Lewis Duckett was the baby of his family — the youngest of five growing up in Greenville, S.C. His mother died when he was very young, leaving it to his father to raise him and his siblings. After school every day, Duckett would walk over to his father’s small store and cafe, where he would do his homework while waiting on customers.
And whenever he could find the time, he would draw.
He was good enough that when suppliers would come in to drop off deliveries, they would be sure to set down their things to just stand there watching him draw, said Kathryn Duckett, his wife of 66 years.
And he was good enough that when World War II broke out and he was drafted to serve in the Pacific, the Army made him a topographic draftsman. He drew maps and makeshift runways on the battlefields of Okinawa, New Guinea and the Philippines.
Duckett, of Bloomington, died March 27 at an Inver Grove Heights hospice. He was 95.
He never spoke much about the war, Kathryn said. Only that at one point on Okinawa, while the Japanese were mounting an attack, he was so exhausted that he found himself standing, not caring what would happen to him one way or the other. He stood there until his friends pulled him down into their foxhole and to safety.
Kathryn met him at Hampton University in Virginia. She was 17 and a freshman. He was one in the flood of soldiers on campus at that time through the G.I. Bill. He was a bass, while she was first alto of the choir.
He was shy, Kathryn laughed. She was in line at the campus grill when he had a friend come tell her that he wanted to buy her whatever she was going to order. “I looked at Lewis sitting there and I thought about it,” she said. “And I said, ‘Well, I suppose.’ ”
He was an art history major, but by the time he graduated he had enough credits for a double major in music. Their choir was renowned, traveling to theaters on tours across the East Coast.
On one trip they had a day off in New York, a day Kathryn calls one of the highlights of her life. Hampton was an all-black college. The students took a tour of the newly created United Nations. Their host was diplomat Ralph Bunche, who helped create the U.N. and was the first black man to be awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.
She married Lewis in a church on campus on June 1, 1952, a day before her graduation. They were both teachers, and he worked for a time as a commercial artist as well in the Washington, D.C., and Maryland area.
Neither had ever seen the Midwest, so they decided to spend two weeks in Minneapolis. They arrived July 11, 1953 — a perfect summer day, Kathryn said.
“We just said, ‘This is beautiful,’ ” she said. “We were so fascinated by the lakes and the parks. Lewis said, ‘This is the cleanest city I’ve ever been in!’ And it still is.”
They started looking for work.
They raised their daughter, Beverly, in Bloomington. He taught music and art for nearly 40 years at junior high and elementary schools in south Minneapolis.
He took classes in German, spoke French and taught conversational Spanish to people who were traveling to Europe. He taught English to young students in Mexico and helped rebuild cities in Italy after the war. He taught adult art classes throughout his life.
He turned 95 in December. Said his wife: “One day he turned to me and he just said, ‘You know? I’ve had a wonderful life.’ ”
In addition to his wife and daughter, Beverly Edwards, he is survived by two grandsons. Services will be at 2 p.m. Sunday at Washburn-McReavy’s Werness Brothers Chapel, 2300 W. Old Shakopee Road, Bloomington, with visitation beginning at 1 p.m.