I recently went to visit Mrs. Duncan in the Spanish Coves care facility on December 30th. We said hello and spent an hour laughing, visiting, and sharing Christian love. When we arrived I think we surprised her but she gleefully turned off the home-shopping channel and spent time together with us. My children shared about school, jobs, and the upcoming wedding. She lectured Harrison to “treat that girl right”! It was a beautiful evening and made the turn of the year even richer.
I met Mrs. Sylvia Duncan when I was 21 years old. I was a new student at the University Center. My impression is a bit vague. I knew she and Aaron were involved with international ministry, I knew she was always hosting students in her home, and I knew that she was a very serious person. With time, I began to learn the depth of her strength, kindness and friendship. It is hard to put into words all of the things that might describe Aaron and Sylvia. Perhaps Faithfulness is adequate, but still not nearly enough.
Upon graduating from OSU in 1992, I worked for Mrs. Duncan as an assistant during the tax season. I clocked many hours working on simple tax returns in the basement office below in her house. She was meticulous and detailed and demanded perfection. All things I needed to improve upon. She was patient, gracious and kind as well. We ate many lunches together in her kitchen watching Wall Street news, eating items from the garden, and being reminded of the goodness of simplicity.
When I started working at the UC in August of 1994, we began a journey that would transcend almost 30 years of life together. I will never forget the first meeting we had together as part of the UC Administrative committee. Mrs. Duncan is a very proper lady. Decorum is important. I arrived in cargo shorts, sandals, and a pair of socks that had lobsters on them. We immediately butted heads on our definitions of professionalism.
Mrs. Duncan and I have spent countless hours together sitting in her office (above the basement !) planning UC budgets together, teaching me to think about details and try to anticipate unknowns. Our work together with the UC Foundation is something that I realized is core to my purpose in this life. Being able to stand on her shoulders and extend a vision that began before I was even born is such an honor.
In 2013, Jenny and I bought the house next to Aaron and Sylvia. I remember thinking that “never in my life did I dream I would be her neighbor!” We shared a back fence for our yards. Aaron would bribe my dogs with lots of treats, sitting in a chair on the opposite side of the fence, winning them over one snack at a time. Our cat, Tatters, has visited many times to Mrs. Duncan’s back porch - just assuming she belonged there with Sylvia. I am certain our cat was fed and spoiled a hundred times by Aaron and Sylvia.
She grew flowers and petunias! Somehow, I now have wild purple petunias that have found a way to germinate and blossom in the cracks of my sidewalk that traveled from her flower pots. They have survived countless ice storms, drought, and time. And they are beautiful - just like Mrs. Duncan.
Sylvia is an extra grandmother to my children. She is always diligent in honoring their achievements, celebrating with them, and sharing in their dreams. She taught my children how to be responsible, timely, courteous, and neighborly. She helped them value the gift and sacrifice of the greatest generation. It is difficult to not want to go and get her mail, check the trashcans to the curb, and make sure the ice is salted in the drive for her.
Mrs. Duncan taught me how to aim higher. How to be self-accountable. To answer to the mirror with honesty, truth, and vision. I have had many neighbors in this life. But few that I value and treasure as much as Aaron and Sylvia. I am blessed to be in their lives.
Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles. And let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us, 2 fixing our eyes on Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of faith. For the joy set before him he endured the cross, scorning its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God. 3 Consider him who endured such opposition from sinners, so that you will not grow weary and lose heart.