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Remembering Duane Lehmann
Ned Groth, April 2020


(Author’s note: This biographical remembrance is based primarily on personal encounters, our yearbooks and information from Duane's widow, Florence. I knew Duane at Darrow but once we all had scattered, he stayed out of touch and elusive. Still, he deserves a memorial, and I've done what I can with what I have. My goal, as always, has been to create an honest and loving portrait. I’ve striven for factual accuracy, but take full responsibility for any errors. This remembrance can be amended, if need be, as others contribute their own memories to it.  –NG)

 

Duane was an actual member of our class for only one of the three (possibly two, or maybe four) years he was at Darrow. When we first arrived in 1958 as freshmen, he was a sophomore. Duane was born in early 1942, so he was two years older than we were; he may have started as '60 but repeated a year before we got there. Next fall, 1959, he was a sophomore again/still; he's in our class picture in that year's yearbook. I don't recall his being in any of my classes, but perhaps he was re-doing English II with Mr. Emery. At the end of that year, spring of 1960, Duane apparently failed once again to advance to junior status. But he didn't come back to Darrow in the fall. By then he was 18, college did not seem to be in his future, and rather than try to finish up, say, in public high school, he enlisted in the Navy and went off to see the world. Since he was never a senior, we don't have a yearbook portrait of him, so this photo (from the 1959-60 Jazz Band shot) will have to do.

Duane was a faculty brat, one of a handful at Darrow in those days. His father was Walter Lehmann, our ultra-talented music teacher and Jazz Band leader/coach. His mother, Carolyn, taught at the Pine Cobble Nursery School in Williamstown, a progressive school for young children. When Walt wasn't on campus giving instrumental lessons, he could often be found playing some of the best jazz in New England at clubs in Williamstown. The 1959 yearbook lists Pine Cobble as Duane's home address, so unlike the Van Vorst and Mahnken boys, he lived in a dorm. Roland Wright roomed with him in Wickersham, our sophomore year. "We got along good," he recalls. "But since we lived across the hall from Mr. Nunley's apartment, we couldn’t cause too much trouble."

Given his academic struggles, no one thought of Duane as a scholar. He might have had an undiagnosed learning disability, as so many of our mates have later said they did. He was a passable (not great) athlete and clearly had some musical talent. He sang in the choir/glee club and the Shakers (Darrow's elite, hand-picked a capella octet) and played drums in the Jazz Band and Marching Band. He was on the JV baseball team in 1959 (photo, Duane & me in front), he played JV soccer in 1958 and JV football in 1959. He was a nice guy, pretty good looking, easygoing and friendly, and because of the Jazz Band's performances, everybody on campus knew who he was. Peter Deri recalls him as "a cool guy, with a swagger." To me Duane seemed a bit introverted, possibly just modesty, but maybe (like others we know) his difficulties in the classroom left him feeling dumber than the rest of us, and contributed to his reticence. He might have been really popular if he'd wanted to be, but was more retiring, except when he was banging those drums.

I didn't share many of Duane's Darrow activities, other than being baseball teammates and loving to hear the band play, but I do have one colorful memory of him. As described in detail in the memorial for Richard Nunley, Duane was my partner in a minor dud of a prank. In the fall of my freshman year, I was still going to evening study hall in the library (later, I made the honor roll and was allowed study in my room, but at this stage, I was up there on the third floor in Wickersham with everyone else.) It was a Sunday evening. Earlier that day I'd been exploring the old Shaker mill, and had caught 3 or 4 bats by trapping them in a pillowcase. I brought them with me to study hall, in my book bag. Duane happened to be sitting next to me that evening, so at the opportune moment, I whispered to him, "I've got some bats in my book bag, what should I do with them?" He "got it" and we were immediately on the same page. We figured, wait 'til Mr. Nunley's back is turned and let them out. At minimum the place should go crazy, and we thought if Nunley was as big a wuss as we imagined him to be, he'd be terrified and flee. So Duane kept lookout for me, and when the coast was clear, I let the bats out. And nothing much happened. The bats flitted silently around that curved ceiling, but nobody reacted notably. And we were disappointed, to say the least, when Mr. Nunley calmly opened the windows and the bats escaped. Duane and I gave each other a "Nice try, partner," look and went back to studying.

Here are two more pictures of Duane from 1959-60 yearbook. At left, the Jazz band performing in the Dairy Barn. From left, Stu Hemingway, piano; Charlie Emerson, trombone; Bill Low, 2nd trumpet; Duane on the drums; Joey Laird, 1st trumpet; and Walt Lehmann, clarinet. What an amazingly talented group. At right, the Shakers harmonizing around the piano. Left to right, Duane, Bob Cheney, Chuck Curry, Harry Fox, Pete May, Jim Brooks, Phil Ashby. Also very talented, in a somewhat mellower way.




