Hundreds of people paid their respects at a memorial service Monday for Robert E. “Bob” Duncan, best known in the Fresno community as one of the most prominent supporters of Fresno State athletics. But family and friends also remembered Duncan, affectionately known as “Mr. Bulldog,” as a gentle, loving grandfather and a humble, caring philanthropist.
Duncan, former president and CEO of Duncan Enterprises, died Nov. 11 at age 94. Monday’s memorial was at Northwest Church, where he was a longtime member.
Longtime friends and Bulldog Foundation associates Pat Ogle and Bud Richter detailed Duncan’s numerous community activities, including his work with a long list of nonprofits and service organizations as well as his efforts on behalf of Fresno State’s athletic and academic programs. Ogle said Duncan’s affiliation with Fresno State spanned six university presidents, 10 athletic directors, and 35 presidents of the Bulldog Foundation, “and it is my honor to say thank you to Bob on behalf of the Fresno State community.”
“How lucky are we … that he got tired of hearing ‘Where the hell is Fresno?’ ” Ogle said, recalling Duncan’s story about his business travels around the country building Duncan Ceramics’ network of distributors. “Bob took the leadership role in raising Fresno’s profile with Fresno State as the centerpiece.”
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Duncan was either the chairman or co-chairman for a slew of major university projects, including Bulldog Stadium; the University Business Center at the Craig School of Business; Duncan Athletic Building, which houses offices and training rooms for the football and soccer programs; and Save Mart Center. “Every acre and corner of Fresno State’s campus was touched and served in some way by Bob’s time, talent and treasure,” Ogle said.
Suddenly everybody’s talking about your grandfather like he’s some kind of legend. At first it’s a little overwhelming, thinking, ‘He did all this? Bumpy? Are you sure?’ … Could this really be the same man? And if so, why didn’t he tell us about all this?
Hawk Duncan, grandson
Richter, a friend of Duncan for more than 50 years, said he learned only last weekend that Duncan and his late brother, Dick, would in the 1970s, 1980s and early 1990s “take a truck from their plant and go to Arthur’s Toy Store,” load it up with presents and deliver them to the Pinedale Boys Club. “Bob and Dick tried to keep these gifts as anonymous as they could.”
In 1985, Duncan was recognized by the Fresno Chamber of Commerce as the organization’s second recipient of the Leon S. Peters Award for community service and philanthropy by a Fresno business person. That was just one of a slew of accolades bestowed upon Duncan over the years.
That public identity is something quite different than the man his grandchildren knew.
“When I think of all the people here today, I think of the countless memories of Bumpy,” said Kira Kratzer, using a nickname for her grandfather. “Our thoughts go to a man that we all knew at different times, places and capacities.”
“We heard bits and pieces about his involvement in the community,” grandson Hawk Duncan said. “But we never truly understood what that meant until after his passing, until the outpouring from the community exposed us to a whole new side of the man we knew as Bumpy.”
“Suddenly everybody’s talking about your grandfather like he’s some kind of legend,” Hawk Duncan added, drawing chuckles from the audience. “At first it’s a little overwhelming, thinking, ‘He did all this? Bumpy? Are you sure?’ … Could this really be the same man? And if so, why didn’t he tell us about all this?”
How lucky are we … that he got tired of hearing ‘Where the hell is Fresno?’
Pat Ogle, longtime friend and Bulldog Foundation associate
Hawk Duncan chalked it up to a final lesson from a grandfather to his grandchildren “about being humble, about the importance of values and doing what’s right.”
“Bumpy didn’t boast about his accomplishments. I don’t think he even saw them as such,” Hawk Duncan said. “His successes were simply the result of acting in the service of his values. … A meaningful life, a life worth living, is one in which you take every opportunity to honor what’s important to you.”
The service included military honors for Duncan, who served as an Army medic in World War II and achieved the rank of lieutenant by the time the war ended. As taps played at the rear of the church sanctuary, other members of the Joint Service Honors Command in Fresno ceremoniously folded an American flag and presented it to Duncan’s widow, Linda, and the Duncan family.
After the service, Fresno State President Joseph Castro said he never got a chance to know Duncan well, but said “I was certainly inspired by all the things everybody mentioned in terms of his contributions to the community.”
Castro said that Duncan recognized the importance of both athletics and academics at Fresno State. “We talk a lot about academics and athletics rising together,” he said. “He might have used different language then, but he got it exactly, that our university is much stronger when those two areas work together, and his contributions in both of those areas were vitally important.”