wife Jane said. 

Even as a child, Dunn was always an avid reader.

 “I think I always had a book in my hand,” he said. 

Growing up in Mission, South Dakota, Dunn worked on the family ranch after graduating from SDSU with degrees in biology and animal science. Once his family decided to sell the ranch, he wanted to reinvent himself by going back to get his Ph.D. in his mid-forties. 

Dunn was then a faculty member at SDSU for a time before getting a job at Texas A&M University. He later returned to State in 2010 as dean of agriculture until finally becoming university president in 2016.

“I had two lives: about half my professional life I was a cattle rancher, and the other half I was an academician, and so it was an unusual background,” Dunn said. 

Reading is now one way he broadens his horizons and learns to become a better leader in that regard.

“What I’m most impressed about is that he is willing to change,” Jane said.

One thing Dunn enjoys reading about is the founding fathers; he’s read around 20 biographies of past U.S. presidents.

Teddy Roosevelt is one of his favorite historical characters as he proved to be a great leader and showed a “tremendous innate understanding of America.” He led an interesting and challenging life, and Dunn relates to him because they share similar interests.

Both were cattle ranchers when they were young. The two also shared a love of nature and ecology, and both have kept collections; Teddy Roosevelt had a collection of insects, plants and animals, whereas Dunn has his books. 

He estimates having around 400 to 500 books that fill up bookshelves around his home.

“I only put a book up on the shelf if I’ve read it. That’s one of my rules,” he said. While there are some books at the president’s campus residence, most of the books are at his personal home north of Brookings, which is his wife’s original family homestead. 

They have about 10 bookshelves full, many of which used to be simply decorative, and there are even shelves in the guest bedrooms. He has piles of neatly stacked unread books around his house, but he said his wife is very patient with him about it.

“I don’t mind–he’s actually quite neat,” she said. “He has his own system…I dust around them, but I do not move them.” 

All of the books are categorized, but not alphabetized, so only Dunn knows exactly where to find everything. On occasion, he’ll send Jane to retrieve a book and will be able to tell her exactly where it is and even what color the cover is. 

“He’s very easy to shop for,” Jane said. “It’s a really positive hobby to have, and it’s not terribly expensive.” 

She said it’s just as easy to drop him off at a Barnes & Noble while she runs her own errands. 

When holidays and birthdays are coming up, Dunn will write down which books he is looking to read next, and friends and family members will deliver. But he is just as happy to receive any good book from a friend, particularly if it’s one they wrote.

In his university office, President Dunn has a shelf dedicated to books his friends have written and inscribed to him, and he also keeps copies of his past grad students’ theses to show his pride in their accomplishments. 

Dunn says one of the best things about books is that you’re able to share them. He will often give copies of his favorite books to others, or sometimes he’ll make recommendations. He commonly recommends his favorite book called “Beyond the Hundredth Meridian” by Wallace Stegner. 

“It’s nonfiction, but it’s a biography of John Weasly Paul, and it’s a fantastic book,” he said. It’s a book he read nearly 20 years ago but remembers vividly because it’s such an inspiring story. He also gave copies of it to his grad students at A&M as a graduation present.

Some of Dunn’s favorite authors include Mari Sandoz and Ivan Doig. “All the Light We Cannot See” is another favorite book of his, one he recommended to his wife.

“He said that was one of the best books he’s ever read, so I feel like I have to read that and see if I feel the same way,” Jane said, and she’s planning to read it soon. 

While both Jane and Barry like to read, Jane considers reading more of a reward than a part of her daily routine. She also likes to read books of faith in addition to historical fiction and inspiring true stories. “The Glass Castle” is a favorite of hers.

Another difference the couple has is that Jane prefers e-books and Barry loves hardcover, as made obvious by the hundreds of copies he owns. 

Reading is a big part of who he is. Dunn works hard at his job and tries to deliver the best he can for the staff, students and our community. Building relationships and trusting in one another, he says, is important in having a successful life, but there’s always so much one can learn from simply reading a book. 

“It’s a wonderful vehicle to grow and understand the world around us,” Dunn said.


Fun Facts

  1. Barry Dunn met his wife Jane when they were students living in Pierson Hall. “She lived on the 4th floor and I was on the 1st floor, and I was looking for a way to meet her. I approached her one afternoon, and that is how we met…And then went for ice cream,” Dunn said. 
  2. Barry Dunn took poetry and literature classes when he was a student for his degrees in biology as electives, which he really liked. He once published two pieces of poetry in a South Dakota poetry journal called “Pasque Petals.”
  3. The fireplace mantel in the President’s Home is made from wood from the log cabin that was once part of Dunn’s family homestead in Mission, South Dakota. President Dunn and his wife Jane are the first to live in the President’s Home, which was completed in 2017.