When Duane left Darrow in 1960, he went off my radar, and I didn't think about him for years. By the time most of us were finishing up college, Duane had decided to make a career of the Navy. Jack Van Vorst asked me to be our Class Agent in 1967, and Duane was on our class list, with an address in Pearl Harbor. I sent him news requests and the published newsletters, but never heard from him. Over the years the school often had an address for him, but sometimes didn't. He seems to have spent 25 years or so in Hawaii, enjoying his time in the service. After he left Darrow, I spoke to Duane just twice, and we never saw each other again face-to-face. So I don't have much detail about his life, and no photos of him or his family at all, other than those from our yearbooks. Most of this story is about trying to re-connect with Duane and not being able to. Even so, there are some interesting wrinkles.

I'm not sure whether I contacted Walt and Carolyn for information about Duane, but I either didn't do that or it never led anywhere (i.e., I still never reached Duane). However, once the internet had been invented and it became easier to track down people, Duane became one of my many search targets. Those "people-finder" databases often told me—sort of—where Duane was. But he never answered any of my letters and news requests. Eventually, I stopped writing class newsletters and thus stopped even hoping to get Duane to reply. But every time a major reunion came around, I'd make an effort to pursue our "lost" or "hiding" classmates, to lure them back to see how we all turned out.

I tried to enlist others in the search process; that turned up some interesting clues, but no Duane. Howdy Davis really enjoyed tracking folks down (I think he first found Chuck Arundale for us) and in 2012 he found Duane's name on the 1963-66 crew rosters of the USS Allen M. Sumner (photo). She was a WWII vintage destroyer, played a few small roles in the Vietnam war, so Duane may possibly have been in the South China Sea, say, escorting an aircraft carrier or chasing Vietnamese patrol boats, during the early years of that conflict. The Sumner was decommissioned in 1973, and we don't know whether Duane served at sea after 1966, or just had shore duty in Hawaii. Howdy contacted the secretary of the "alumni" of the Sumner, seeking someone who might have known Duane, but by then the trail was very cold, and we never heard anything back.

I got a more fascinating, though more dubious, lead from Marylou Anderson, former Darrow faculty wife (Larz taught history from 1957-60). After they left Darrow, they moved to a school in New Mexico where Larz taught for 10 years or so. Marylou (who's only 5-6 years older than we are) had a friend from high school, Bunny Raynor, and when they were living out there in Albuquerque, this would be in the late-ish 1960s, Bunny and her husband came over for dinner a couple of times. Marylou swears Bunny's husband was Duane Lehmann! She knew him at Darrow, and recalls being "surprised," as she put it, that Bunny and Duane could make a couple, because Duane had struggled with academics and never finished high school, whereas Bunny was "really smart" and had degrees from Vassar and Columbia. We never quite figured that mystery out. Some parts of Marylou's story felt a bit off—she said Duane and Bunny were living on an Air Force Base in Albuquerque at the time, which seemed improbable, since Duane was career USN and stationed in Hawaii. We tried to track down Bunny through Marylou's old school – she has since remarried, has a different name, lives in Pennsylvania now. We got contact details but never got in touch with her. And by the time Marylou was telling me this story, Larz was in assisted living with dementia, so he can't serve as a second witness. It's an unsolved mystery.

We do know that Duane was married at least twice; this I have pieced together from conversations with Duane and his second wife, Florence, whom we'll meet, in due time, below. Whoever Duane's first wife was, they had two children; a little (not much) information on them will be presented later. And Florence says she and Duane were married for 46 years, so he must have been divorced from his first wife by the early 1970s. (It does not appear that Bunny and Duane had children. So if they actually were married, perhaps Duane had been divorced twice by the early 1970s. If we ever find out, I'll update this.) Many of these clues came up over the years as I kept trying but failing to find Duane.

The "people finder" websites have gotten more sophisticated over the years, combing every known public source of data. If you know someone's birth date and middle initial (we had both for Duane) you can find essentially every place ever listed as their home address. The databases also give you names and ages of presumed relatives with the same (or different) last names who shared any of those addresses at or around the time your target lived there. (Whether any of that information is still current is another issue entirely.) Over the years I thus built up a file of places Duane had been and people who might know how to find him: A woman in Tampa, Florida, Florence R. Lehmann, was about the same age and shared several old addresses, but not recent ones, with Duane. I took her to be his wife or ex-wife (be patient, it's not time to meet her yet). For a while Duane shared an address in Pittsfield MA with Russell C. Lehmann, born in 1967. I inferred that Russell probably was his son. (Marylou's alumnae directory told her that Bunny, nee Raynor, has four kids – but none of them named Russell.) I also recalled that Duane had a twin sister, Diane; searched for her in vain, later learned that she died fairly young, in 2008.

Ultimately, in late 2006 or early 2007, I found Duane where I should have looked much sooner – in New Lebanon, living with his mother. Walter had died in the early 2000's and Carolyn was getting frailer. She taught for over 50 years at Pine Cobble (was something of an institution there) but eventually retired, and she, and perhaps Duane as well, determined that they would be better off living together. So, he had moved in with her and was running the household for her. I learned this, possibly from Des McCracken or someone else in the school alumni office. Des gave me Carolyn's phone number, so I called. And after a brief chat, she put Duane on. We had the first conversation we'd had since 1960.

