|Benny Duggan's Grave|
As I began my research, I knew just a few things about Benny. I knew he was an only child. I knew he had attended college (Northwestern Oklahoma State), and had been a successful wheat farmer, business investor and "collector of cars." I knew he had been a spend-thrift, saving almost every penny he made, so he was not poor. I also knew he had been been born August 9, 1921 and died on August 15, 2012. That was about all I knew. Then I began my research.
The first remarkable and startling discovery I made about Benny is that his grandfather, James Duggan, was born in 1815. That's almost 200 years ago. Benny's grandfather was born when James Madison was President of the United States. The War of 1812 was not yet over at the time of James Duggan's birth. John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the second and third Presidents respectively, would not die until Benny's grandfather was almost a teenager. Most of us have twenty to twenty-five years between generations, with grandfathers born fifty years prior to our birth. I have never conducted a service where the dead person's grandfather had been born 200 years earlier.
Benny last name "Duggan" is Irish. It has sometimes been spelled Dugan or Dugin in the past. I discovered that Benny's forefathers had migrated to America from Ireland during The Irish Famine of (1740-1741). The thousands of Irish families that came to America during what the Irish named "The Great Slaughter" became excellent farmers in the river valleys of Virginia and Ohio. Benny's grandfather, James Duggan (the one born in 1815), first became a successful farmer in Ohio and then later in Iowa. James Duggan and his wife Delilah had ten children, one of whom was Benny's father, Joseph (Joe) H. Duggan.
Joseph H. Duggan was born July 17, 1857, four years before the start of the Civil War. Joe Duggan attended school until the fourth grade, and then he dropped out to help his father by working full-time on the family farm. In the 1880's, at the age of 30, Joe Duggan struck out on his own and moved west to Colorado where he worked as a farm laborer on the southern slopes of the Rockie's. Then, like many Irish laborers in America with dreams of becoming landowners, dreams expertly portrayed in the Tom Cruise and Nicole Kidman movie Far and Away, Benny's father came to Oklahoma Territory at--or shortly after--the Great Land Run of 1893.
Joseph H. Duggan settled on a beautiful quarter section (160 acres) of land 12 miles northeast of Enid, Oklahoma. A pre-statehood map of this area has listed Joseph Duggan's name on land located in the southwest quarter of Section 4, Range 23 North and 5 West. This area was was known as Union Township. Joseph Duggan's 160 acres was half timber and half pasture, with beautiful Rock Creek flowing through it. This land was ideal for wheat farming, and that is precisely what the unmarried Joseph Duggan did. He farmed wheat, just like his father had done in Ohio and Iowa. Joe Duggan was excellent at what he did, and he began to prosper as a wheat farmer.
Joseph was not drafted to serve during World War 1 (1914-1918) because his wheat farming was vital to the security of the United States. The government exempted him. After the war, Joseph went to Kingfisher, Oklahoma to visit his brother Theodore Duggin, the only relative who had also migrated to Oklahoma from Iowa. While visiting Theodore, Joe met a young Jewish Russian girl who had been born in Kansas, but whose Russian parents had immigrated to the United States right before her birth. This pretty Jewish girl was visiting relatives who also lived in Kingfisher. Joseph met her and fell in love. Joseph Duggan was sixty years old at the time, but his age did not scare away this beautiful twenty-eight year old Russian Jew named Elizabeth. Joe and Elizabeth Duggan married, and Joe took his young bride back to his wheat farm northeast of Enid. Five years later the Duggans only child would be born -- Benny F. Duggan.
Benny, like his father and grandfather, grew up on a thriving wheat farm. Unlike his father and grandfather, Benny attended school through the twelth grade. Benny's father had been sixty-four years old when Benny was born and eighty-two years old when Benny went off to college in 1939. Benny attended college at the prompting of his father and found himself exempt from the draft for World War II because the government believed Benny could help the nation more by taking over the family farm than by being drafted as a soldier. Benny Duggan never obtained his degree because his father became ill. Benny came home to take over the farming operation.
On December 17, 1942, Benny Duggan's father died. He was eighty-five years old. Joseph H. Duggan had been an early Oklahoma settler and successful wheat farmer. He left behind his twenty-one year old son, Benny, and a fifty-three year old wife, Elizabeth. Benny loved his mother, and for the next two decades he cared for both the farm and his mom. However, when Benny's mother became physically frail and in need of a warmer winter climate, Benny decided to lease the family farm and move his mother to south Texas. By the time of this move in the mid-1960's, Benny had invested some of his farm earnings in various buildings and property in Enid, Oklahoma.
