By Sheryl Stanley
On Feb. 13, Mildred Duncan fixed breakfast for her son Larry. Later, she enjoyed chatting with her nephew from Sedalia on the phone. At lunch, she drove herself to the Harrisonville Community Center to visit with her friends there. On a ruse, those friends lured her into the office area, where they surprised her by singing “Happy Birthday” and presenting her with not one, but two homemade birthday cakes.
It was Mildred’s 100th birthday.
Mildred is at a loss to explain why she would live to reach the milestone birthday. Her dad lived to be 84, her mom to 95 and an aunt to 97, but no other family member ever achieved her new status as a Harrisonville centenarian.
Mildred Duncan was born Feb. 13, 1919, on her family’s farm, one mile south of Freeman. She was the first child of Joe Clifford Tribby and his wife, Effie Mae (Brown) Tribby.
According to family legend, it was a beautiful warm spring day and Mildred’s grandparents, Mark and Kate Tribby, were preparing their vegetable garden for planting. They always told their granddaughter that particular garden was the best and biggest they ever had.
Mildred said she enjoyed a wonderful childhood, with loving parents and an extended family nearby. Her younger brother, Joe Clifford Tribby, was born 15 months after her arrival. She attended Bybee School, a one-room rural school, from the first through the eighth grade. Unfortunately, there wasn’t a high school close enough for her to attend, but that didn’t stop her education. Mildred said she continued to learn by reading the family encyclopedia and that each year, her parents purchased the appropriate grade-level textbooks so she could study on her own and at her own pace. “You could say, I home-schooled myself,” she said proudly.
At the age of seven, Mildred started taking piano lessons from a local teacher, Mrs. Brinley. The lady’s instructional method consisted of teaching her students to play church hymns, but that was just fine with Mildred. She had been attending Grand River Baptist Church since she was a year old. Later, as an adult, she worked in the church’s music department and played the piano for the church. She was a member of the congregation for more than 80 years. “I still love the hymns,” she said, and encourages others to always believe in God and trust in His Word.
On May 15, 1940, Mildred married Leonard Walter Duncan. He was also from the Freeman area and the two had gone to Bybee School and to church together. Although he was a few years older than Mildred, she knew he was a good man with many good qualities.
The young couple started life together on their own farm near Freeman. As a farm wife, Mildred was responsible for the home, the garden and many family-centered duties. She was also in charge of cooking for the hired men who helped on the farm, which meant she had to prepare and serve several large meals every day.
She and Leonard had two children, Joann Weddington and Larry Walter Duncan. Today, the family includes three grandchildren and four great-grandchildren.
The couple retired from farming in 1980, and moved to Harrisonville. Leonard died Oct. 25, 2002.
Mildred Duncan is a lady with a delightful spirit and an enviable love of life. She continues to live in her own home, cooks for herself and others, and still drives. In fact, earlier this month, she renewed her driver’s license for three years. She enjoys playing cards, bingo, attending lunch at the senior center and seeing friends wherever she goes.
Vickie Vaughn, a friend of Mildred’s for more than 10 years, said, “Knowing Mildred has greatly enriched my life. She is a true Christian with a loving heart and a genuine concern for others. It’s a joy just to be with her.”
Despite the wintry weather, more than 100 of Mildred’s friends and family celebrated her birthday Feb. 16 with a party at the Harrisonville Community Center.