Donald Ray Duncan

1938 - 2000

Don Duncan, versatile woodwind player and singer, taught in seven Seventh-day Adventist schools and two public schools, where he directed bands and choirs and served as an administrator. He also worked in television and recording studios and held several church music positions.

Born in Fort Worth, Texas, to William Henry and Alaska Lee Rotenberry, Don grew up in nearby Keene. His mother was an artist who painted and also a musician, who taught piano. Before she married, she had had her own fifteen-minute radio show in Fort Worth, in which she sang and accompanied herself. His father was much older than his mother and had been a businessman before retiring.

When Don was eleven, Herbert Work, newly arrived band director at Southwestern Junior College, boarded in the Duncan home. He started him on clarinet and then taught him saxophone. Don learned quickly and joined the college band as a clarinetist while still in the academy, located on the college campus. By the time Don entered college in 1956, he was in demand as a saxophone soloist and played frequently.

While at SWJC he sang and was in a quartet with Don Ripley and Jim Siebenlist, who eventually were members of the Faith for Today quartet. Later, at Union College he sang in the choir and was a member of the Unionaires, the select choral group at the school.

While at SWJC, he met Maxine Reed.  When she left to complete her music degree at Union College in 1957, he transferred with her. They married in 1959, after she had completed a B.S. in music education with piano as her major. They then taught music for two years in an Adventist junior academy in Grand Junction, Colorado, and then for four years at Oak Park Academy in Iowa, before they decided to return to UC so that he could complete his degree.

Duncan completed his degree in music education in 1967 and then enrolled at the University of Nebraska, where he completed an M.Mus. in 1969, with oboe as his performance area. Maxine had completed an M.Mus. at UN a year earlier, studying organ with Myron Roberts.

During their stay in Lincoln they made a commitment to the Inter-America Union to teach there after completing graduate study and were given a stipend for living expenses. They supplemented that income by Maxine's teaching lessons at UC and performing as a substitute organist in local churches and Don's working part-time at the Christian Record Braille Foundation, where he assisted in setting up and working in their recording studio.

In 1969 they moved to Antillean College, now Antillean Adventist University, in Puerto Rico, where they worked for a year. While there, they had a child who required medical care available only in the U.S. Don accepted a position at La Sierra College, now University, in 1970 to direct the band, a position he held for the next four years. He also served as choir director at Eden Lutheran Music church in Riverside.

Although successful in his work at LSC, he decided to take a leave from teaching, and the Duncans returned to Texas for a year, where he painted houses and she taught music at Valley Grande Academy, a school her parents had started years earlier. A year later, in 1975, they moved to Ohio, where Don assisted in setting up a television studio for Kettering Medical Center.

For the next seven years he worked in the studio and was active in local music activities and music at the Kettering Memorial Church, leading a handbell choir, singing with Maxine in the church choir, and serving for a year as minister of music. During this time he also served as minister of music at the Good Shepherd Lutheran Church in Dayton.

In 1982 they moved to Hialeah, Florida, where he worked for five years in a studio funded by the Inter-American Division. Don returned to teaching in 1987, accepting a position at Mt. Ellis Academy in Montana. Two years later, MEA decided that because Don had experienced a heart attack during his second year, they wanted to make a change.

He was hired by the Adventist hospital in Avon Park, Florida, to do public relations work at that time. This was followed by an invitation for Don to be the administrator of the Adventist International School in Bangkok, Thailand. He served there for four years, until he had another heart attack.

In 1994 he was asked to serve as vice-principal, teach some classes, and direct the band and handbell choir at Valley Grande Academy for a year. They knew that their choir director was going to retire in another year and wanted him to do the music program when she left, which he did the next year. At the end of that year, they moved to Denver, where Don directed the band and choir for two years at Mile High Academy.

In 1998 they moved to Barstow, California, where he was initially hired to do substitute teaching in that community's public school district and then fully employed as a music teacher. He was offered and accepted the band position as the first band director at a new middle school in Adelanto, where his grandson was in his band, an experience both enjoyed. Just before Thanksgiving, he conducted a concert with the band that was enthusiastically received. Tragically, he died unexpectedly just before Christmas.

Throughout his career, Duncan, who had a warm and open personality, always enjoyed a good relationship with his students, who held him in highest regard. He was a consummate musician known for the quality of his work both as a performer and a conductor.


Source: Interview with Maxine Duncan, July 2008; personal knowledge.