I made a pitch for Duane to come to our impending 45th reunion. He professed some interest in seeing old friends again, but didn't seem to want to reminisce about releasing bats in study hall or any other "fun times" we'd had at Darrow. I did get him to talk a bit about his life since he retired from the Navy. He'd been living in New Lebanon for three years, and before that had been been in the suburbs of Boston for several years. He noted that he'd be 65 in a month or so but was still working because he needed the money; he'd managed a condo complex in Hawaii, did the same thing in Boston, and was currently doing maintenance for a mall in Pittsfield. He said he was not married. He did not mention having a son, but said he had a daughter and two grandchildren, who live in England and visited him in the US once a year or so. He said he was "still healthy and active." But I had a strong impression that he was having a hard time figuring out who I was at some points in the conversation, and in my notes (I always take notes) I wrote, "sounds a bit addled, like a very old man." I wrote up our phone conversation for the "Found Classmates" page of our class website, providing the biographical data but leaving out my subjective impression of his diminishing cognitive function.

Duane did not attend our 45th, a few months after I spoke with him. I tried to call him during the reunion but failed to reach him. At the time I wondered why he couldn't drive up the hill to join us, and figured maybe it was because he had few good memories of his Darrow years and wanted to avoid awakening the bad ones. But now I think other factors were probably at work.

As tends to happen, I went back to my real life after the reunion and didn't think much about Duane or anyone else for a few years. About four years later I was starting to plan for our 50th, and once again trying to round up lost sheep. His mother, Carolyn, had died in 2011. I sent a letter to Duane at her/their old address, in New Lebanon, in early 2012 and it came back undeliverable. Des told me of Carolyn's death—I had missed it at the time—and I found an online obituary that listed Duane "of Tampa, FL" as one of her survivors (the only other relative listed in any obituaries was Carolyn's cousin in New Mexico, no grandchildren were noted.) I then tried to get the school alumni office to track him down. Geoff Miller went down to the New Lebanon post office, where they told him they had a forwarding address for Duane in Tampa, but mail they had sent there had been sent back with "deceased" written on it. The school was willing to declare him deceased based on that. I considered it likely that someone might try to stop getting junk mail by writing "deceased" on it and sending it back, so I resolved to keep looking, to try to find out whether Duane was alive or dead and in either case, where he was.

I didn't get very far but didn't give up. I had one very large clue. Tampa was where Florence lived (you remember Florence, we're finally getting to Florence), so in 2014 I did a search for Florence's latest address and wrote her a letter, explaining who I was and why I was looking for Duane. Nothing happened for a long time. Then months later, I got a phone call, "Hi, this is Florence. You wrote me a letter. You wanted to find Duane, would you like me to put him on?" Then she did, and we had our second and final conversation. He had no idea who I was, he was very childlike and polite, but couldn't say much. Florence came back on and said Duane has Alzheimer's. He has good and bad days, this is a fairly good one. She explained rather matter-of-factly that Duane had left her in 2000, to move back to New England, for reasons too complicated to explain or best not mentioned. He had taken care of his mother, but eventually could no longer take care of himself, and came back to Tampa in 2010 (and Carolyn went into an assisted living facility). He lived with Florence and she was taking care of him. Again, we posted a short item on the class web site that said we'd found Duane, in Florida, but didn't mention his mental decline.

And that was the last we heard of Duane, until my phone rang in February. I didn't recognize the number but answered, and the instant I heard her voice I knew it was Florence, though we hadn't spoken in years. She called to tell me that Duane had passed away on January 9. He was 77. He had severe Alzheimer's, but that's not what killed him. He fell, broke his hip, was recovering in the hospital, and was fully healed and about ready to come home when he suddenly collapsed and died.

Florence said she was heartbroken, and was planning to go home (to the Philippines) to rest and recover. Whether she has been able to do that with the pandemic situation, I don't know. She said had she called me because it seemed as if we cared about Duane, and hardly anyone else did. She told me he has two children from an earlier marriage, the daughter in England whom Duane had mentioned to me, and the son, Russell I believe, whom Duane omitted telling me about, and who lives in Canada. Florence said she had notified both of Duane's kids of his death, but neither of them has contacted her, "They don't give a damn," she said. She has a lot of his possessions – family photo albums and the like – and does not know what to do with them. She seemed a bit overwhelmed by her loss. "We were married for 46 years," she said. "He was a good man." Quite clearly he had found a good woman.

That would make a pretty nice epitaph. I wish we'd been able to share more of Duane's life, but he didn't so we couldn't and that's that. The young Duane I knew was a good man, too, and that's enough to know about him. Here's a final memory of Duane and his friends making music, a Jazz Band practice in 1958. RIP, Duane.

  


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