Full of compassion and kindness, Carlos Duncan unforgettable

Matthew Wheaton
Galesburg Register-Mail
Carlos Duncan taught the art of boxing to Galesburg-area youth for over 50 years.

GALESBURG — "Mr. D" has passed away.

That's the moniker Galesburg-area youth bestowed upon Carlos Duncan, and the license plates on his car portrayed that. 

For over 50 years, Duncan taught the fine art of boxing via the Galesburg Youth Athletic Club.

Duncan died Saturday at the age of 80. Duncan's words resonated with individuals of all ages and races. It didn't matter what their background or upbringing was. The words Duncan uttered applied to life, as well as boxing. 

Carlos Duncan story:Duncan ready to teach

Duncan, a 1959 Galesburg High School grad, was involved with boxing since the age of 7, and the USA Boxing certified coach preached what he learned from his grandparents, his parents and a long career in the United States Air Force.

The former Golden Gloves winner spent 29 years serving his country, and for 19 of them Duncan was stationed in Holland. While there, he learned to speak Dutch, and he honed his skills as a boxer.

Duncan battled cancer twice in his life. He was diagnosed with multiple myeloma in 2008 and given three to five years to live, but that didn't stop Duncan from doing what he loved to do. 

Duncan was spry until the end, and he still hit a bag every once in a while. He loved helping people, and Duncan did so with a positive attitude. Whenever one saw him, Duncan would flash a grin from ear-to-ear. 

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When he had to do so, Duncan would lay down the law, if you will. However, those who ever stepped foot inside the GYAC —  located on the fourth floor inside the Weinberg Arcade — knew Duncan was about business. He wanted to provide a healthy environment for all. 

The GYAC was started in 1946 by Duncan’s father, Howard “Andy” Duncan and his brother, Sonny Duncan – who went on to serve with the Galesburg Police Department for 21 years. Carlos took over as the GYAC's leader in the early 1990s after his retirement from the Air Force. 

Per its website, the GYAC has four goals: To teach the fundamentals of Olympic-style boxing; To provide an athletic diversion to drug use, gangs, and violence; Focus on enhancing self-esteem, goal-setting, discipline, respect for others, and responsibilities for ones own actions; and how to handle life triumphs and challenges outside of the boxing ring.

Carlos Duncan's life was about ensuring others knew someone cared about them. He noticed the differences people have including skin tone, but Duncan, a Black man, never focused on what color someone was. He displayed compassion and kindness, and all are welcome inside the GYAC. Duncan cared about the type of person one was. 

Before my time at The Register-Mail, I was employed at Carl Sandburg College, and that's where I first met Carlos. He served as an outreach worker through Sandburg's literacy coalition. In other words, Duncan helped people learn to read and write. He also assisted those whose first language isn't English. It was a post he was passionate about just like his role with the GYAC. 

Duncan was old school, and when he wanted to disclose information about an upcoming GYAC event he would pick up the landline — or in his later years his cell — and give you a ring or he'd hand deliver the information. 

Duncan's last calls to me were in early April, and we ended up playing phone tag then. I never got to connect with him. The last time I did was in mid-June 2020 when we spoke about his eagerness to teach again, as the GYAC had been shutdown due to the coronavirus pandemic.

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I'll never forget that conversation we had that day socially distanced and masked outside 140 South Prairie Street, the former home of The R-M. At the time, he said he dishes "meaningful information to people that they can relate with." Carlos certainly did that.

And I'll never forget the wisdom he gave to yours truly a time or two. I'll also recall how he felt about the state of the world during our last conversation. 

"We miss humor," Duncan said. "Everybody is too damn serious."

At the moment, it's hard to smile knowing such a great man is no longer around. 

Duncan will certainly be missed, and he touched countless lives in his lifetime. 

Thank you Carlos for all you did to aide the Galesburg community.

I certainly will never forget you.

Matthew Wheaton can be reached at (309) 315-6073 or at Follow him on Twitter @matthewlwheaton