All over Lewis County, spokespersons for worthy causes thank Dan Duffy for something. Centralia City leaders thank him for insightful planning projects. Historic scribes and academics appreciate Dan’s wealth of knowledge and cultural artifacts. Historic preservation enthusiasts show gratitude to Dan for Centralia’s historic downtown. Community and faith-based service organization heads recognize Dan for how he always helps.

If he isn’t in the committee planning a project to make Centralia better, He is helping. Who says an eighty-something person can’t lead? If you met him now, you’d think Dan is in his prime, considering his activity level and attitude.

Lewis County Legend Dan Duffy
Dan plays the grand piano on stage at Harrison Square Presbyterian Church in Centralia. Photo credit: LM Shelton

Dan Duffy, the Musician and Teacher

First meeting Dan in a Thursday study group tackling the challenge of homelessness in Lewis County, the following Wednesday, he was volunteering at a food pantry. During lulls of activity, Dan opened up the grand piano and made the keys sound like strokes on a harp. Like the famous Harpo Marx, Dan is self-taught. He is happy to teach his method. Being an educator, Dan is very successful at imparting knowledge. When Dan showed a little tyke how to find a chord or melody anywhere, the child’s eyes flashed in understanding.

Lewis County Legend Dan Duffy
Downtown Centralia and Block House. Photo courtesy: Dan Duffy

Dan Duffy, the Lewis County Historian

Residents may have noticed a Duffy Street in Centralia. “It was named after my great-grandfather,” Dan said. “There’s one in Chehalis, too.”

Dan is credited for knowing a lot about early Centralia history and is locally famous for conducting tours of Centralia’s historic downtown.

“I was co-chairman of the committee that designed an architectural guideline book that received a national award,” Dan said. “We use it as a historical resource book for explaining structures of buildings and the different periods they were built in.”

The book also covers what each building was used for, the owners who were there, what they did in the area, and so on.

“The tours are very comprehensive,” Dan continued. “And I share anecdotes whenever I give a tour, such as being hired to work in the Fox Theater as a youth. One night, I decided that, since everybody left the theater and I had the keys to the door, I would play the pipe organ. Little did I know, the assistant manager lived next door to the building, and the walls rattled so much that he came and opened the door and wanted to know what I was doing. Those are the kinds of stories I add.”

Lewis County Legend Dan Duffy
Dan Duffy and his dance partner performing a routine on roller skates. Photo courtesy: Dan Duffy

Dan Duffy, the Artist and Rollerskater

A visit to the Duffy household will draw visitors immediately to the dozens of paintings on every wall. A modern-day Renaissance man, Dan painted them all.

As well as being a historical tour guide, florist, artist, thespian, musician, small business owner, lay architect, educator, landlord, member of many committees and organizations, and former president of both the Centralia Chamber of Commerce and the Rotary Club, Dan is a champion roller-skater.

It’s not roller derby or rollerblade racing — think figure skating. Only instead of blades on ice, it’s wheels on hardwood. Video clips show perfectly synchronized skaters swishing and twirling in sequined skirts and flashy tuxedos — very dapper indeed.

Lewis County Legend Dan Duffy
“We were florists for 42 years,” Dan shares. “Several years ago, I entered a floral design contest for Canadian and Washington florists. Lots of pressure with time limits to complete three different quality floral designs. I won first place for Washington.” Photo courtesy: Dan Duffy

The Continued Legacy of Dan Duffy

In the rare print book, “Centralia: The First 50 Years,” Herndon Smith, the Centralia High School teacher who spearheaded the nationally acclaimed project, was Dan’s English teacher years after the book was published. Smith retired from teaching in 1958, the same year Dan graduated.

According to a 2008 Centralia Chronicle story, “(H)er English classes in 1935 began local history research which … became a book in May 1942. The Seattle Times and Oregonian devoted full pages to the project. The Pacific Northwest Historical Quarterly had 17 pages on the project. The Associated Press carried the story, which resulted in letters from local history authorities from all over the nation.”

Reminiscing about his education, Dan considered whether a high school English teacher today could do what Herndon Smith did.

“I think there was just more of an interest in your community and where you lived at that time,” said Dan. “The classes and subject matter were very serious, and you wouldn’t have been caught on your cell phone or eating lunch in Herndon Smith’s class. She quite often wore bloomers when she taught school. She sat on the front desk of the class while she taught and often rode her bicycle to school. Her classes were very difficult.”

Another of the book’s contributors, Dorothy Mae Rigg, author of the chapter on Centralia City founder George Washington, was Dan’s Sunday school teacher. These educators and community-minded leaders must have contributed to Dan’s high achievement and dedicated civic involvement. But Dan credits his marriage to Nancy and his guardian grandmother most of all for his success.

“What’s important is the right people coming into your life,” he said. “When my mom and dad divorced, she married someone who was very abusive to me, and … I sat all day at a desk crying because I couldn’t achieve. I flunked second grade,” he said. “My grandmother took me away from this environment and raised me, and in doing so, taught me that I was an important person and that I could succeed.”

When Dan and Nancy married, they consciously decided not to continue the unhealthy patterns Dan was subjected to early in life. Their three sons, all high achievers and pillars of our community, are evidence of his success in what Dan views as his highest achievement.

His legacy continues to make our community and Lewis County a better place.

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