Can a man be defined by words alone? If so, retired Newhall businessman Duane Dye often used these words to describe himself and his life: Nebraska farm boy, passionate Cornhusker football fan, accountant and insurance agent, proud father and leader of the Dye family clan, Rotarian, and ardent husband of soul mate and wife, Linda.
The family and friends, who gathered Sunday, Oct. 28 to celebrate Duane’s life following his death on Sept. 19, went beyond those simple phrases using words like strength of character, honesty, integrity, and a joyful and positive approach to every adversity.
That positive approach to adversity was shaped by happy times growing up on a 38,000-acre farm in Pilger, Nebraska, as well as a life-threatening battle with the scourge of his teen-age years, polio.
Duane often regaled family and friends with his farm experiences – the satisfaction of working side by side with his father planting corn seeds, watching them grow into harvestable crops, tending the horses and pigs, milking cows, and, most especially, driving the farm’s tractors, then getting his driver’s license at the age of 14.
Readily admitting that he was not much of a scholar, Duane often explained how his love of football earned him a place on the high school varsity team as a freshman. A promising athletic career was cut short at the end of his sophomore year when the team’s last two games had to be cancelled because Duane and the quarterback had both fallen victim to polio.
Duane spent five and a half months in an Omaha hospital battling the pain and paralysis with a determination and strength that he credited with making him “a different person” – one with more resolve and ambition. He refused to be pushed out of the hospital in a wheelchair, opting for leg braces and crutches. He spent the remainder of what would have been his junior year undergoing the rigors of therapy and learning to more effectively manage his everyday routines. During that time, Duane perfected the traits he had been born with – a joy of life and living, and a positive outlook on anything that life would throw at him.
With the same determination honed during his hospital stay, Duane took extra classes in his senior year to make up for the schooling he missed and was able to graduate on time with only a few credits left to make up during the summer.
Following graduation, Duane moved to the “big city” (Columbus) and got a job at a medical company. He used the money he earned to enroll in a business college in Lincoln where he earned an accounting degree. He was hired as an accountant at the Nebraska State Penitentiary, which readied him for a similar position at Wayside Honor Rancho (now Peter Pitchess Detention Center) in Castaic in 1957. Though it was difficult to leave his beloved Nebraska, its harsh winters proved too challenging for his impaired physical mobility.
During a 2006 Rotary Craft Talk, Duane described his job interview at Wayside. “I walked into the reception area in braces and the girl at the desk gave me a dubious look. I could tell the interviewer only saw the braces and was not confident in my ability to hold down a job. Undaunted, I confidently handed over my recommendations and referrals from the Nebraska penitentiary. He excused himself, went back to his office, and I could hear him talking on the telephone. A few minutes later, he came back in, convinced that I was a viable employee and gave me the job.”
No one ever questioned Duane’s abilities after that – whether it was at work, play, or volunteering in his community. In his final year working for the L.A. County Sheriff’s Department, Duane took a part time job at Newhall Plumbing while he attended insurance classes at night.
Once he secured his insurance credentials, Duane was invited by fellow insurance man and avid Rotarian, Ivan Passick, to set up a desk in his offices. Eventually he started his own business, the Duane Dye Insurance Agency. It was through Passick that Duane was first introduced to the SCV Rotary Club.
His new trade led to romance in 1965 when he met future wife Linda. As the Santa Clarita Valley grew from a sleepy hamlet into a bustling city in its own right, Duane’s business followed suit and prospered along with his family, which by the 1970s included four children.
Along with his business, his devotion to his family, and his Baha’i faith, Duane had four constants: his love of farming (that included his current Fillmore Ranch and the family homestead in Nebraska), his loyalty to his hometown of Pilger and the Nebraska Cornhuskers, a love of restoring classic Chryslers, and a commitment to rid the world of Polio.
Determined that the world’s children should not experience the pain he endured, Duane and Linda dedicated much of their charitable giving to Rotary International’s PolioPlus Campaign. Through their efforts and donations alone, 88,000 children have received the life-saving oral polio vaccines.
It was evident at the Sunday celebration of Duane’s life that it was not only his words, but his actions that defined his 86 years on this planet. And even though his last months were plagued with failing health and kidneys, the determination, resolve, and positive outlook that Duane had exhibited throughout his life never faltered and helped his anxious family cope with his final moments. In her eulogy, daughter Luanne recalled how he “wore the burdens in stoic fashion, never complaining and always reminding us of the full life we had shared.”
One of Duane’s ER doctors reminded the family of his sentimental side when he told them that he had asked Duane about the happiest moment of his life and Duane’s reply was, “The day I married Linda.”
Former Rotary president Mike Berger reminisced about Duane and Linda’s weekly support of the SCV Rotary Club and their commitment to the club motto “Service Above Self,” a sentiment that went beyond lip service to the 88,000 lives they saved through the PolioPlus program.
Close family friend, Chuck Norman, who served as Sunday’s program moderator and video biographer on Duane’s life, summed up Duane as remarkable, adding that Duane was a loyal friend and spiritual mentor through their shared Baha’i faith.
As the ceremony ended, it was evident that there was an abundance of words that defined Duane’s life – from the joys and challenges of the Nebraska farm to the fulfillment and accomplishments at the Fillmore ranch. But daughter Luanne probably summed up the predominant sentiment of the day when she ended her eulogy reminding everyone that “despite his physical challenges, my dad was always happy and upbeat and he would probably want us to remember him dressed in his best Corn Husker gear shouting in front of a televised game: “Go Big Red, Yay, Yay, Yay!”