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Duane and Ruth Daggett have learned to make every moment count for something special, and to take nothing for granted.

Photo by Sherrie Norris

Originally published: 2014-06-14 16:17:53
Last modified: 2014-06-14 16:18:37

THE DAGGETTS: Reasons to relay and many reasons to live

by Sherrie Norris

Duane and Ruth Daggett of Boone participate in the Watauga County Relay For Life activities each year, and for good reason. Ruth has been diagnosed with cancer six times throughout their 55-year marriage.

The couple considers it an honor to support hometown efforts to fight a disease that has deeply affected their family. Relay For Life is a fundraising event for the American Cancer Society.

Duane said relay is "an awesome opportunity to be able to walk at the side of the person I love most. How many people do you know who are strong enough to fight cancer -- and win -- six times?"

It's hard for some people to comprehend, he said, but it's not surprising to him. "Ruth is one of the most incredible people I know and one who never gives up," he said.

Not only has Ruth overcome melanoma twice and cancer of the lymph nodes, thyroid, breast and colon, but she has also lost two brothers to lung cancer.

"They hadn't smoked in 40 years, but they still died from cancer," she said.

She has a niece who is currently fighting a terminal cancer diagnosis.
"None of us know what might give us cancer, but it's good to know that research is still being done and great strides are being made every day," Ruth said.

The Daggetts are just two of hundreds preparing to walk in Friday's Relay For Life at Watauga High School in Boone.

Examples of endurance
Duane and Ruth are great examples of what it takes to endure one challenge after another and come out on the other end, more determined than ever before, according to organizers for the Watauga Relay For Life.

Iowa natives, the Daggetts came to Boone 27 years ago from Chicago when Duane accepted a teaching position at Appalachian State University.

Their five living children -- David, Denise, Dawn, Danielle and Darcia -- who were all given the same DDD monogram as their father, have made their parents proud; four are attorneys and one (Danielle) is a minister.

 "Our children have blessed us with 13 wonderful grandchildren," Duane said. "They keep us busy traveling from one place to another for sporting events, baptisms and other special occasions."

Duane, nearing his 82nd birthday, and Ruth, 77 credit their current healthy status to staying active in their community and especially, in their church at Grace Lutheran. They have held leadership roles at the church through the years and still sing in the choir. Ruth also plays the bells.

Duane is an avid runner and recently competed in the Hunter's Heroes Memorial Run, one of three in the 70 and older age bracket.

 "We fell in love with Boone when we first came here," Ruth said. "We are blessed to have had such a wonderful experience as part of the university and the community, in general."

Looking back
Ruth grew up in the small town of Jesup, Iowa, as the only girl in a family of five; her father was a Lutheran minister.

She graduated as a registered nurse from Allen Memorial Nursing School in Waterloo, Iowa, and worked "off and on through the years," she said.

 "For the most part after we were married, I was a stay-at-home mother and a volunteer, primarily centered around our children, their activities and other community events," she said.

Duane was teaching high school in the hometown of one of her schoolmates when they met on a blind date.

 "My friend had told me she had found the perfect husband for me," Ruth said.

They were married exactly one year from their first date. "He was very romantic, even then," she said.

Duane grew up on a farm during the Great Depression. "We were poor, but we didn't know the difference," he said.

As the youngest member of East Waterloo High School's Class of 1949, Duane is anticipating his 65th high school reunion in July. "I don't have any idea how many of my classmates are still alive," he said, "but Ruth and I look forward to attending."

Following high school, Duane joined the Army and later worked his way through college and successfully completed his doctorate in law from the University of Iowa  "with a lot of help and support from Ruth," he said, who worked as a nurse at University Hospital.

The couple spent the first 28 years of their marriage in the Midwest; Duane taught high school and was manager and legal representative for several major corporations.

Soon after retiring in Chicago, Duane desired to teach again and came to the business department at ASU in 1986.

 "The transition from Chicago to Boone was dramatic," Ruth said, "but we fell in love with the mountains and the people. We've have certainly enjoyed calling Boone our home."

Their three older children were already in college at the time. "Our two younger girls moved here with us, were active in local swim teams and graduated from Watauga High," she said.

Duane quickly developed an excellent rapport with faculty and students alike. He was active in campus life and was a faculty sponsor for Delta Chi fraternity. On four separate occasions, he received the Outstanding Professor Award from the Student Government Association.

He hosted study trips abroad to England, Scotland, Norway, Denmark and Italy, and loved that Ruth was able to accompany him on most.

Ruth embraced university life, too, and became actively involved in the ASU Women's Club and in the Boone community.

Among Duane's career highlights, he said, was the Duane D. Daggett endowed professorship, established in his honor by former student M. Lee Barnes Jr., current member of the board of trustees at ASU.

Additionally, Room 4018 in Raley Hall was named the Duane D. Daggett classroom.

 "When I think of Duane and Ruth Daggett, I feel sure the expression years ago from the song 'love and marriage, go together like a horse and carriage' had to be referring to them," said retiring ASU Chancellor Ken Peacock. "This fun-loving, generous, caring couple have a genuine love and admiration for each other and for other people. When you think of Duane, you think of Ruth."

Peacock added, "Let there be no doubt about it, Ruth is a steel magnolia -- she is a beautiful lady and she is tough. She is always willing to help and is an extraordinary volunteer."

Peacock said he has had the pleasure of traveling "with this wonderful couple --  through which I witnessed love in action, firsthand."

 "Duane has the unique ability to provide ideas that will give everyone a memorable and enjoyable evening," he said. "Students of all ages have fun and they learn a lot when Ruth and Duane Daggett are the trip leaders. "
Peacock remembers Duane as "a very demanding professor," but one whose class students truly wanted.

"He cared about his students and they knew it," Peacock said. "He and Ruth have touched lives and they have made a difference."

Peacock added, "My life has been enriched just from knowing them. Truly, one cannot say too much about them. Their contributions to the lives of others have no limit."

A delight to love
In looking back over their life together, Duane said it was "a delightful experience to love Ruth -- and even more so, when she loved me back."

Standing by her side during each of her cancer bouts, and serving as her caregiver on the most difficult days "was one of the beautiful things I've ever done," Duane said. "We're very lucky that we have had each other, and now, I am very lucky to have such a loving spouse to take care of me as I grow older."

As the couple anticipates walking together again in the upcoming Relay For Life, it is with a sense of gratitude.

"It's not only that I've been fortunate to detect each of my cancer diagnoses early -- and have been able to live through each one -- but it's also because we have people in this community who are working so hard to raise money for continued research and treatment," Ruth said.

She said walking the survivor's lap "kinda gives you goose bumps."

Referring to Sue Tilson, who chaired the first relay events in Watauga County, Ruth, a former team captain, said, "It's Sue and those who have followed in her footsteps to make sure it continues to happen who are my unsung heroes. As a society, we never honor those people enough. I am very proud of the community for supporting Relay For Life as well as it has in the past. For several years, we were No. 1 in the nation (for fundraising)."

 "We are not so much in leadership now, but we try to serve the community in more of a support role," Ruth said.

In her free time, Ruth enjoys music, reading, playing bridge and sewing.

"I have too many hobbies," she said. "I don't feel like I've done great things, like other women in our community, but when I went into nursing, it was with the idea that I can best serve God by serving other people. I've always tried to live by that."

Duane still focuses on management, the stock market and continues to conduct periodic business seminars.

Duane described their life together as blessed.

"The darker the night has been, the brighter the light is when it comes back on," he said. "Yesterday is gone. You've got to move on and don't worry too much about tomorrow. Live for today and do the best you can."