Jack B. Duffy of Louisville, Colorado passed away on Sept. 14, 2020. Jack was an optimist. He saw life as full of possibilities and would never accept defeat. He treated everyone with dignity and respect. Jack was a true believer in public education, universal healthcare, love of family and country, a good political discussion, and above all else the value of a hard day’s work.
Jack was born on Feb. 16, 1931, in Long Pine, Nebraska to G.R. and Mildred Duffy. He spent his youth in Tripp County, South Dakota on the family ranch, eventually graduating from Winner High School. He was passed out of his rural school after the 8th grade because, as the teacher wrote: “he won’t be going to town for high school anyway.” She was one of many he would prove wrong. Jack attended South Dakota State for a semester and then joined the AirForce upon the breakout of the Korean War.
While on leave, Jack took his mother’s advice and asked Maxine Sharkey to a dance. They quickly discovered that they were meant to dance through life together. They were married on December 26, 1952. He shipped out for Okinawa a few days later — they wrote to each other every day and those letters remain as a lasting testament of their life and love together. Anyone who ever had the privilege of watching them waltz can attest that together their steps were always true and smooth. They kept on dancing for the next 68 years anytime and anywhere the music played.
Upon his honorable discharge from the military, Jack again showed his good judgment by following Maxine’s advice that he become a teacher instead of a farmer. A distinguished academic and teaching career followed which never really ended. Jack liked to say “education is a message we send to future generations we will never meet.” He was “a lifelong learner” and continued to read and take classes well into his retirement. His 33 years as Principal of Sheldon, Iowa Community Schools was the highlight of his professional career. He loved that school and the kids. He always acted in the best interest of children — it was his True North. Because he knew how it felt to be “the worst student in the class” and to later “set the curve,” he always had a special soft spot for kids who struggled with learning either because of a challenging home life or a disability. Jack won many awards and recognitions for his work as an educator, although he would not want us to mention them here.
Jack retired in 1993, and he and Maxine moved to Colorado to help with the grandchildren. Jack was a worker, even in retirement. He was active in AARP (named Volunteer of the Year for his work on the Affordable Care Act), the Catholic Church (serving on the Bishop’s Counsel, among other roles), remodeled his kids’ homes, and got more work done in a day and “in retirement” than can be imagined. He attended every school activity and was always in the front row. Truth be told, he never really retired.
Jack was a wonderful father and world class grandfather. He embraced his grandkids, took great pride in their successes, and was quick to overlook and forgive any modest failures. “That isn’t very serious, and he is a fine boy/girl” was his constant refrain. He gave and practiced unconditional love at all times.
Jack and Maxine also saw the world — they traveled everywhere — South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East, you name it. During the Arab Spring they went to Egypt because “the prices are so low and it is history.” Jack loved a bargain. After a particularly grueling “adventure trip” to Greece where they were decades older than anyone else on the tour, his children began vetting their travel plans. Of course, our intervention didn’t stop them from getting on the wrong bus in Vietnam! But Jack’s favorite trips were the six times he and Maxine loaded up their camper and followed the salmon runs through Alaska for the summer. He simply loved Alaska.
Jack remained physically and mentally healthy into his 80’s. He always ate right, exercised, and took care of himself. The last few years were hard when his mind failed him, but he never lost his joy or positive outlook on life. In the end, Father Time proved why he is undefeated when he knocked out one of the great ones.
Jack had a great ride: A life well lived. No regrets. No do-overs requested. We will miss him terribly. We imagine his only disappointment is that he and Maxine didn’t leave the dance floor at the same time. But to those who knew him, he would never really leave Maxine alone and has only stepped away for a song or two. Glenn Miller is playing in heaven tonight.
He Is survived by his beloved wife of 68 years, Maxine, his four children Diane (Mary), Gary (Beth), Keith (Angie), Brian (Kari); seven grandchildren: Amber (Tyler), Brennan (Caitlin), Gerritt, Ellen (Justin), Jared (Chelsea), Abby and Olivia; and, five great grandchildren, with two more on the way.
We are his garden, his legacy. Wherever we go and whatever we do, he is with us.The family will hold a private funeral Mass in Louisville, Colorado. In lieu of flowers, please consider a contribution to the Jack B. Duffy reading endowment at the Sheldon Community Schools, 1700 E. 4th St., Sheldon, Iowa, 51201 or a contribution to a foundation of your choice.