How does one write an ordinary obituary for an extraordinary woman? The simple answer is: It can’t be done — but here is our attempt.
Jennie Bernice (Higgins) Duncan passed away peacefully in the early morning hours of Jan. 4, 2021. Ninety-five and a half years prior, Jennie came into this world in Tremont, the daughter of Lula (Farley) and Weston Higgins. Jennie was predeceased by her parents, daughter Faith Bernice Ober and siblings: Edward Higgins, Ethel Hinckley, Winonah Michaud, Clyde Higgins and Ralph Higgins. She is survived by her sister, Harriet Higgins of Tremont; daughters Jeannie Martin (spouse Al) of Hancock, Judy Colbeth of Bass Harbor and Robin Pittman (spouse Garvin) of Baton Rouge, La. She also leaves behind grandchildren Heidi Loos, Heather Bray, Holly Gonzales (spouse John), Tammy Smith (spouse Larry), Jennifer Sutherland, Mistie Hutchins (spouse Karen Murray) and Hope Paulos. She was a proud great-grandmother to nine and great-great-grandmother to three. Jennie epitomized the definition of “Matriarch” and was the heart and soul of all family gatherings.
Jennie led an adventurous life by most people’s standards. Anyone who knew Jennie knew she loved to tell stories of those adventures. Numerous people told her she should “write a book,” but she was too busy living the adventures to take time out to write about them.
Her early days were spent in a house on Kelleytown Road, just a few hundred feet away from where she finally settled. She and her siblings attended a one-room schoolhouse at the end of the road, and she told stories about how she and her brother Clyde would share a single pair of snowshoes to walk the mile to school in the snow, she in the front, her brother behind. According to her, they were rarely on time, but the trip was never boring. A favorite story of this era centered on her pet cow. One morning, unbeknownst to her, her cow followed her to school. The children were settled in their seats ready for the school day to begin and they heard “clip-clop, clip-clop” up the schoolhouse steps. Everyone thought it was Miss Noble (the school nurse with proper shoes) there to check their fingernails until ole Bessie poked her head around the corner and let out a “mooooo.”
Family meant a lot to Jennie. She said her father sat her down when she was very young and told her he insisted she learn three things: 1) how to drive, 2) how to swim and 3) how to dance. She took his advice to heart. She learned to drive in the fields around their house before she could even reach the pedals. By the time she was 16, she was the first female mail carrier to pick up and deliver mail off the island — loading and unloading mail at the train station in Ellsworth and distributing it to towns across the island. She told stories of lean times during the war when there was no money for new tires, but the mail had to be delivered so she would pull over and stuff the tires of her panel truck with hay to finish her run. Dodging flour sacks dropped from planes during “bombing” practice was one of her favorite stories to recount about this time in her life. Oh, and she did learn to swim, and she did learn to dance … oh did she dance!
Jennie was passionate about several things: dancing, playing “beano,” dancing, rescuing stray animals and dancing. If there was a dance in town, she was there and available to drive anyone home who may have had a “few too many.” She would be one of first on the floor and would dance to every song — fast or slow. She danced right up until she could no longer walk (and then an occasional “chair dance” was not uncommon).
Her adventures began and ended in Maine but took her far and wide in the interim. She lived in Manchester and Vernon, Conn.; Tampa, Fort Lauderdale and Palm Beach Gardens, Fla.; San Antonio and Harlingen, Texas; and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. But Maine was always home. No matter where she lived, summers were spent in Tremont. Moving around like this gave her the opportunity to enjoy another one of her passions: renovating/redecorating old houses. When asked how many houses she has owned over the years, after a lengthy pause, she smiled and said “I think I’m up to 35!”
Her adventurous work history included: mail carrier, sardine factory worker, housekeeper, model, decorator, switchboard operator, worker at a facility building aircraft engines, and security guard. After her return to Maine in 1980, she was a familiar face at the town office in Tremont, where she worked as a tax assessor. Later, she was one of the smiling faces that greeted you upon entry into the Wendell Gilley Museum in Southwest Harbor.
Mother, Sister, Aunt, Grandmother, Great Grandmother, Great-Great Grandmother and Friend … You will be forever missed and never forgotten.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to The Ark Pet Shelter, P.O. Box 276, Cherryfield, ME 04622.
A celebration of life memorial service will be held at a later date.