Kenneth E. Duncan
We wait outside of Ken Duncan’s apartment at the Masonic Home’s Ashlar Village in Wallingford. Beside the door is a framed photo of Ken as Grand Marshall in Wallingford’s Memorial Day Parade a couple of years ago. Next to the photo hangs a small flag.
Ken answers the door and greets two of his friends from the West Haven Mason’s Annawon Lodge. Then he turns to me, smiling, “And who is this fellow?” I state my name and explain that my purpose is to write a newspaper article honoring Ken’s seventy-five years of service to the Masons, a fraternal organization that is known for its good works. Despite a couple of changes of address, Ken has been affiliated with Annawon Lodge from 1944-1962 and from 1999 to this day. He is the oldest living brother of Annawon Lodge and is also the oldest member in Masonic years of service.
“Shine,” he says after my introduction, “Did I go to school with your father?” It turns out that he did. “And your mother, what was her maiden name?” I answer, and he looks shocked. “Muriel Chapin? Why, I dated her in high school! She had red hair! We used to go to dances together at First Church!” Small World. And for a moment I wonder if Dad knew about this…
Ken is a spry 96-year old who moves about like a younger man, and walks half a mile on a treadmill each day. He had a brain tumor removed a year ago, and yet his mind is quick, his memories are lucid, and his wit is sharp.
Ken Duncan was born in New Britain; he lived there for his first twelve years before moving to Richard Street in West Haven. As a youth, he joined DeMolay and ultimately became Master Councilor of that organization. Upon graduating from high school, he joined the Merchant Marine, attended the Merchant Marine Academy and rose to the rank of Lieutenant. He served on an oil tanker during World War II, and sailed over 80,000 miles during his period of service.
As Ken explains, “While I was in the service, I reported to the chief engineer on our ship. He was a Mason and knew that I wanted to join, so while we were docked in New York City, he gave me leave to allow me to attend a Masons meeting and to join that organization. I was raised up in Masonry by Art Huber in 1944, and held many offices in Masonry, including two terms as Worshipful Master at a Masonic lodge in another community. I have always enjoyed the dinners, the fellowship, and the social affairs that are put on by different Lodges.”
If it weren’t for the Masons, Ken wouldn’t have met his wife, Ruth Cost, who was a Rainbow Girl (Rainbow is a Masonic youth service organization for girls). They were married for seventy years before her passing just a couple of years ago.
Today, Ken Duncan spends his days performing volunteer work at Ashlar Village and recalling his many happy years with the Masons. He says that at the age of 95, the years are speeding by, and quips with a smile, “Life is like a roll of toilet paper—the closer to the end you are, the faster it goes.”
And why did Ken Duncan join the Masons? He explains, “As a boy in West Haven DeMolay (a Masonic youth service organization for boys), I liked to use the bowling alleys that were then in the basement of the Masonic Temple. There were four lanes down there, with Masons using two lanes and DeMolay boys using two others, so I got to know some of these men. And I looked up to them and looked forward to the day when I could join that organization. It was the men of the Masons who helped shape and polish our manners, our respect, and our obedience to the Ten Commandments.”
When asked to name some of his most memorable Masons, Ken Duncan immediately lists off, “Arthur E. Cost, Ken Ludington, William Carty, Ernest Goodyear and Robert Heller.”
What parts of his life would Ken like to repeat if he could? “Well, I wish I could start all over again as a young kid and do everything again. I loved the rituals, the learning of showing respect to others in DeMolay, and the fellowship with all of my good and lifelong friends within the Masons.”