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DeKalb County Indiana Obituary

Sigrid N. Nelson Duncan

Contributed by Jon Duncan 

The Evening Star newspaper,  August 1, 2000
     AUBURN - Sigrid N. Duncan, 72, died Monday, July 31, 2000, at 10:20 a.m. in Lutheran Hospital at Fort Wayne
     Her career as a journalist included working for the Wall Street Journal in Detroit and Chicago. She also taught sixth grade during the 1962-63 school year at the McKenney School in Auburn
     Mrs. Duncan attended Kalamazoo College and the School of Journalism at the University of Michigan.  
     She was an elder and sat on the Board of Session of the Auburn Presbyterian Church, where she was a member. She also was a member of many organizations, including the Ladies' Literary Club, Greenhurst Country Club, Auburn Chapter of PEO, Alpha Chi Omega Sorority and the Women's Auxiliary of the Isaac Knapp Dental Association. She worked with the Curiosity Shop associated with DeKalb Memorial Hospital.
     She was born Oct. 9, 1927, in Berkley, Mich., to Ella (Bleakley) Nelson and John Carl Nelson.
     She married Dr. Frank Duncan on June 17, 1950, in Berkley, Mich. He survives in Auburn.
     Also surviving are a son, Jon, of Chicago; two daughters and sons-in-law, Ann and Harry Kneifel of Carmel and Julia and William Heimach of Auburn; a brother, John A. Nelson of Saginaw, Mich.; a sister, Elizabeth Nelson of Auburn; and four grandchildren, Joshua Kneifel of Carmel, Nathan Kneifel of Aspen, Colo., and Zachary and Nikolas Heimach, both of Auburn.
      A brother, Carl J. Nelson of Berkley, Mich., preceded her in death.
      Services will be held Thursday at 11 a.m. in Auburn Presbyterian Church. The Rev. William Haworth and the Rev. Robert Heimach will officiate. A private burial is planned at Woodlawn Cemetery.
      Calling is Thursday from 10-11 a.m. at the church.
      Memorials are to the Auburn Presbyterian Church Youth Ministry Fund.
      Feller Funeral Home of Waterloo is in charge of arrangements.

Wall Street Journal's first female reporter dies
(Same Newspaper)
Sigrid Duncan lived in Auburn 47 years

    AUBURN - Sigrid Duncan, 72, of Auburn, The Wall Street Journal's first female news reporter, died Monday at 10:30 a.m. in Lutheran Hospital, Fort Wayne.

    Mrs. Duncan joined the staff of The Wall Street Journal in 1949, immediately upon her graduation from the Journalism School at the University of Michigan.

  "I was certainly surprised they wanted me, for I was not an expert on business," she wrote many years later. Because of this and since the wages offered to cub reporters in those days were meager, she nearly turned down the job. "But my father convinced me that I should be paying them for the experience, and to get myself down there and go to work," she wrote.  <>

     Her first assignment was as one of two reporters at The Wall Street Journal's Detroit bureau. The small size of the Detroit bureau was a huge plus for the young journalist. "Any news (story) the bureau chief didn't choose to cover (himself) was mine," she recalled.

     She always downplayed her pioneering role as the Journal's first woman news reporter, emphasizing instead her later life in Auburn as a wife and mother. 

     "This was the new world on Wall Street and makes me a feminist, I guess. All the Wall Street Journal expected was that I would work and write, write, write," she said. But soon after she began, the Journal added two more women as reporters in the paper's Washington bureau. 

     The Wall Street Journal's editors were obsessed with excellent writing, a tradition that continues at the paper today. One editor's memo to all of the Journal's reporters remained etched in her memory decades later. "If I see the word upcoming in this paper once more, I will be downcoming and someone will be outgoing," he wrote. 

      Looking back, she recalled covering stories that foretold of big changes to come.  "In Detroit my first by-line was on the controversy of the new paper milk carton being manufactured by Excello Corporation. Critics said it would never replace glass bottles, and we all know what happened to them," she said. Another innovation she reported for the paper 50 years ago was Zenith's PhoneVision. "Subscribers would receive movies for a small price by calling through the phone lines," she remembered, a precursor to pay-per-view cable television many years before its time. 

     Newspaper ethics were a major priority at The Wall Street Journal. She recalled an incident while she was at the Detroit bureau. An article highly critical of General Motors Corp. was published in the paper, infuriating the GM brass. GM pressed the Journal's New York City headquarters for a retraction, but the paper courageously stood by the story. GM threatened to pull its advertising - "a classic mistake," she said. "Did GM think advertising revenue bought favorable copy? But for that whole year they refused to talk to our bureau, so we couldn't include them in many stories. Too bad!" The Journal lost a great deal in the furor, but it "was confident that GM would be back. GM needed The Wall Street Journal more than The Wall StreetJournal needed GM," she wrote. "Sure enough, after a year or so they were doing business with us again."

     On June 17, 1950, she married her Kalamazoo College sweetheart, Dr. Frank A. Duncan, now an Auburn dentist, who survives. At the time of their marriage, Dr. Duncan was attending Northwestern University's Dental School in Chicago. When she told the Journal's editors in Detroit that she would be getting married and moving to Chicago, they immediately offered to transfer her to the Journal's much larger Chicago bureau. She was thrilled. The Chicago experience provided her the opportunity to cover a much wider range of business news and to interview many well-known business and political leaders. 

     Mrs. Duncan and her husband moved to Auburn and opened his dental practice here in the summer of 1953. "I helped him that first day. We were jubilant, and took in $7 in cash, which we framed," she recalled. She continued working in Auburn as a freelance writer and teacher. She taught sixth grade at what was then the McKenney Junior High School during the 1962-63 school year. She was a member of the Ladies' Literary Club, the Auburn Presbyterian Church, the Greenhurst Country Club, Auburn Chapter of PEO, the Alpha Chi Omega Sorority and the Women's Auxiliary of the Isaac Knapp Dental Association. She worked with the Curiosity Shop associated with the DeKalb Memorial Hospital

      An obituary for Mrs. Duncan appears elsewhere on this page.

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