PQA: Flo Duncan

Photo by yoagi_projects

Flo Duncan

Q: How did you come to live in of the City of Poughkeepsie?

A: I grew up mostly in the Bronx. Then my parents moved us to Yonkers for a couple of years, and from Yonkers to the Town of Poughkeepsie when I was 13. I went to Spackenkill schools. My mom put me out when I was 15. Then I was living on park benches, at friends’s houses, wherever I could get some sleep. I got pregnant when I was 16. I tried to remain in school as much as possible, but it was hard during the pregnancy and once I gave birth. Later I tried a couple of times to get my GED, but something always came up that got in the way.

I met my husband when I was 18. We started out like Romeo and Juliet, and we just kept on living life. He was born and raised here in the city. His mother said it was like karma that I met her son, because there were so many connections I’d already had with his family and friends. I’ve been with him 35 years and we’ve been married for 34. We’ve had two children together, we’ve raised my husband’s child from a different mother, and we’ve adopted a child. I love them all the same.

By the way, we were married on the 300th birthday of the City of Poughkeepsie.

Q:  Well that was quite the timing. Where were you married?

A: Oh, it happened in our house because it rained. We were supposed to go out to this beautiful park in Millbrook. They have this little bridge that I was to walk on, but it rained so hard that we wound up doing it in our living room. It was a very nice service, and I cried through the whole thing because I was so nervous.

Q: Where did you start out living together in the city?

The first place was with my husband’s mom and her husband on Winnikee Avenue. Then we were in our own place on South Hamilton Street for quite a few years. When his mom was diagnosed with cancer and needed a lot of help, we moved next door to her on Morgan Avenue. Then we lived in Connecticut for a few years.

Q: When did you return to the city from Connecticut?

A: 1998.

Q: What brought you back?

A: My mother was ill with heart issues. We were estranged and I wanted to be near her. I stayed with my sister for a few months until we could find an apartment. We lived on Rose Street, then we moved to Main Street, and then to “The Bricks” on Smith Street for maybe 3 or 4 years. [NOTE: “The Bricks” is the nickname for the Hudson Garden Apartments operated by the Poughkeepsie Housing Authority.

Q: What was life like for you when you returned to the city?

A:  We were raising our son and daughter that we had together. I didn’t start going to work until they were maybe in the first or second grade. Every chance that I could, I worked in schools where my children went. I did early childhood education, which I had some experience with. I was an aide for handicapped children, or for ones who had some kind of learning disability in reading or spelling or math. I actually understood their struggle because I had the struggle when I was young, so I knew how to approach some of the students. I was pretty good at math and science growing up, not so much with English or history. But now I can’t get enough of history, even Poughkeepsie’s history. Also all about what went on in Hyde Park with the Roosevelts, and things like that.

Q: Well that’s a driving force behind these interviews, to bring out local history that might otherwise be untold or forgotten.

A: And that’s really important because so many people here now aren’t from Poughkeepsie or even the outskirts. A lot of people are coming here from New York City or other states. I think that’s kind of cool because my parents came here to make a better life for us, and they were drawn by people from their family who were living around here.

By the way, I was also a security guard at Warring Elementary School, Poughkeepsie Middle School, and the high school. Sometimes teachers would even have a student come sit with me. I would help the kid do whatever they needed, because they were having trouble focusing in the classroom.

Q: What a resource you were as a security guard! And there must be lots of kids who remember you.

A: Yes, I even worked on a school bus. That was for students who had anger issues or learning disabilities, and had to go to other schools outside of the city. I see them now out on the street and they still remember me and say, “You were an awesome person.” It made a difference to be there for them, to make sure they achieved things and behaved correctly.

Q: When you were a teenager living in the Town of Poughkeepsie, did you come into the city much?

A: My friends had family that lived in the city, so that’s how I was introduced to it. I liked it better than the Town of Poughkeepsie. There were more places to go and see. I remember a glass company that used to be on Main Street. It was a big place. I think they made glass for car windshields and doors. A little bit up from there was a corner store that made the best sandwiches. The store always seemed packed, and I saw lines for it all the way around the corner.

Photo by yoagi_projects.

Q: So you would walk around, maybe have something to eat or go shopping. What other places come to mind?

A: Dress Barn was there. There was another store I really liked. It had two floors and it was just so interesting to see what they sold. We knew we couldn’t afford anything in there. But just to look was cool enough for us. And we’d think that one day when we get our own place, we were going to get this and have that in our house.

