What would the world be like if there were no dreams? Some dreams are escape fantasies we enjoy temporarily, fully aware that they may never come true. But some of our dreams become a part of us. A deep seated desire we cherish, never abandoning it or giving it up; believing that someday our dream will come true. Leona Duffy’s life story pictures a woman who had a compelling dream from early childhood; believing that someday our dream will come true. That dream began in early childhood. From the time she and her family lived in a two-room tenant house on a farm in Arkansas that dream led her, never giving up. Although those with whom she shared the dream may have considered it “an impossible dream.”
Who is Leona Duffy, and what was her dream? Leona is a small, soft voiced black woman. Mother of thirteen children, eleven of them living. She is the wife of the late O.C. Duffy, a retired farmer, with whom she lives in Augusta, Arkansas. Their children live scattered throughout the United States, far from one another. All of them are successful, holding responsible positions that require educated, efficient personnel. Leona’s mother died when she was three years old. She attended school in a one-room school, which was open only three or four months a year, having a split term. The children in her family had to help plant the crop, and gather it at harvest time on the land her father worked as a tenant farmer. Theirs was a tenant family and all but the very young helped do the work required. At one time when crops were short or had failed, the entire family walked six miles each way, twelve miles a day to pick cotton.
Leona learned to read at an early age by picking it up on her own. That was when her dream began. She dreamed that she could have access to many books to read, and could go to school until she got an education. She had a natural hunger for learning. An unusual dream for a little girl whose chance to get a quality education seemed slim, but the dream was always there. Her father was an educated man, and he encouraged his children to attend school, but he could not always purchase books for all of them. Leona usually did without books; often copying the lessons from a friend. When she was in the eighth grade, and time for the final exams came around, she studied the lessons she copied and passed the tests. It was a great disappointment when she was not allowed to enter the ninth grade as one of the requirements was that she have her own books. She spent another year in the eighth grade, then quit school to stay home, but she always encouraged her siblings to continue their studies and work hard to learn all they could. In 1934, Leona married O.C. Duffy, a farmer who was a sharecropper; one who rented a small plot from a land owner. He received a share of the profits for his work, but that was a way of life for many people at the time. If the weather was good, the price of cotton fair, the family did well, but no one ever got rich.
The commodity most plentiful in those days was children; surely true of the Duffy’s. Thirteen children were born into the family; two children died, leaving seven daughters and four sons. Leona and her husband encouraged them to attend school and do their best. O.C. was a strong disciplinarian who told the children what to do, and they did it. Leona was sympathetic and caring; backing up her husband, but often softening his strictness by offering support and always telling them that with the Lord’s help the family would make it. They did make it! All of the Duffy’s children have college degrees and some advanced degrees in their chosen fields; so again Leona’s dream for her children has come true. The desire to finish high school never left Leona as it was an integral part necessary to the fulfillment of her dream. When in 1965, evening courses were offered for adults at the Augusta High School, Leona enrolled and completed the course in two years, making straight A’s.
But another dream had taken the place of her childhood dream. When the Duffy family had a reunion in 1976, and all the children came home, “to tell you we love you,” tears were shed; hugs exchanged, and the gleam of pride in every eye truly displayed the love those children have for their parents. When Leona told her children that her dream was that her family would help young people outside the family get an education, one of the best ways to ensure that they would achieve success and happiness. She wanted to have the family set up the “Duffy Scholarship,” with each member contributing regularly to a fund that would be used to award a yearly donation to a student attending the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff, the Alma Mater of several of her children. Since 1978 many students have been helped through the “Duffy Scholarship Fund.” The fund accepts donations from anyone who wants to help, and has received as much as several thousand dollars from a Florida lady’s will, who heard about Leona’s dream and wanted to participate.
“The scholarship is a way I can help people after I am gone,” Leona said; because helping people was the substance of all her dreams. As it began with herself, a poor child who taught herself to read; thereby opening up a whole new world for her, her children, and countless more in time to come. I think the term “Well done thy good and faithful servant,” describes her life. In her autobiography entitled “The Eternal Dream,” Leona tells the rest of her story. The book she wrote years ago is a fascinating story of her life. It emphasizes her strong faith in God, love for her family, and belief that she had a role to play in life by helping all children get an education. How much joy she must have felt when her children all agreed to continue the fulfillment of her dream.