Communications supervisor hits 100 years old

John Thomas Duncan Sr. marks his 100th birthday with cards, cake, a party and an open house.

CLAY COUNTY — Turning 100 for John Thomas Duncan Sr. was quite a deal. His family first threw a party, mainly for family, and then an open house for others before his birthday on July 14.

“There were a lot of family and friends stopping by,” he said. “It was great to see them all.”

Along with the day of visitors, Duncan received more than 70 birthday cards.

Duncan grew up on a farm around five miles southwest of Holt. Like most children raised on a farm, his chores included tending crops and livestock. A highlight for the now 100-year-old came in 1930, when Duncan was around 9. The family made ice cream for the first time after getting a 100-pound block of ice from “a place in Liberty.”

He graduated from Holt High School in 1939. He was one of 21 students in his class and was salutatorian. After graduation, he continued working on the family farm and took a correspondence course in radio electronics. During this time, he met Mary Elizabeth Shaver from Liberty. In 1941, Duncan went to Chicago to be trained with the Zenith Radio Company. After the attack on Pearl Harbor and the completion of his training, Duncan returned home in 1942 and got a job building airplanes for the World War II effort at North American Aviation.

In July 1942, Duncan was drafted into the United States Army. He completed basic training at Ft. Sill in Oklahoma and was trained in two-way radio, a new system of radio communication the government was getting ready to use.

“If I remember correctly, Mary wrote me a letter almost daily,” he said. “I wrote a few letters, but I really treasured those letters. Of course, I was a little busy. I had never been out of the country or on the high seas. It was quite an experience.”

Duncan ended up in Wellington, New Zealand and then went to Brisbane, Australia and joined the 147th Field Artillery unit. He eventually went to Luzon, Philippines. There he got word the U.S. dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima, Japan, resulting in the Japanese surrender. Duncan was discharged in December 1945.

In 1946, Duncan decided to attend Central Technology School of Kansas City. He worked to earn a certificate in the technical and broadcasting end of television. That same year, Shaver accepted his proposal of marriage and the two were married Feb. 17, 1946. Their first child, a daughter, Sharon Kay, was born Dec. 31, 1946.

“I was blessed to find a fine Liberty girl to marry,” he said. “We were together for 55 years.”

In 1947, Duncan completed his schooling and accepted a job in Quitman, Georgia, eventually getting station WKMA on the air. He worked at Ford Motor Company for a year before becoming the engineer for the WLPO radio station in LaSalle, Illinois. During those years in LaSalle, he and his wife welcomed three more children: John Jr., Mary Margaret and Susanne. In 1953, the family returned to Liberty and Duncan returned to Ford, helping build wings for the B-47 bomber.

The family ended up settling on Thornton Street. The couple’s last child, Carol Lynn, was born Christmas Day 1954. In March 1956, Duncan accepted a position with Communications Engineering in Kansas City. He worked there for 30 years, becoming the shop foreman and head supervisor. Eventually, the family built their final home just outside of Holt.

The Duncan family genes are strong. His sister Erma Bogart of Liberty lived to be 101.

“I am not sure that I know what it means to feel or to be 100 years old,” he said chuckling. “It’s a little odd. I still try to help out on the farm and see friends when I can. I’m also an ice cream kind-of guy. I like strawberry. Chocolate’s at the bottom of the list, but it’s not far down the list on what I will eat.”

Southeast Editor Kellie Houx can be reached at or 389-6630.