With a big smile on my face, let me introduce our fellow volunteer and community member, Duane Church. When I sat down to interview Duane, he immediately let me know to spell his name DUANE - the Scottish spelling, not that Irish dwayne business. He used to have the Scottish flaming red hair to match the name. “It seems to have greyed some,” he said, as he took a breath to begin the Duane Church story.
Duane was born on Lake Erie in Ohio. He said, “I was born with one foot in the water. My father saw the glint in my eye and taught me to swim immediately. I loved swimming and diving.”
Most of us know Duane as a gardener, not a swimmer. He’s happy on land or in the water and, even in … whoops, I'm getting ahead of myself. He’s been gardening most of his life, beginning his first garden when he was fourteen. “ I fell in love with gardening early on,” Duane said. When he was a young teenager, his friend’s parents were old-time farmers. They had what was called a truck farm. "That means a really big garden", Duane explained in his down-to-basics manner.
"In Ohio, we had lots of produce stands," Duane said. "If you weren’t any good, you didn’t sell anything. My friend’s parents had a highway shed that sold produce from their thirty acres of fruits and vegetables, starting in their green hours. They saved all their own seed and started all their own plants. Henry, my friend’s father loved to teach. He worked at teaching Dick, his son, and me… EVERYTHING. We started early in spring, first making potting soil by mixing beach sand with swamp mud. We sterilized it on the kitchen stove. Before plastic, we just had wooden trays and used them to plant seeds in the greenhouse. My father supplied oil to heat the greenhouse. Perhaps that was the connection that got me that job."
He and Henry picked berries - raspberries, strawberries, blackberries, blueberries - all kinds of berries. And, they hoed. They would hoe from sun-up, before the heat, until 11 or 12 then they were off to the beach. Dick had some girl cousins,… “it was kinda fun,” Duane said, before he went back to gardening. He learned a lot about Organic gardening. It wasn’t called that. It was known as the right way to garden. No one had to wash anything because they weren't worried about chemicals.
How did Duane move from N. Ohio and Lake Eerie to N. Idaho and Lake Pend Oreille?
A good question leading to a good story -
Duane inherited his father’s business in the oil industry. The seventies oil crunch encouraged Duane to sell the business. Not having any plan, he headed west just to look around. He did have a move in mind, but no plans at all. It was exciting. In the west with his wife, two kids, a dog, a camper, and no plan. Duane and his family traveled 10,000 miles and 4 months with each day bringing a new adventure. He woke up, and asked, “Ok, where to today?"
They crossed Long Bridge and took note to remember Sandpoint. After traveling around a little more, they returned to Sandpoint where Duane decided to look around for job possibilities. He applied at a heating place as an oil burner technician. They offered him the job before he had time to apply to a second one. They gave him two months to organize the move from Ohio. They returned to Ohio, came back, found a place, and have lived here ever since 1978.
And, we have happily benefited from Duane’s work with the seed garden which began when…
But, wait, there's more to this guy than seed saving and gardening. Before we completely leave Ohio, that love for swimming and diving was not just a dip to cool off in summer. Long before we got to meet Duane, he became a diver at age 16. He was able to dive because he made his own diving suit. He took some garden hose, and an old refrigerator compressor and a paint bucket, and…. “No, don’t do that, “ Duane interrupted himself. "No, that is not a good idea." He became a master diver when he was 19 before police departments had diving teams. They used his team to recover bodies and such like. He was once asked to join an Underwater Demolition Team, but he declined because of the 50% mortality rate that went with that job. Instead, he joined the navy, from 1960 to 1964.
Back to our library which Duane was able to join because he didn't risk his life diving to his own demolition, we finally get to that seed saving project. Duane recalls his delight that the library had a Seed Library box. What a good idea. It was the first in the state. Duane, and his wife, Carol, produce most of their veggies and fruits. They have a root cellar and Carol cans and freezes for the winter. They're active in the plant exchange every year in late spring. In short, Duane is attracted to good gardening ideas.
Duane went to the library to peek inside the seed box. There was nothing. He came back in two weeks. Still nothing in the seed box. He asked Camile Mckitrick who started it. I asked where the seeds were. “Here,” she said. “Sort them.” Duane was drafted, and now he has his five-year pin. One of the many things I love about this library is their subtle and sophisticated recruitment policies.
I foolishly thought that the interview was over, having more than a couple of good stories, and the surprise about his diving escapades, so I began to conclude with how we can see Duane teaching us about seed saving and gardening or at the plant exchange or, in the winter, in the DVD section or a volunteer activity.
Wrong. Duane can live on or in water, raise food blindfolded - the right way - AND, drum roll in background (N. Idaho native drums): he lives in teepees with his wife while dressed in full period costumes of the early 1800s. They live in teepees quite regularly with the Coeur d'Alene Muzzleloader Club. Camps are held for mountain man (and woman) reenactment, called rendezvous. The local club has about 25 members, but the national rendezvous every summer has about 900 camps, complete with black powder rifles and pistols, and last usually nine days, anywhere in the west.
I don't need to think of an ending. Duane gave me a perfect one:
I feel sorry for young people. They don't do enough, attached to machines all day. They’ll have no stories.
Thank you, Duane. May we all be inspired to live as fully as this man.
Susan Schaller, Volunteer ASL teacher, ESL tutor and Library Garden assistant