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BR Duckworth: Greenfield educator, conservationist

Lead Summary
Steve Roush-
NOTE: This is Part 2 of a series leading up to the Highland County Historical Society inducting four more into its Hall of Fame. This week, we
profile the late Benton Raymond Duckworth (1890-1996).

Ladies and gentlemen, Benton Raymond “BR” Duckworth lived 106 years and was well-known as a longtime educator at the Greenfield Exempted Village School District, then embarked on a new career as a practitioner of modern, scientific farming and woodlands management.

Mr. Duckworth’s grandson, Chris Duckworth, provided the following biographical information on his grandfather:

BR Duckworth was born Dec. 4, 1890 on his parents’ farm near the hamlet of Cutler, Washington County, Ohio. Moses Timothy Duckworth and his wife, Anna “Annie” Poling Haddix Duckworth, had 12 children, 10 of whom survived infancy. BR was their penultimate offspring. Moses Timothy, like his siblings and parents, was an ardent Union supporter. He and two brothers, one of whom died in the infamous Belle Isle Prison, served in West Virginia Union forces, where they fought to put down the Confederate rebellion for the duration of the Civil War.

In 1907, 17-year-old BR accepted an offer to teach in a one-room school in the crossroads village of Qualey, also in Washington County, despite having attended only two years of high school. He daily rode a horse to the school, cut firewood for the stove, saw that the bucket was full with dipper nearby, and for two years, he strove to teach a single class of diverse
students. While shouldering this responsibility, he also successfully authored a countywide test used to qualify new teachers.

While he enjoyed Qualey and welcomed his meager salary, he recognized that he needed to further his education. In 1912, he enrolled at Ohio Northern University. The administration allowed him to complete his high school requirements while simultaneously working toward his bachelor of science degree in education. For three years, he continuously attended the school and emerged with his high school diploma and undergraduate degrees.

For the 1915-16 school term, he was principal of rural Grand Rapids High School in Wood County. But even after leaving Ada, his ties to ONU were not completely severed. While attending the university, he had met a Greenfield co-ed, Carrie Lois Shrock. The two soon became a couple, and BR made numerous trips to Greenfield and stayed at the Shrock family farm on Route 41. This courtship resulted in their marriage on March 11, 1916.

Shortly following their bond, BR accepted an appointment as science teacher in the then-new Edward Lee McClain High School, beginning a career at McClain that lasted 40 years.

But first, he had to face America’s entry into the Great War (World War I). He requested and received a leave of absence in order to serve. On May 21, 1917, he became a member of the 4th Battery Field Artillery Provisional Training Regiment at Fort Benjamin Harrison in Indiana. While in training, however, he became ill. He may have contracted typhoid, but more likely he fell victim to the 1918 Influenza Pandemic. On Nov. 21, 1917, he was given his honorable discharge – his military career had lasted six months, and he had earned $70.

BR returned to Greenfield and McClain, where he taught science. In his new role at McClain, BR continually sought ways to expand and improve the education of his students. Among other things, he was a vocal advocate of vocational and agricultural education.

In 1923, Frank Raymond Harris advanced from principal at McClain to superintendent of the Greenfield schools. BR moved from the classroom to the principal’s office. He also attended Ohio State University and in 1926 earned his master’s degree in school education. While there he was elected to OSU’s chapter of Phi Delta Kappa, an honorary education fraternity.

He combined his education with constant reading and correspondence in the field of education resulting in fresh ideas, including the abandonment of homogeneous groups, much-improved student guidance, establishment of home-rooms in elementary grades and the so-called single-salary schedule, which the Greenfield Board of Education adopted at BR’s urging two years prior to it becoming a requirement in Ohio.

For his teachers, BR encouraged continuing education and membership in the National Education Association, the Ohio Education Association and the local association as well as the PTA. He introduced Spanish and French, metal-shop courses and general math. He expanded the McClain cafeteria, introduced driver’s training, established a special class for students with learning difficulties and organized a student council at the elementary level. BR had a true commitment to make McClain a leader, not a follower.

In the autumn of 1939, when FR Harris retired, BR was chosen as superintendent of Greenfield Schools. Despite being severely restrained by the Great Depression, he continued to strive to make Greenfield schools reflect the latest and best of educational practices.

In 1956, after 44 years in education – 40 of them in Greenfield – BR elected to “retire.” He noted that “my service in the Greenfield Schools has been a very happy service.”

