Penny Duncklee



John Perry Duncklee, known to his family as a good husband, father, grandfather, and great grandfather, died peacefully at Mountain View Medical Center in Las Cruces on January 31, surrounded by members of his family. He was 85. John was known to friends as a cowboy, a stockman, a professor of range ecology, a designer and builder of fine mesquite furniture, a musician, and a well-recognized writer, who focused largely on topics from his beloved Southwest.

He is survived by his wife of 27 years, Penny Fisher Crowell Duncklee and by four children: Louise Downey, Robert Michael Duncklee, Dorothy McGee, and Andrew Duncklee, all of Tucson. He leaves 11 grandchildren and four great grandchildren.

He called himself a "cowboy adventurer," but whatever the pursuit, John was known for his approach as a critical thinker. "It is thinking. . . that solves problems and leads to analyses," he wrote in a recent essay about writing. "Thinking is essential to writing, but it is also essential to just about every other human activity."

Born May 10, 1929 to Leon Ozro and Louise Foster Perry Duncklee, John lived in Larchmont, New York, for most of his childhood. After the death of his mother, John was sent to Arizona to the Russell Ranch School, near Tucson and the present-day Catalina State Park. He enjoyed being one of 29 students, each with a horse of their own. He returned to the East Coast for high school, graduating from Vermont Academy, where he was a pitcher for the school baseball team.

He rebelled against his father, rejecting his suggestion that he attend Dartmouth College. Instead he headed west for the University of Arizona (UA.) He spent his first summer after high school working as a cowboy in Alberta, Canada, an experience he never forgot. Before he graduated, the Korean War loomed and he joined the Navy, serving four years along the West Coast and in Asia. He returned to UA to complete his degree and followed that with a master's degree in range ecology.

John was popular with his students during his short tenure at Northern Arizona University and later teaching at the Universidad de Sonora, in Hermosillo, Mexico, but he often ran afoul of the regulations and formalities of higher education, which he contended did nothing to further the learning process.

John considered an environmental assessment he researched and wrote to protect the Hart Prairie area of the San Francisco Peaks in northern Arizona to be one of his most significant accomplishments. A proposed condominium development was rejected by zoning officials after John's assessment showed potential problems with water supplies, increased fire danger, and heightened potential for avalanches in the area. And, for him most important was the fact that the mountains were sacred to the Hopi Indians.</p><p>As a part of his opposition, John wrote and recorded a song protesting the development, which received frequent air play on Flagstaff radio stations. The increased attention brought out 3,000 people to the zoning hearing to let their objections be known.

John pursued a career as a cattleman for a time and also raised quarter horses in southern Arizona. His knowledge of Spanish, a language he loved, and his experiences on both sides of the border in his ranching days led to a weekly newspaper column, which started his writing career. For a time, he built and designed furniture in Tubac, Arizona. Seeking a different way of expressing himself, he bought carpentry equipment and taught himself the art of furniture making. He met Penny in Tubac, and they were married Nov. 10, 1990. The couple moved to Las Cruces, New Mexico in 2001.

It was as a writer of fiction, non-fiction, and poetry, that John was known to many. Beginning with fact-based books, such as "Coyotes I Have Known," an account of his ranching experiences, he published more than two dozen books, hundreds of articles, poems, and short stories. His books included satire, short story collections, stories for younger readers, science fiction, and an autobiography.

He enjoyed writing, starting early each morning, then taking a short break to serve Penny her first morning coffee. The couple collaborated on a number of projects, with Penny providing watercolor paintings for the covers of several of John's books and other illustrations.

John's poem about a Mexican farm worker earning a living across the border in the U.S., called "El Corrido de Antonio Beltran," earned him a Fellowship for Excellence in Poetry from the Arizona Commission on the Arts. The poem also won the Spur Ward for the Best Western Poem in 2008 from the Western Writers of America. In 2014, John expanded the poem to a book, "To the Harvest," which provides a sympathetic look at the challenges faced by Mexican workers trying to make a living for their families on farms and ranches in the U.S.

A bilingual children's book, "Manchado and His Friends," done as a collaboration with Penny and translator J.P.S. Brown, resulted in the 2003 Author of the Year award, by the Friends of the Branigan Memorial Library, in Las Cruces. His entire collection of books is housed at the University of Arizona, in Tucson.

Private memorial services are planned by the family in Las Cruces and Tucson.

Penny Duncklee