Q:  How did  your perspective on the city grow when you became a resident, compared to coming into the city from somewhere else?

A: Well the city has its ups and downs, and if you don’t go with them you’re not gonna make it. You have to pick your battles with everything that goes on here. I’ve had great friends and neighbors here. Especially where we live now on Harrison Street. I really love my neighbors and they love me. We communicate with each other. I help whoever I can. Before I found out that I had cancer, I would mow their lawn, I would rake their yard, I would do whatever neighbors are supposed to do to help each other. You know? They are still waiting for me to make holiday cookies like I do every year. They even put in orders to buy some, so they must be pretty good!

When I want to get away from the noise, I like to go walking at the Vassar campus or the Dutchess [Community College] campus. They are so pretty and serene. But I only need silence for a temporary time. If you don’t have that noise what do you have? I think that most people who live in any kind of city actually need that noise in order to keep going. They’re inquisitive about what they hear.

Q: Your attitude about noise in the city is interesting.

A: What you hear is like a normal day. Of course I’m not okay with violence or anything like that. It’s very sad. We went a long time without problems, without much violence, but it seems to be coming back since the pandemic started. From what I read, a lot of the people doing this are not from here. It’s gang related, and I don’t understand how we can stop a gang from being in our city.

Q: I’ve learned that they try to recruit local people to join the gangs. Kids become vulnerable to recruitment, especially if they don’t have good things going on in their lives.

A: I’ve seen it. If kids aren’t in school, they hang out with people they shouldn’t be hanging out with and they fall into that trap. It’s also on the parents who let their kids run the streets and run amuck. Parents should be more focused. Like during the pandemic, a lot weren’t enforcing their children to do school at home. I’ve heard so many complaints about all of that — this wasn’t working and that wasn’t working. My child struggled but she managed to do the work. And so did a lot of other students, who had parents who made sure their children were doing what needed to be done. Unfortunately too many parents come from parents who didn’t really care whether their children went to school, so the next generation is falling into the same trap. Parents need to make sure their kids are doing what they need to succeed in life. Be that nag in their ear, do whatever you have to do. I made sure all of my children graduated. My goal was to make sure they didn’t fall into the trap of being a teenage parent, like I was, or dropping out of school like I did.

Q: How have you felt about the City of Poughkeepsie as a place to raise your children?

A:  It was pretty good until right before we moved to Connecticut. That’s when my kids witnessed somebody getting shot over a five cent deposit bottle. Before that it was rough at times. A lot of stuff was happening here in Poughkeepsie, some bad things. It was like the city had turned gray and it didn’t seem like the fog was ever gonna lift. When we came back it wasn’t as bad. But we had heard stories about what was going on here, so we were kind of nervous about coming back. But then we just lived our lives, and did what we needed to do.

Q: Tell me about some favorite places in the City of Poughkeepsie?

A: I like being down by the river, especially at Waryas Park. I liked going to College Hill Park with my kids when they were young. I let them run out all the energy they needed. I like to go antique hunting. I go to lots of yard sales. Sometimes I find good things at the Salvation Army store. My favorite store for this around here is the ASPCA thrift shop in Hyde Park.

Q:  How about places to eat in the city? Do you have a favorite restaurant or two?

A: I like Alex’s right in the center of downtown for just about anything. I also like Pete’s uptown on Main Street. They even have a little drive-through now. There’s Tony’s on Smith Street. It’s a hotdog place, but have you ever had their meatball? They make their own. To die for. My brother-in-law even comes all the way from Albany to buy three or four of their subs with homemade sausages and peppers. They have a good sweet sauce and hot sauce for their subs.

Q: What’s an insight about the City of Poughkeepsie that you would share with people who don’t live here, to help them understand the place better? 

A:  One thing I would say is that you either like city life or you don’t. I know two different types of city life, in New York City and here. They are totally different but the same. It sounds like an oxymoron but it’s not. Because here I can walk up and down Main Street and people might say something to me. You just keep it moving or you say something back. You might make a conversation. My grandfather told me years ago that living in a city of any type, you make it your place. It’s not somebody else making it your city. I never understood what he meant until I got older. I think that anybody who lives here would not judge us for stuff the way other people do who don’t live here.

I would also say, take in all of the different personalities who live here. Take in our hospitality and enthusiasm, and go with it. Life is like a picture show, everybody sees things differently. I think people should open up their minds more about Poughkeepsie, because it’s better than they think it is. Because you can go uptown and enjoy everything that you see. You can go down by the river. Just take the city as it is.

Published 01/30/2023