Dr. Grace Duff

Thursday, August 17, 2006

Dr. Grace H. Duff, 84, of Tamms, died at 4:12 p.m. Monday, Aug. 14, 2006, at Southeast Missouri Hospital in Cape Girardeau.

She was born Sept. 26, 1921, to Roy J. and Effie Holshouser Miller. She married Lawrence E. Duff Jan. 16, 1945. He preceded her in death Oct. 26, 1991.

Grace was a member of the Olive Branch United Methodist Church, the Dodge Memorial Library Board, American Association of University Women, Illinois State Board of Education, SIU Retired Professors, Phi Delta Kappa Educational Sorority, Thebes Women's Club, Cairo BPW and Caledonia Chapter 587 Order of the Eastern Star.

One might say that Grace Duff's long and successful career began when she was a child and her father told her that if she worked hard, she could become a teacher. Education was all-important in her Southern Illinois farm family, where of the eight children six became teachers.

During an interview with a newspaper reporter several years ago, Grace told of how she was born in Southern Illinois, in an area of great need, and allowed to visualize the opportunities that might touch people's lives, help them to become more literate and provide them with a better life and model for their children.

Grace went on to tell the reporter of how she was raised to try things. And try things she did! She tried getting scholarships to attend college, succeeded easily, and graduated magna cum laude from SIU.

Grace Helen Duff began her professional life in 1941 as a one-room elementary school teacher at Thebes, Ill. (Pence School). As a teacher she tried new and more effective methods of teaching, methods designed to give the child more freedom to develop without being put down by unfair competition or inappropriate expectations. Her successes were noticed by the county school superintendent who invited her to be the first assistant superintendent in Alexander County when the position was created in 1945. In this job, she had many more opportunities to "TRY THINGS."

In 1955 she became the county superintendent of Alexander County Schools. As she campaigned for the position, she became aware of the people's need for educational opportunities in order for them to rise above the illiteracy and poverty that was so prevalent in the Cairo area. During the 1960s amidst the federal war on poverty movement, Dr. Duff established one of the first adult education centers in the country to educate and train people for jobs in the area. To accompany this, she started one of the first child care centers. Through her scholarly skills in grant writing, Dr. Duff has been responsible for acquiring millions of dollars for the improvement of education and civic services here in deep Southern Illinois.

She also provided leadership for the formation of the Egyptian Unit School District in 1963, and served as its first superintendent of schools.

Upon the passage of the Illinois Community College Act, Grace worked toward the formation of Shawnee College which was established in 1967.

After serving 20 years as county superintendent, Grace made a career transition by accepting an appointment as assistant professor in the Department of Educational Administration and Foundations, College of Education, at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale.

While at the university, she was asked by the first Illinois state superintendent of education, Dr. Joseph Cronin, to become the deputy state superintendent of Management Services. For a three-year period, Dr. Duff, in addition to her duties as deputy superintendent, chaired some 19 statewide committees studying various aspects of Illinois education.

In 1978, Grace returned to Alexander County to consult and actively participate in such initiatives as the Regional Vocational System concept and its implementation, career guidance, career education, economic literacy, truant alternative education and computer consortium regionalization.

From 1978 until 2004, Grace worked with several school districts in the area of early childhood education and assisting them in implementing, conducting, evaluating, and expanding preschool programs throughout the southern five counties of Illinois.

Grace Duff's contribution to education and society spans over 60 years. Her entire career has been devoted to education and inspiring others to develop leadership qualities to not only enhance their lives, but to reach out and touch others.

She is survived by a daughter, Julia (Ty) Thrower of Cape Girardeau; a granddaughter, Heather Marie Cowsert of Cape Girardeau; two grandsons, James Benjamin Cowsert of Cape Girardeau and Joshua Andrew Cowsert of St. Louis; two stepgrandchildren, Jessica Marie Thrower and Ashley Carol Drum, both of Sikeston, Mo.; three great-stepgrandchildren; four sisters, Elsie H. (Art) Munson of St. Augustine, Fla., Lorene A. McAllister of Oak Park, Mich., Lois M. Farris of Cape Girardeau, Frances J. Reid of Jackson; two brothers, Curtis J. (Mary) Miller and Roy Eugene (Wilma) Miller all of Tamms; nieces, nephews and other relatives.

She was preceded in death by her parents, her husband and a brother, Clifford Miller.

The funeral for Dr. Grace Duff will be held at 11 a.m. Friday at Crain Funeral Home in Tamms, with Pete Ryan officiating. Interment will be in St. John's Cemetery.

Visitation will be held today from 4 to 8 p.m. at the funeral Home. The Caledonia Chapter 587 Order of the Eastern Star will conduct services at 7:30 at the funeral home.

Memorials may be made to the Dodge Memorial Library or the Olive Branch United Methodist Church and will be accepted at the funeral home.