In Memory

M. Jean Bellinger (Brunnenkant) - Class Of 1934

M. Jean Bellinger (Brunnenkant)

Jean Bellinger Brunnenkant

August 30, 1916 - August 6, 2020


Jean Bellinger Brunnenkant peacefully passed away on August 6, 2020 in Overland Park, Kansas, nearly completing her 104th year and still possessing her same pleasant demeanor that inspired the fondness of others. Her independence, enthusiasm and creativity carried her through an influential teaching career and the many new chapters she opened in her lifetime.

Jean was born in Plainwell, Michigan on August 30, 1916. Her parents soon relocated to Southern California, where Jean graduated from South Pasadena High School. Among her numerous activities, Jean found an early love of dance and never stopped. She performed in school productions and with area ensembles in musicals, opera and special events at locations such as The Pasadena Playhouse and Tournament of Roses Parade. This was a cultural period of artistic inventiveness, including the founding of Modern Dance by Isadora Duncan, and it greatly influenced Jean's pursuit of dance instruction and physical education as a career. She entered Occidental College where she enjoyed sports and joined the famed Glee Club, attended summer sessions at University of Southern California, and completed her Bachelor of Education at University of California Los Angeles. She pledged Alpha Chi Omega at UCLA where she met Phi Gamma Delta, Dickson Brunnenkant, with whom she would reconnect and marry 16 years later. After teaching at Santa Ana High School, Jean filled a position at Stanford University while a professor went into the war effort. Jean went on to earn her Master's Degree from New York University. During summer breaks, she taught at The Chautauqua Institute in southwest New York and had the opportunity to take Master Classes from distinguished guest instructor, Martha Graham. Throughout all of these years, she gathered knowledge of not only modern dance, but folk and ballroom dances from around the world. She spent sabbatical leave attending Connecticut College School of the Dance in New London, participating in their first American Dance Festival, and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill's Department of Dramatic Art. In 1945, Jean began her most memorable career experience as a professor of physical education and dance at University of California Santa Barbara. She was among a faculty dedicated to dance and she was thrilled to convey her love and perspective of the art. Most important to her was being an encouraging influence for her students. One of her students, who remained a friend, Harriett Beu Hankins, remembers, "Professor Jean Bellinger became my role model. She was inspiring with her calm, organized manner and understanding of her students. She was everything I ever hoped to be. Jean glowed with talent and grace. I learned the skill of 'organization' from her which I have used my entire life. She taught me how to TEACH!"

While in Santa Barbara, Jean lived on the Riviera and also with her parents in Hope Ranch, where they would ride along bridal paths, enjoy the ocean and their gardens, and spend social times at Montecito Country Club. After a decade, Jean left her university position for marriage and Manhattan Beach. She had two daughters while continuing to teach at Santa Monica High School and Inglewood High School. Eventually, Dickson was transferred with the headquarters of Interstate Brands Corporation to Kansas City. Jean retired from teaching and they moved to Leawood, Kansas where she became involved in parenting activities and ensured that her daughters were exposed to the arts, music and sports. She was a welcoming hostess, putting together last minute dinner parties, gathering neighbors for backyard socials and creating celebrations for any occasion. Her Christmas decorations were fantastic. Jean unexpectedly lost Dickson to cancer while their children were in elementary and junior high schools but her strength and optimism continued to shine through. She enjoyed a network of friends in her community and contributed her time to local organizations. Jean was an active volunteer, committee chair and officer over her 25 years of membership in the Vanderslice Committee of the Kansas City Art Institute. She continued her pursuit of athletics and tried all the newest fitness crazes while keeping up with her swimming and tennis at Leawood Country Club and KC Racquet Club. She joined dance clubs to perfect her waltz, swing, cha cha and tango, and entered ballroom competitions including the Heart of America Championship. During this time, Jean discovered racewalking by chance through Alan Poisner MD and the Heartland Racewalkers. She traveled the country to enter the biennial National Senior Games, immediately winning her first of many Gold Medals at age 75, which led to a shocking newspaper headline revealing her age! Several of her top-ten performance times still stand as records, especially in the nonagenarian divisions. Alan reflects, "Jean was our beloved Queen of the Heartland Racewalkers. She found time to serve her local racewalking club in several leadership positions, as a coach and as an inspiration to all younger walkers which, in her case, was everyone else. In addition to her athletic accomplishments, her charm, generosity, and good humor are a lasting legacy for all of her walking friend in Kansas and around the country." In appreciation, the Heartland Racewalkers nominated Jean as Kansas City Senior Sportswoman of the Year for which she was selected in 2006. 

Jean will be missed and remembered well as an imaginative and positive force, a self-starter who accomplished projects with perfection, a caring individual who never hesitated to offer assistance or share a kind word and as an upbeat friend who was always great fun. Jean is survived by her daughters, Karen (Kelly) Gregg and Kristina Ballantyne. She was predeceased by her husband, Dickson Brunnenkant; sister and brother-in-law, Helen (SPHS '42) and John Seaborne; parents, Ruth and Hart Bellinger; son-in-law, Todd Ballantyne; and her dear friend and travel companion, Thomas Young.

Kansas City Star, September 6, 2020