Old Town resident still likes ‘Ike’

Don Duffy thinks we need a greater appreciation of our history

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Don Duffy holds the original “I like ‘Ike’” t-shirt he wore as a boy as he poses in Seal Beach’s Eisenhower Park. Duffy wears the reproduction shirt every presidential election year. Photo by Charles M. Kelly

Old Town’s Don Duffy, 78, wears his “I Like Ike” t-shirt every four years.

“I got more looks this [past] year than I usually do,” Duffy said.

Following the recent presidential election, Duffy said he feels it is time to remind people of the nation’s history.

Duffy’s connection to the 34th president is personal. Duffy and Dwight D. Eisenhower come from the same hometown: Abilene, Kansas. Abilene is a smaller town than Seal Beach. Duffy put the population at 6,500. At one time, Wild Bill Hickock was the sheriff.

Duffy said Seal Beach is just like the village that he and his future wife grew up in.

Duffy met him a couple of times–the first time was probably when Duffy was 8. Duffy is still in proud possession of the I Like Ike t-shirt he wore as a boy. The shirt is in excellent condition, considering both its age and the fact it was once worn by a child. (The one Duffy wears every presidential election year is a reproduction.) The meeting was arranged by a neighbor who worked on an Eisenhower commission.

The meeting was possible because Eisenhower frequently returned to Abilene.

“Ike and I went to school in the same building,” Duffy said. According to Duffy, Eisenhower attended high school there; Duffy went to junior high. (An online search turned up a photograph of a plaque commemorating the former site of Eisenhower’s school.) Duffy owns a desk from his old schoolhouse.

Duffy said he was in the Abilene Park from which Eisenhower announced his first run for the White House. The park is now named Eisenhower Park.

Duffy still speaks passionately about the man that the park is named after.

“He had no interest in politics,” Duffy said.

Yet Duffy thinks dealing with the Allied commanders of World War II prepared Eisenhower for dealing with world leaders.

Ironically, Duffy lived in Seal Beach for five years before he learned his home was within walking distance of a park named after his hero. Eisenhower Park is a local icon. Before COVID, it was the setting for Veterans Day and Memorial Day ceremonies and summer concerts. Early  during the pandemic restrictions, the city put up tables in the park. Bogart’s Coffee House sponsored astronomy nights there. Last year, demonstrations for Black Lives Matter, Blue Lives Matter and in support of the Trump-Pence ticket were held in or near Eisenhower Park.

A plague honoring Eisenhower is located in the center of the park. It was sponsored by the Seal Beach Republican Women Federated and supported Orange County Federation of Republican Women’s Club. The plaque was dated Oct. 14, 1970.

Duffy said both Republicans and Democrats wanted Eisenhower to run for president.

“I would wager that not many people don’t know that’s Eisenhower Park–or who Eisenhower is,” Duffy said.

Duffy lives at a different address now than he did years ago, but his home is still within easy walking distance of both Seal Beach City Hall and Eisenhower Park.

Don Duffy married his high school sweetheart Linda. They came to California about 54 years ago. They searched for a place to live. Eventually they found Seal Beach. “When we came over the bridge, we were home,” Duffy said.

Years later they were invited to their high school reunion at the Eisenhower Library. Don and Linda Duffy were among the last to arrive. A man at the library asked. “Are you Don Duffy?”

While doing research for the reunion, the man had found a copy of a letter that Eisenhower sent to Duffy on Oct. 24, 1956.

Coincidentally, the original letter had fallen into the possession of a neighbor. It is now back in the Duffy home in Seal Beach. Duffy said he did not remember receiving it and when it was found years later, he thought it was a form letter. The neighbor convinced him to read it.

The man asked Don Duffy to convey his appreciation to eighth graders at Abilene Junior high for signing a letter wishing Eisenhower well on his birthday. “I hope you have better fishing in Mud Creek than I often had,” Eisenhower wrote.

Duffy is going to retire after 30 years. His company made trams to move people around. But with the pandemic, no one is buying people movers. “I’m going into forced retirement,” Duffy said.

“What we’ve done to our nation is just tragic,” Duffy said, apparently referring to the economic impact of the pandemic.

Linda Duffy has made it plain that Don Duffy has to figure out where to go during the day when he retires.

Old Town resident still likes ‘Ike’