The sudden passing of John Clifford Durand on September 24, 2020 leaves an irreplaceable void in the hearts and minds of all who knew him. He was 84 years of age. His death was peaceful and as he had wished it to be in his own words, “…without protracted fuss and undo bother.”
John, quite simply, was an extraordinary man. He lived his life with purpose, integrity and grace. He shared his generous and warm spirit, searching intellect, empathy, wisdom and humor with everyone he met. The depth of his knowledge of world and current events, politics and history, literature, and his love of language and learning were vast. A conversation with John might include a quote from a favorite poem, an informed analysis of current affairs, the background of a little-known historical fact, or a reference to mechanical innovation he’d recently read about in his Popular Mechanics. His easy manner and ready smile were always present, as gentle and genuine as his inevitable inquiry of “… and how are you?”
John was born on July 16, 1936 to Anna (Stafne) and Adelard Durand in Spooner Wisconsin. He was proud of his humble Wisconsin roots and his beloved Wisconsin Badgers. His childhood and life were marked by the onset of polio at age six which left him with a weakened leg but perhaps also with more determination than most to challenge himself. Engendering, maybe, his later accomplishments as an author of two historical novels, four historical books, three works of memoir and biography; two edited works, eleven essays and monographs, and another book well underway at the time of his death.[i] Curiosity was in his bones; he was a meticulous researcher and loved discovering new information.
But for all his intellectual prowess, the absolute foundation of John’s life was his unswerving love and loyalty for his family and friends. He deeply cherished them all. As son Peter said, the keel that steadied John’s course through life “was deep and true.” Those fortunate enough to know John instinctively felt his authentic character, his clarity, his goodness. He was a noble man in a contemporary world.
John relished physical challenges as well, never mind his advancing years or physical limitations. A disciplined cyclist, he biked 2000 miles every summer for years, noting his daily mileage and weather conditions on spread sheets so he could compare results from year to year. This last summer John had already completed much of his goal, although he’d finally acquiesced to some assistance from an electric bike.
In his later years he backpacked in Wyoming’s Bighorn Mountains and on Washington’s Mt. Rainer. He purchased his first motorcycle at age 74 and an even bigger motorcycle about five years later. He was a regular in the deer hunt camp in northern Wisconsin and in the annual fishing trip in Canada where he was first to bed and first to rise to make the morning coffee.
John had become the Durand family historian and shared his research in several articles published by the Durand Heritage Foundation of which he was a founding member. Largely through his efforts, a scholarship fund was established to honor his deceased son John and eventually raised enough money to sponsor educational scholarships in perpetuity. He was also attentive to the history of his Norwegian heritage on his mother’s side and contributed information to that genealogy as well.
John graduated from Spooner High School and later from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire with a degree in English. He completed his master’s degree in English from the University of Tennessee. In 1960 John married Janice Rubenzer of Chippewa Falls. They were among the first wave of volunteers for the Peace Corps and served in the Philippines from 1961 to 1963. After settling in Madison, John and Janice’s son John Adelard, was born on May 8, 1964. Son Peter Edward followed on May 31, 1967. John was active in Wisconsin politics for several years and before retirement served in various administrative capacities in Wisconsin’s health and human services system both in the private and public sector. The marriage dissolved but the family always stayed close, celebrating holidays and special occasions together throughout the year. In time, John relocated to Elkhorn, Wisconsin where he lived until at the time of his death.
John is survived by his son, Peter (Julie) Durand of Minneapolis, MN, three grandchildren; Giselle Carolyn Durand, Ellis John Durand and Stuart Edward Durand, and his two sisters; Ellen Durand Olson (Robert) of Woodville, WI and Alice Durand Keppel (Patrick) of Mayer, MN. He was preceded in death by his parents Adelard Durand and Anna Durand Hall, his son, John Adelard Durand and his six siblings; James Adelard Durand, Eugene Thomas Durand, Evelyn Ignace Durand Hillis, Elaine Ruth Durand Evans, Carol Ann Durand Barbee and Paul Francis Durand.
He is also survived by his many cousins and his numerous nieces and nephews who regarded “Uncle John” with awe, respect and most of all, love. He cherished them all and he, in turn, was their hero. Also of note, his Peace Corp group, the poker buddies, and the breakfast gang. Among his many friends and acquaintances to whom we are grateful, especially noted is our gratitude and love to Dawn Stark, John’s stalwart and loyal friend of almost three decades, Dawn held a special place John’s heart as she does in ours. Dawn and her family loved and embraced John as one of their own and were there for him every single day until the end.
[i] For a complete list of works by John C. Durand see Puzzleboxpress.com
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