Not a day goes by when Gary and Wayne Duncan wake up not looking forward to their career of choice, the brothers said.
Between them, they have 101 years of teaching math at McLennan Community College, and they wouldn’t trade their path together for anything, they said. This year, Gary Duncan is celebrating his 50th year as a math professor at the college, and Wayne Duncan, who marked is golden anniversary last year, is celebrating his 51st.
The pair wrapped up the spring semester together of the last day of class Friday.
“I cannot think of one single morning in 50 years that I got up and said, ‘I’d hate to go to work today,’ ” Gary Duncan said.
“It’s true, with the exception of times we might have had the flu or something,” Wayne Duncan said, interjecting.
The pair always knew college was in their future, even joking the word was the first word their parents taught each of them after birth. What they did not expect was their involvement in college and math becoming a lifelong journey, they said.
Wayne Duncan, who was an engineering major after high school, landed a science scholarship to attend Baylor University after his tuition ran out at a different college. He got his first math teaching job in Stephenville while he was working on a second master’s degree.
He got two job offers on the same day at different colleges and ended up going with MCC because his wife preferred Waco, he said.
Gary Duncan fell in love with numbers as a freshman in high school, partly because he looked up to his football coach who also happened to be an Algebra teacher, he said. But by the time he was a senior, he dropped the idea of becoming a coach himself, he said.
“But I stayed right with the math idea, the whole time through getting my master’s degree,” Gary Duncan said. “I can’t even remember why I dropped the coaching part of it. Maybe he talked me out of it, but from that point on, I was pretty much focused.”
After getting a bachelor’s degree at the University of North Texas, then finishing a master’s while teaching in New Mexico, Gary Duncan also set his sights on working at a community college.
And after his brother wrote a letter urging him to join MCC in its first years, Gary Duncan also eventually landed in the math department.
“We haven’t blinked since,” he said.
In those 50 years, the brothers have seen MCC grow from educators teaching their first classes in barracks of the James Connally Air Force Base to its current location at 1400 College Drive, with an average student population of almost 9,000.
The college’s growth has probably been the biggest change during their time as professors, they said.
“I don’t know hardly anybody on campus anymore because I hardly see anybody anymore,” Gary Duncan said. “It’s not like it was then. Back then, we had the faculty office building, and practically all the faculty would use the faculty office building. You knew everybody, and I really miss that.”
The first few years, MCC was almost like a big high school, Gary Duncan said. There were often parties and celebrations with all staff, with a strong sense of camaraderie, they said. But as the school expanded, those moments dissipated.
“The bigger you get, the more isolated you become,” Wayne Duncan said. “They now have a great teacher’s workshop every year that allows people from all parts of the campus to participate.”
The brothers have also had a few soon-to-be professional athletes pass through their classrooms, including the baseball player Jay Buhner, who spent much of his career with the Seattle Mariners, and the basketball player Vinnie Johnson, who won multiple NBA championships with the Detroit Pistons.
They have also seen their love of teaching rub off on their own relatives, including Gary Duncan’s son Cory Duncan, who is a part-time business instructor at MCC.
“I’m proud, for one,” Cory Duncan said of his father and uncle. “Not many people stay at any job 50 years, much less two brothers sticking it out in the same department for 50 years all the way through. Hearing stories about how the student body has changed to being just around town and hearing, ‘Hey, I had your dad’ or ‘Hey, I had your dad and your uncle,’ it inspired me outside of my development business to teach classes in business and real estate.”
The effect on the generations of students they have taught may be what the pair clings to most, looking back over the last 50 years. They now share the department with educators who were once their students, and every once and a while, a student’s family ties to a former student takes them by surprise, they said.
“Through the years, it didn’t get my attention too much when a student said, ‘My mother was in your class and she wanted me to tell you hi,’” Gary Duncan said. “Then, about two years ago, this girl came up and said, ‘My grandmother said to tell you hello. She was in your class.’ I thought, ‘Oh, I’ve been around here for a while.’”
Students also comment about how the brothers teach in similar fashions, they said. But the observation is not a compliment, Gary Duncan said, smiling over at Wayne.
“Our style is pretty much the same,” Gary Duncan said. “Students who have had both of us say, ‘You teach just like your brother does.’”
The brothers are not competitive, like other siblings might be, he said. They have been together most of their lives and share the same goal of trying to teach their students about how real-world math skills can be useful in everyday situations, including the benefits of financial planning and mutual funds, they said.
“What it is, is something I wish somebody had told me,” Wayne Duncan said. “I don’t think I had enough sense to listen probably, but I would’ve liked to have heard that.”
Yet, the biggest lesson either brother hopes students will learn about their story is the passion and perseverance they have shared throughout their careers. And they have no plans to retire anytime soon, Wayne Duncan said as he recalled a lesson from his younger years. The brothers are just taking it a year at a time.
“Tenacity is the key,” Wayne Duncan said. “I remember one time I had an offer from an oil company, and I asked the question, ‘What is it you really look for? Why do you want people with a degree?’ And [the employer] said, ‘We want people who have started something and have the tenacity to stay with it.’ I’ll never forget that.”