An Enduring Commitment to Education
While much is not known about 1966 alumnus Duane Durkee and his beloved mother and aunt, there is a prevailing theme in their lives: the value of education.
The last, and most enduring, expression of that commitment came this summer, when Chico State received a gift of more than one-half million dollars to support student scholarships in the biological sciences.
With the passing earlier this year of Norma Haugard, Durkee’s aunt, a trust that named the University as beneficiary was distributed that included cash, stocks, and a large number of coins with a total value of nearly $600,000. (Left: Duane Durkee, Delta Sigma Phi photo from Chico State’s 1966 yearbook, the Record.)
Duane Durkee passed away in 2006, and his mother, Emilie Durkee, passed away in 2008. Consequently, the trust was left to benefit Haugard for the rest of her life. After the Durkees’ passing, Gary Salberg, director of major gifts and planned giving, contacted their attorney in Escondido to make certain the final designation in the estate’s documents was acceptable. Their final wishes were that their assets be used “as a scholarship in the name of Duane Irvin Durkee for the biological sciences.”
Jeff Bell, chair of the biology department, said everyone was thrilled to hear about this major gift to benefit students. “We have many students who are excited about biology and hope to get the training and knowledge to pursue one of the many careers available to biology students, from medicine to research scientist to teacher to field biologist,” Bell said. “This wonderful gift will help numerous students pursue their dreams.” Bell said that the first students will receive awards this spring semester. (Right: This is the front and back of a St. Gaudens High relief $20 gold coin, like the ones inherited from the Durkee estate.)
Sheilah Wenzel, a friend of Emilie Durkee and trustee of the trust, said all three family members were people who made a difference in the world in a quiet, unassuming fashion. “They were contributing members of society, they all did their parts, but did so with no fanfare,” Wenzel said. She said they were all interested in the environment, and that may have played a role in their modest ways. “They respected the planet—you could say they walked gently on the earth.”
Wenzel only met Duane Durkee a couple of times, saying he was a “quiet, friendly person” who was close to his mother and aunt. She said that he was a retired school teacher and business owner who was interested in soccer, fishing, camping, and working on race cars, and that he liked to know how things worked.
Duane Durkee was born on Nov. 2, 1942, in Europe, where his father was stationed during World War II. It is not known what became of his father, but Durkee was raised in Europe by his mother and aunt, who took teaching jobs at U.S. military bases after the war. After graduating from high school in France, Durkee and his mother and aunt moved to the San Diego area so they could be closer to his grandfather. Wenzel does not know why Durkee enrolled at Chico State, but she guessed it might have been his love of the outdoors.
Durkee majored in biology at Chico State and was a member of Delta Sigma Phi fraternity. Several of his fraternity brothers, including Distinguished Alumni Lance Tennis and Wayne Wooden, remember him but had not kept in touch. Delta Sigma Phi member and 1965 alumnus Herb Clark said, “I am saddened to learn of Duane's passing. We had a number of classes together, and I always enjoyed working with Duane and having him as a fraternity brother. He was a quiet man, thoughtful, and I assume well-liked by all who knew him.”
After graduating from Chico State in January 1966, Durkee moved back to the San Diego area. Along with teaching junior high he started a plumbing business in 1970. He never married. Little else is known about him. His obituary in a San Diego area newspaper said health problems led to his retirement and that he died of cancer Jan. 11, 2006.
Why would Durkee, with the support of his mother and aunt, choose Chico State as his beneficiary? Wenzel suspects it was because all three of them, as teachers, wanted to give back to an educational institution. Plus Durkee must have greatly appreciated his days at Chico State and the value of his degree in biology. Wenzel said Durkee, his mother Emilie, and his aunt Norma were “great role models” for giving back to the community.
After Norma Haugard’s death, Wenzel, acting as trustee, requested a campus representative assist with collecting a number of specific assets. Salberg traveled to San Diego to take possession of the trust assets, which included 969 coins appraised at a combined value of $242,434. Included among the coins were 132 U.S. 20-dollar gold pieces dating from 1852.
Salberg said he did not think Duane Durkee had been in touch with anyone at Chico State through the years. While faculty and staff are sometimes surprised to learn about a planned gift that benefits the University, Salberg said it is more common for donors to want contact with the campus community. “Many donors want to meet the people who can help them carry out their wishes, or meet faculty or students who could benefit from their gift,” Salberg said.
But while Durkee may have wished to keep a low profile as a benefactor of Chico State, his family’s gift will have a big impact. “What a difference this will make for many, many students coming to our campus,” Salberg said. “We are so grateful for this generous gift. Such is the heritage of Chico State—alums who devote their lives in classrooms and careers that deliver benefits to future generations.”■
—Joe Wills, Public Affairs and Publications