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Bill Duncan ready for what's next after GWC


Educator spent 41 years guiding campus on the Bay



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The Duncan team, Bill and LaVerne Duncan of Williams Bay, are ready for their next stage in life. After more than 40 years in education administration, Bill Duncan is retiring from George Williams College.

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December 14, 2011 | 07:50 AM
WILLIAMS BAY — Bill Duncan sat comfortably in his Williams Bay home's living room last week, his wife LaVerne was nearby.

For now, he's taking it easy, on sabbatical until Dec. 31, when he officially retires as vice president and administrator of the George Williams Campus of Aurora University, Williams Bay.

They were talking to a Regional News reporter about how they first met.

Born in Northern California, Bill said his youth revolved around the YMCA and YMCA activities.

"I went to YMCA camp since I was 8 years old until I came here," Bill said. He said he came up to the Williams Bay campus in 1967.

George Williams was founded in Williams Bay in 1886 to train YMCA professionals, Bill said.

At the time, the George Williams campus was more a skills camp, teaching boating, camping and climbing. Bill said his goal was to become a YMCA coordinator, building YMCA programs around the country.

"It sounds like fun, but it was like boot camp," Bill said.

Students were divided into teams and were given tasks to test their outdoor survivability skills. One of the requirements was to hunt down a live chicken, kill it and make it into a meal.

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Finding the chickens around the old George Williams campus wasn't hard, Bill said. Catching one was a bit more difficult.

Killing one?

Fortunately, Bill said, he had on his team a young farm girl from Monee, Ill., who knew a thing or two about chickens.

"You grab it by the neck and crack the whip," LaVerne said, making a downward whip cracking motion with her arm.

It was very humane, Bill quickly added. It was more humane than just wringing the poor bird's neck and a lot less bloody than cutting off the head.

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"I'm now a vegetarian,:" LaVerne added quickly.

The two married shortly before Bill was inducted into the Army, where he spent two years as a chaplain's assistant.

In 1970, he and LaVerne returned to Williams Bay and the George Williams campus, where he took up the challenge of developing an academic program at the campus.

"I was drawn to the college; it has a hook," Bill said. That hook was the human services the campus offered and the beautiful location on Geneva Lake, he said.

For 25 years, the Duncans lived on campus in three different houses, LaVerne said. They set up a farm on campus and raised rabbits, chickens, ducks and goats as part of the environmental education program.

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The outdoor and adventure education programs eventually served more than 10,000 elementary and middle school students and teachers annually.

"Many of the kids who were at the campus were not from rural areas," LaVerne said.

In addition to a farm, the Duncans started a family. Their four children are now widely spread out and quite successful.

Andrew, the oldest, is director of member services for the National Hospice and Palliative Care Foundation organization in Washington, D.C. Rebecca is an appellate judge in the state of Oregon. Christine is a pediatric oncologist at Boston Children's Hospital.

Elizabeth is the closest. She is an executive assistant for CUNA Mutual of Madison.

And she lives next door to the Duncans' where they've lived off campus for the past 15 years.

The Duncans also have three granddaughters, ages 7, 6 and 5.

The 6-year-old lives next door, Bill said with a smile.

Under Bill Duncan's guidance, George Williams has been transformed from an outdoor camp to a college campus with an expanding curriculum in education, social work and outdoor education. The college also boasts an active summer music program that draws people to the lakeside campus from around the country, Ted Parge, executive vice president for Aurora University, said in a recent telephone interview.

Parge said he and Bill Duncan worked together for 11 years as colleagues, overseeing the Aurora University campuses.

The George Williams Campus is Bill Duncan's legacy, Parge said.

Parge said Duncan was involved in the difficult years for George Williams and Aurora, through the period the two schools were affiliated and then the full-blown merger of 2000.

Bill Duncan's influence on George Williams' academics can be seen in the Bachelor of Science in Parks and Recreation and Master of Science in Recreation Administration programs, according to Parge.

He said Duncan was directly involved in the campus' renewal, when some older buildings were torn down while other buildings with historic and architectural significance were renovated and reintegrated into the campus.

Not that anyone would hear that directly from Bill Duncan.

Parge said Bill embodies the principles of the servant-leader.

"It's an individual who puts other people and the mission of the organization above themselves," Parge said. "He embodied the George Williams spirit."

In addition to his work at the university, Bill was long involved in the community as well, Parge said.

He still is.

He also serves on the board of the Holiday Home Camp and the Geneva Lake Association. He is an advisory member of the Kishwauketoe Nature Conservancy (he was a founding member of the KNC board), and is member of the board of directors of Mid America Bank.

Meanwhile, the college campus is preparing to remember the Duncans in a special way.

As part of a broader project to renovate the historic Mabel Cratty Hall, the Aurora University is planning to rechristen the facility's great hall in honor of the Duncans, Parge said.

The hall will serve as an educational, cultural and social hub for the campus and the community and a place for lectures, recitals, theater productions and gatherings.

Bill and LaVerne, who is retired as a certified geriatric caseworker and social worker at Golden Years of Walworth, are now planning to start a mediation and consulting service, helping the aged and their families deal with geriatric issues.

As if that isn't enough, Bill said he wants to get out of his comfort zone.

He took a big first step last April, running for the Williams Bay Village Board.

He serves on the Village Board's finance committee, the building, zoning and ordinance committee and the plan commission. While no stranger to budgets and committee actions, Duncan said he's learning that being a Village Board trustee is not the same as being a college administrator.

When college officials sit down to solve a problem, the problem is well-defined and all efforts are focused on finding a solution. When elected officials meet, sometimes it's hard to discern what problem is being solved, he said. And elected officials have to be careful.

Any chance meeting or sharing an e-mail could convoke a quorum and violate the state's open meetings law, he said.

"I'm still learning stuff," said Bill Duncan.

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