Nevin Duffe's contributions to Ely

Lloyd Duffe, a former Ely resident who moved to Columbia, South America, phones me (Barb) off and on about Ely history. He recently called to say that he had written a history of his dad, Nevin Duffe, that he wished to add to his collection at the Ely Community History Archives. I think this story also deserves to be published for people to read. Nevin certainly did contribute a lot to the Ely community in the 48 years he lived there. Here is his story.

To The Ely Historical Society,

    The "Jim Miller Citizen of the Year Award" was started in the town of Ely, Iowa, in 2018 for present residing citizens who have demonstrated exceptional community participation. I feel past and deceased citizens who have contributed a great deal to the town also deserve remembrance.

    I therefore want to add information about My Father Nevin W. Duffe to various pieces of historical information my wife Nidia and I gave the Historical Society, when we left the Ely area in 2005. Nevin was a highly civic minded resident of Linn County and Ely for over 50 years.

    Nevin Duffe was born February 8, 1908 at Wilton Junction, Iowa. He attended Burr Oak country school until the age of 8, moving from a truck farm to Wilton Junction and attending the Wilton Public schools until graduation from High School.

     During his early boyhood years he did garden work mowed lawns, sold the Grit magazine and the Saturday Evening Post.

     He drove an oil truck for his father during the Summer during High School, making deliveries. During this time he also helped his father remodel their home. He was active in sports earning a total of eight varsity letters in football, basketball and track. In track he was one of the best distance ( half & mile runners) in the State. He also sang in the Glee Club choirs and taught a young boys Sunday School class and took this class on hikes and outings.

     Nevin gave up an opportunity to go on to college in Pella, Iowa after graduating from High School in 1927. His coach L.A.Winters went from High School to College coaching at Central College, Pella in 1928 and wanted to help Nevin attend there and participate in athletics. Instead he started to work substantially to help his older brother Jacob Duffe financially, in finishing his last two years of pharmacy school studies at the State University of Iowa in 1928 and 1929.

     Nevin worked his first Summer out of High School on a road gang filling slips and scrapers. He then started in carpenter work and formed his own business by 1931. In addition, many evenings he worked in a carpenter shop, where he designed an early roller type overhead garage door and a sump pump. During this time he began buying the business from the owner who was retiring.  

Nevin and Florence Duffe about 1931

It was a very good year, plus Nevin married Florence Booth, the mother of his two sons Lloyd and Ronald and who he celebrated nearly 59 years of marriage with!

     1932 was unfortunately a year to be remembered! Money was tight and building became non-existent. From 1932 till 1937 Nevin worked throughout four Eastern Iowa Counties, where any kind of work was available, His wife Florence and son Lloyd altered living with both the Duffe and Booth Grandparents. 

     In late 1937 he was able to make Linn County his permanent residence, first living in College Township. He designed a new type of country school for the College Township District called Rose Hill. Much work on the school required Federal government WPA worker participation. A huge crew of workers ( many with little building experience) made properly completing the project a real challenge.       

     Carpenter work was slowly picking up in College and Putnam Townships. In March of 1942 he moved my mother, me and brother Ronald who was born on June 20th 1941 to a rented acreage in Ely on the corner of Fuhrmeister and State Street. This is where he would live for over 48 years, until passing away on May19, 1990.

An early photo of the house on the corner of Fuhmeister and State Streets.

During the years as a building contractor from 1937 till 1973, he drew and designed most of the structures that he built. This covered agricultural, light commercial, churches and quality homes. Among those the Ely Lutheran Church (finished the summer of 1951, an expansion at First Presbyterian Church near Ely (1958) and expansion and improvement of the Hill Crest Country Club in Mount Vernon, Iowa.

     Besides his work in his Construction Company over the years, he was active in numerous community activities in both Ely and Linn County. He was instrumental in helping form local softball teams, donating his property for use of a softball field for many years, where the Ely Minor is now located. He also coached the local Putnam Pals 4-H basketball team, that were County and Eastern Iowa Champions in tournaments held in 1949 and 1950. 

     He worked for the formation of the College Community School District and was chosen as the first President of the Prairie High Booster Club. He was also active in political, social and fraternal work over the years that involved many community activities.
     He served on the Ely Town Council. Was a past President of the old Ely Public School Board. Mayor of Ely from 1960 to1972 and worked for acquiring the old Ely school for what is now the Community Center. He was a PastGrand and 50 year member of the I.O.O.F Lodge of Ely. During the 12years he was mayor, Ely started and developed its first city water and sewer systems. 

Nevin and Florence Duffe, 50th wedding anniversary, 1981

In later years and during retirement he served on the Linn County board of appeals, and served two terms as a delegate from Linn County on the Older Iowan’s Legislature. He was also on the Ely Planning and Zoning Committee and the Linn County Agency on Aging.

     The Ely Retirement Manor became a reality, when my parents donated 50% of the value of the their property that was used for the project, which allowed the community to qualify for a low interest 50-year government loan that made this development a reality.

     I feel my Father Nevin and his many activities during his 82 years of life, was a tribute to his love of family, community and country. That what he and other civic minded leaders did in the past, helped make Ely the community it has become today.

     I was also fortunate to have had the home life that I had with a lifelong housewife like my mother in charge. Florence Booth Duffe had two years of nurses training after graduating from Grant High School in Cedar Rapids in 1929.

    Marrying my Father in 1931 with the worst years of the depression about to set in, would alter her life for many years to come. She would continue to be a homebody housewife the rest of her life, with more than enough additional duties along the way, to keep a person busy 7 days a week! 

     She was Dad’s secretary, book keeper and check-writer for his business until he retired. Running the household through these difficult economic times and this additional involvement in his business did not leave time for a great deal of social involvement, although she was a charter member of the women’s Rebekahs arm of the I.O.O.F Lodge of Ely.

     Her most note worthy involvements from the mid 1970’s till she passed away on April 3, 1999, was volunteer work at the Ely Library, and the congregate meal site at the Community Center. Ely was blessed with a number of ladies, some in their 80’s and 90’s serving the needy, many who were much younger. The day she was hospitalized and fell seriously ill she had been working at the congregate meal sitet till early afternoon of the same day.

     Here again I feel blessed to have been a product of the Greatest Generation! The young adults of the 30’s and 40’s who instilled in me the guidance and underpinning that allowed me to live a much better and easier life do to their guidance.

Sincerely, Lloyd M. Duffe


Nevin Duffe obituary from Solon Economist, He died May 22nd, 1990

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