He further noted that throughout his career in education he had attempted to practice a fundamental axiom: “Deal justly with people, and they will work together harmoniously.” The board of education proclaimed him superintendent emeritus, an honor of which he was justifiably proud.

For most people, a 44-year career would be sufficient to slow down and enjoy a well-earned retirement. Such, however, was not the case for Benton Raymond Duckworth. He immediately embarked on a second career.

From his earliest years to his retirement from formal education to his death, BR strongly held to a pair of guiding principles. He firmly believed that the future of this nation depended on the education of its children – they were society’s most important treasure as well as its future, and their education was paramount. He likewise fervently believed that appreciation and understanding of nature, working to ensure proper practices, and being in harmony with nature was vital and needed action on the part of our citizens. Big or small, such combined to make this world sustainable and livable. And so, BR set out a new career.

Carrie had inherited part of the farm that her family had settled in 1808. Generations of pioneers saw forests as something that needed to be eliminated to make way for crops. Unwittingly, they scarred the land, polluted the streams, and brought unintended consequences to the land. BR was among the first to recognize this on a local level and work to ameliorate the situation.

He planted trees – lots of trees – he built ponds, he worked to control erosion, and he was never-ending in his attempts. Once a young service forester heard about this “old man” in Fayette County who was working to improve his woodlands. The forester, as he related the story, thought “Oh, sure. I’ve heard that one before.” Regardless, he visited the farm woodland where he found 80-year-old BR, armed with a 20-foot ladder and bow saw, trimming his walnut trees. BR plainly practiced what he preached.

He was especially fond of fruit trees and their propagation. Here, as in other woodland projects, he combined the educator with the forester. He budded and grafted myriad trees. He worked to improve his fruit-tree stock, his black walnut trees, and other such projects. He wrote articles for numerous outlets, including the North American Pomona, the quarterly journal of the North American Fruit Explorers. In 1976 the Ohio Forestry Association presented him with their Individual Land Owner Award, but he was far from done.

In 1980, BR sold the timber – nearly all pulpwood – on a 17-acre island in Paint Creek to the Mead Corporation. At age 90, he was determined to convert a grown-over plot of land into a valuable stand of black walnut and oak. He planted seedlings at about 70 to the acre. All went well until the deer invaded. Largely gone for decades, white tail deer began their remarkable re-establishment at this time. They browsed off and pulled up his seedlings and broke off many rugged sprouts.

He sought advice everywhere in his attempts to dissuade the deer, but all was to no avail. Then someone told him that human hair repelled deer. So, the 93-year-old bald forester visited Greenfield barber shops where he was given bags of hair. He next cut and sewed burlap feed sacks into bags to hold the hair. He secured 70 of these packets, “one every three rods” – BR often used rods, links and other units of measurement. The packets worked, and the seedlings prospered. Today, his island and nearby walnut grove have excellent stands of hardwood trees.

Although one might say that BR had two separate careers, that would be incorrect. Throughout his long and vigorous life, Benton Raymond Duckworth remained forever curious, eager to learn, and an advocate for American youth and for nature conservation. As a grizzled old man, he remained an optimist, hopeful that future generations would make this nation a better place – as his parents’, his, and his sons’ generations have striven to accomplish. He was a man of his generation but tempered by the acts and teaching of his parents, his colleagues, and his students. His fundamental beliefs remained with him through his death in 1996 at age 106.

As always, Benton Raymond Duckworth has the final word, saying in 1984, “If my gradually diminishing energy proves to be sufficient…and when I finally abandon my shovel, planter bar and grub hoe, I will have the satisfaction of knowing my projects will be in good hands.”

In addition to Mr. Duckworth, the 2020 Highland County Historical Society Hall of Fame inductees are Ed Bousman (1918-2011), minister and radio/television evangelist; Harriet Amelia (Hack) Fenner (1936-2019), the first and only woman elected as a commissioner of Highland County; and Wenona Marlin (1871-1945), journalist, lecturer, author and leader in the suffrage movement.

Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Highland County Historical Society has postponed the Hall of Fame induction ceremony that was scheduled for Sunday, Aug. 16, at the Presbyterian Church in Hillsboro. The event will be rescheduled at a later date. The Highland County Historical Society will announce the date and time of the rescheduled event. The public will be cordially invited to attend.

For more information on the Highland County Historical Society, please call 937-393-3392 or email the society at

Steve Roush is vice chairman of the Highland County Historical Society Board of Trustees, a vice president of an international media company and a columnist and contributing writer for The Highland County Press. He can be reached by email at

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