Duane G. Carey
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Today February 7, 2014 the south end of Tippecanoe County lost one of its true iconic figures," The Iris Man" Duane Gilbert Carey.
From 1983 thru 2003, he and his wife owned and operated the Iris Farm in Romney, Indiana. There, folks would walk through the many rows of Iris and Daylilies as they bloomed May thru October. His rhizomes still grace thousands of gardens, not only here in Indiana, but as far away as Japan. One of his annual highlights was to invite the Jefferson High School Art Class out to the Iris Farm to paint the beautiful flowers. Although he is best known for his Green Thumb, there were many facades to this man.
Born January 17, 1924 to Burton and Lena (Schlieper) Carey in the small Nebraska, town of Palisade. They had seven children. Duane is proceeded in death by his sister Bonnie Blake, and two brothers Harold "Tiny", and Bill. Surviving, one sister Dorothy Waller of Colorado, and two brothers Bud of Mississippi and Cecil of Missouri.
While growing up in rural Nebraska he experienced the Dust Bowl and the Great Depression, both during the 1930's and at age of 17 the bombing of Pearl Harbor. Needless to say, Duane grew up fast. Working odd jobs at the young age of 12, he helped his mom raise his six siblings. From shoveling the snow off local business's roofs for 50 cents per building, to skinning truck loads of jack rabbits for 2.5 cents apiece during the famous "Jack Rabbit Round Up." As well as slipping onto the old train coal cars, hiding until the train began to move, then pitching off lumps of coal he would later retrieve with his pull behind wagon. Always aware of the speed of the train, so it was not moving too fast to hinder his escape. Noodling catfish to sale to the local restaurants was quite common. Some of the contraband was kept for the family, but most was sold to provide the much needed cash.
While attending Palisade High School, Duane played halfback on the "6 man football team."To this day Nebraska has a 6 man football division because there are not enough students in some of the schools to play 11 man football. In his senior year they played for the State Championship but had to settle for "runners up."
After High School, he was drafted into the United States Marine Corps. His ticket to Camp Pendleton, California was his first trip out of the sand hills of Nebraska. Duane fought in several battles in the South Pacific Theater, the panicle of which being the battle on the small pacific island of Iwo Jima. There were 250 men in Duane's Company and 247 were killed or injured. Duane left that island with out a scratch. He, like thousands of his Marine brothers, heard of the Japanese surrender while on ships bound for a full invasion of the island nation, which fortunately changed into a smaller scale occupation. On March 2, 1946 he returned home attaining the rank of Corporal, an honorable discharge and $319.56 dollars in his pocket.
Back home Duane would meet his wife to be Violet Mae Seybold, daughter of Elmer "Swede" and Velma (Ridgley) Seybold. He worked odd jobs trying to make a living for his new family, until one day he passed a rail car full of rebar. He followed the train for more then 30 miles and landed a job placing rebar on the Enders Dam project in McCook, Nebraska. This "chance" career move would provide his family for the next sixty years, as he would later join the International Brotherhood of Bridge, Structural, and Ornamental Ironworkers, Local # 111, Rock Island Illinois. Duane retired in 1983.
Duane and Violet married April 5, 1947, and have five children. Ronald Duane (wife Kay), killed March 5, 1970 at the age of 21, while serving his Country in Vietnam. Surviving are: Linda Johnson (husband Raymond), Seminole Florida, Rena Surber (husband Paul), Bainbridge Indiana, LeRoy (wife Connie), Lafayette, and Randy, Metropolis Illinois. Violet passed July 22, 1995, from complications of long term emphysema. They were married 48 years.
Through out his career as an ironworker, Duane and Violet operated several small businesses to supplement their family income:
Manufacturing jewelry from moss agate stones they collected, cut, polished and placed into their settings.
Breeding tropical fish to sell to area pet stores.
Finding Moral Mushrooms by the truck load and selling them by the pound from the front porch.
"The Plaster Shak," casting a multitude of plaster figures, even creating his own molds. They would sell the items white or painted.
Duane's family is blessed with: 11 grand children, Brenda (husband Jeff) McTagertt, Ronica Carey, Jackie (husband Jon) Ramsay, Courtney Stout, Shawn Stout, Destinee (husband Hunter) Haselman, Josh (wife Shannon) Carey, Jared (wife Amber) Carey, Jessica Carey, Kayla (husband Zack) Garrison and Sonya Carey. 17 great grand children, Bryce (wife Katie) McTagertt, Troy (wife Brandie) Lowery, Austin Lowery, Wade Warren, Isaiah, Liam, and Owen Ramsay, Logan and Montgomery Carey, Keelan and Gracynn Carey, Leah and Maely Garrison and Devyn Andrus, great-great grand Children, Levi McTagertt, Bryleigh and Paisleigh McTagertt, Rylen and Layton Lowery.
Duane was preceded in death by 3 great grand children: Evan Blake McTagertt (16), passed March 5, 2004; Sydney Evelyn Carey (2), passed February 3, 2006; and Jeffrey Levi McTagertt (20), passed February 4, 2007. Duane was quoted once, "These children are what I will miss most."
Gone are the days visitors would gather at the Iris Farm, some to see the beautiful flowers, others to take a few hours out of their hectic lives to pick a pail full of free raspberries, or just sit under the big Silver Maple on an old truck bench seat and listen to his simplistic view of life. The depth of which never fully understood until you had already left and on your way home. See one's worth was weighted more by the dirt on your hands and the smile on your face, then by the fine car you drove up in. To gain his respect, one was judged on two things, first, to love your family to the best of your ability, second, to work diligently at your trade, what ever it was, to best provide for their needs.
Duane's life personified the term" Greatest Generation." We can only hope that when they have all gone, we will have listened to their stories and learned what life's treasures truly are.
In lieu of sending flowers, the family ask donations be made to the Jefferson High School Art Department in care of Mr. Jackson
To read more about Duane and the Iris Farm:
Hoosier Farmer- September-October 1991
Lafayette Leader- April 3, 1993
Lafayette Journal and Courier-June 2, 1991
Indianapolis Star-May 3, 1992 and a two page story July 13, 1999
Visitation from 12:30 p.m. to 3:00 p.m. on Saturday at Duane's home, 11424 US 231 South,Romney, IN. Burial to follow at Elmwood Cemetery in Romney. Hippensteel Funeral Home is entrusted with care. Share memories and condolences online at www.hippensteelfuneralservice.com
Published in the Journal & Courier on Feb. 11, 2014