Not much is known about Ben and his mother Elizabeth during their years in Houston. However, in July of 1971, Elizabeth Duggan died. She was eighty-four. Benny brought his mother back to Kingfisher, Oklahoma where graveside rites were conducted at Kingfisher Cemetery. Elizabeth was buried beside her husband Joseph. After the funeral, Benny came back to Enid to tend to his farm and the various properties he owned. Benny was fifty when his mother died. He had never married,, and unlike his father, he would not marry later in life. His mom and dad now were gone. He had no siblings. He would possibly have had some distant cousins around the Kingfisher area, but there is no evidence Benny had any contact with them. He lived outside of Enid during the 1970's and 1980's, tending to his farming, and mostly keeping to himself. In the 1990's, when Benny was reaching eighty years of age, he bought a home in Dallas, Texas. He was now too old to farm. He kept ownership of his land, but he leased it to local farmers and then moved to Dallas.
During this past decade, Benny's life spiraled downward. He kept to himself in Dallas. Nobody knew him or where he had come from. He was not in good health during his eighties, and all that the neighbors knew was that he had way too many cars on his property. His front yard was becoming an eyesore. What the neighbors never realized was that Benny was too old to drive in Dallas traffic, but that didn't stop him. He had numerous vehicular accidents, but rather than repair the cars he wrecked, he simply bought a new one. Rather than paying off his car loans with insurance money (Benny had only bare minimum insurance), he simply went to the bank to buy a new car--before he had paid off the wrecked one. The bank would loan Benny the money because his open line of credit was secured by the valuable land and property he owned in Enid. Benny continued to detoriate physically, emotionally and mentally.
In 2009, Benny came to Enid for a visit. He wanted to check on his farm and properties. He was now eighty-eight years old. While in Enid, he fell and broke his pelvis. After several weeks in the hospital, he was ready to be released. However, due to the extent of his injuries, hospital administration would only release Benny to a family member who would come, pick him up, and then care for him. "Who," they asked, "can we call to come get you?" "I don't have anybody," Benny replied. "There's nobody you can call." The hospital was not sure about what to do. After a conference, they decided to release Benny to a nursing home facility in Enid. Benny had a trust fund that could pay for the nursing home care as long as it was needed.
she turned to armed bank robbery. Benny was one of her victims. Due to the medications Benny was taking to manage his pain, Benny's ability to think rationally became progressively worse, but it didn't keep him from the pain of knowing he was being swindled. More than a few strangers took advantage of him. After the police arrested the nursing home administrator for fraud and bank robbery, they discovered other ways Benny had been taken advantage of by other people. Law enforcement requested that the Department of Human Services step in and move Benny to another nursing home. The court also assigned an attorney to watch over Benny's finances. Though the attorney had Benny's best interest at heart, Benny found it difficult to trust anyone because so many people had abused him the last few years of his life. There had been nobody who served as his advocate.
Benny died suddenly on Wednesday, August 15, 2012, in his nursing home bed. His body was broken and bruised. His emotions spent and his life a testimony to the evil in the hearts of men. He died alone, abused by many who had taken advantage of him. The bank officers that loaned him money for the cars without investigating why he needed so many, the nursing home administrators who had been assigned to care for him but abused him, several of the people who leased his land and property, and the neighbors who lived by him--all of them either abused or abandoned Benny in his time of need.
As I spoke with the funeral director and attorney at Benny's funeral, I felt a renewed commitment to focus on the Benny Duggans in my life. It doesn't take long to get to know people by asking a few questions about their life and becoming interested in their story. Intentional acts of kindness toward senior adults speak volumes about our understanding of the importance and significance of every human life. There are dozens of Benny Duggans in the nursing homes of our communities, and rather than see them as objects to deceive and use for personal gain, we Christians would do well to redouble our efforts in serving the elderly in our community.
Though Benny Duggan's funeral may be the only one I ever officiate that has nobody in attendance, it may go down in my life as the most signficant funeral service I've ever had the privilege of conducting. Benny Duggan reminds me of the importance of getting to know the stories of our senior adults, and reaching out to them in love.
Thanks, Benny. I hope I've honored your life and story in some small way. I just wish more people had known you and your story before you died.