Profiles in Education:
Founder & President of Boys & Girls
Anthony Drexel Duke sat on a sofa in a beautiful
Park Avenue apartment one recent sunny, spring morning, a wiry,
genial octogenarian at ease with himself and his surroundings.
He was elegantly dressed in a dark gray suit, the jacket of
which he'd neatly folded at his side, white shirt, red patterned
tie and suspenders.
“Because of the Depression I saw poverty
as a boy,” he said, between sips of black coffee. “Unemployment,
people on street corners selling apples supplied by the government,
crowded tenements, unhappiness. It made me think how fortunate
I was to live in a good house and eat good food. But when I
was 19 something happened that impelled me to do all I could
It was 1937.
He had just graduated from St. Paul's School in New Hampshire
and was headed for Princeton in the fall. “If I tried to go to Princeton now they wouldn't
accept me,” he said matter-of-factly, as he nibbled on
a cookie. “It was a different era. I got in because I
was a good quarterback.”
was 15 and still at St. Paul's he belonged to several clubs,
including the Missionary Society, which ran a camp for “delinquents,” a
common name then for poor immigrant boys, whom many people
considered inferior. He thought it would be something different
to do, rather than spending the summer on the beach in the
Hamptons, so he went up to the camp as a counselor.
“There,” he said, his eyes alight, “I
met some of the most interesting people you can imagine: Greeks,
Irish, Germans, Yugoslavs, Italians, Poles and every nationality
of Eastern Europe. They were very poor and wild, but not evil.
They were a wonderful bunch! I went up there every summer for
three years and was counselor for the same group of boys, and
I made good friends among the counselors.”
year at that camp he had a very rickety old Ford pick-up
truck and decided to bring his boys home. He knew they lived
in what were called slums, but he was still upset when he
saw them. “I couldn't just leave them there
and do nothing,” he said, “I had to do something.
I had to help my boys. So I decided to start a camp for them.”
His mother, Cordelia Biddle Duke Robertson, author
of the bestseller, My Philadelphia Father, encouraged
him: “‘If this is what you want to do, do it!'“ She
suggested he see a Mr. Tilton, who owned 600 acres on Peconic
Bay in eastern Long Island, now the Morton Wildlife Preserve,
which he only used in the winter. Duke leased it for a dollar
a year. For a few hundred dollars more he built Duck Island
His first counselors included John Lindsay, later
Mayor of New York; Paul Moore, later the Bishop of New York;
Claiborne Pell, who became the U. S. Senator for whom the Pell
grants are named; and Walter McVeigh, who also became a Bishop.
The boys who attended the camp became successful
adults. Some came back to help with Boys and Girls Harbor.
Three or four of them are still with him.
had three great summers before World War II. We all grew
up together. Then we went off to war. Some of us got to be
officers and NCOs.”
He served in the U. S. Navy from 1941 to 1946,
rose to Division Commander, fought in the Battle of Normandy
and the Atlantic and Pacific Theaters, winning three Battle
Stars; in the Philippines and Okinawa Campaigns, earning a
Bronze Star Medal.
“After the war I got some of the alumni together
and they said, ‘Let's get going again!' So I started
The Harbor Today
Boys & Girls
Harbor, as it is now known, works with about 6,000 young
people a year. All told it has helped more than 44,000 individuals.
With an annual budget of $15-$18,000,000 it runs a year-round
camp in East Hampton and a Charter School at One East 104th
Street in Manhattan and offers a range of after school and
weekend programs for children and their parents. Among its
graduates: a New York State Supreme Court Justice, successful
attorneys, business people, and professionals in many fields.
The Harbor is bursting at the seams, with a growing
demand for its services; so much of Duke's time is spent fund
raising to further his dream. He is just as committed to helping
the poor as he was in 1937, and has a great staff in place
to back him up.
And he loves
what he does. “My greatest joy,” he
said, “is to see some kid who didn't feel so good about
him or herself when they came become a real entity in our society,
and I've been lucky enough to have seen plenty of them!”
Anthony Drexel Duke is a prince of a Duke who has
and is accomplishing so much for others, all because as a young
boy he could not turn his back on his friends in their need.#
Boys and Girls Harbor has been
very successful in helping underprivileged youth. Why is
that? Here are some insights from its Founder and President
Anthony Drexel Duke:
You Are World Citizens! “I teach a
class called Modern History at the Harbor. We talk about what's
going on in our complicated world and I get the kids thinking
about how they are going to face it. I'm trying to show them
the world beyond the street they live on. I tell them, ‘You
are world citizens!'“
Get Real! “I
tell them to get real as fast they can. Learn that real success
and happiness comes from doing something that you really
like to do, and do it and study hard to do it. Develop the
self-confidence that comes with learning something well.
Then when the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune arrive,
you can stand up to them.”
Joy of Teaching! “I
would love for more people to be teachers. 10% of our staff
are alumni now in their 30s who got their Masters in Education.
I'm not an intelligent
person. I have ADD, have a tough time with a lot of stuff.
But I can pick good people. My luckiest asset-I have been
able to make friends with teachers and those who have had
their heart and soul invested in working with children
and doing their best by them.”