Pat Duffy may be 90 years young, but she is still the driving force behind the Quentin Sutley Senior Center, the local Meals on Wheels program, the Community Center and the afterschool GOLD program. All are based in the same complex, a facility in Fort Pierre that owes its existence to Duffy.
“I’m here at 6 in the morning, and try to leave around 2,” Duffy said. “I run out of steam about 4, though. This place has kept me alive. When I have a three or four-day holiday weekend, I can see how slowing down happens to some people, with them not getting out and being around other people.”
“I’ve made it my goal to reach 100,” Duffy added.
If she is successful, Duffy said she will probably still be the executive director of the Community and Youth Involved center.
“The board will let me stay because they are scared of me,” joked Duffy.
On the senior center side, Duffy and the cook and a minimum-wage helper are the only paid employees. Duffy said she does not collect any worker’s benefits -- that is, except she gets a meal and is able to use the dumpster. All other work is through community volunteers.
The community center is also run on an all-volunteer basis, which Duffy rounds up with seemingly unbelievable ease. The children’s Gold program (Greater Opportunities for Learning and Development) has around a dozen employees who are paid through grant monies.
Getting grants, donations, and volunteers is Duffy’s specialty.
She admits to two vices; gambling - in purchasing lottery tickets, and in going to auctions. One is likely to see a stuffed turkey on display in the center.
Duffy has been tough her entire life. Up until 2013, she and her husband, Ed, ran the Chateau Bar and Lounge, with him as the cook and her running the front. Current Fort Pierre Mayor Gloria Hanson remembers that Duffy would not put up with any fights, and Duffy enforced it. At least one customer was banned from ever coming back.
“When we had the bar, one of our customers called me Miss Kitty and my husband Matt Dillon,” Duffy said. “My kids got me a car license MSKITTY and I’ve had it since.”
Fort Pierre Livestock workers and customers would come into the establishment. The Livestock business manager, Judy Bouchie, discussed with Duffy that there was no place for kids to go. Thus, the idea for the recreation facility was born.
In 1980-81, the first building at 19 E. Main was built. Keith Johnson, Duffy’s brother-in-law, donated $50,000, which was used to leverage $160,000 for construction of the outside of the building.
“Everything on the inside was done with donated materials and volunteer help,” Duffy said.
In 2013, before her husband died later that year, they sold the Chateau.
“You should sell your business when it is going well, not when it is going down,” Duffy said.
Such no-nonsense actions define Duffy, who owns an older cellphone (“I’m smarter than my phone”), and who said her photo should be taken with her wearing a mask (“to make a point”).
“My husband read five newspapers each day, read the entire thing, all of them. I still buy and read all the newspapers every day,” Duffy said.
“Take advantage of the opportunity,” Duffy said.
Once COVID-19 begins to dissipate, Duffy said she will again hire, through the South Dakota Women’s Prison, three female inmates to work with the meals and to clean up after rentings of the facilities.
“In 2016-17, nothing in the whole complex was up to code. The foundation was solid, so we rebuilt, to the tune of $1.4 million, plus lots of fundraising headed by the committee,” Duffy said. “That was a time when you could ask for forgiveness rather than permission. That’s the way I like to operate.” Duffy said that Quentin Sutley owned the grocery store in Fort Pierre, and when it was sold by his heirs, the community center received about $90,000, which helped pay for the new facility.
The new building - renamed the Quentin Sutley Senior Center - actually was three-walled, sharing the eastern wall and doorway connections with what is now the Pat Duffy Community Center.
To further the community atmosphere, the entire complex has a Western look out front.
Again, items on the inside - such as carpet and paint - were donated and worked on by volunteers. Duffy still has to make due with ongoing concerns, such as the huge stainless steel refrigerator and the matching freezer, which are 40 years old.
“I’m scared to ever turn them off; they might not start again,” Duffy said.
Adding to the community, a Senior Nutrition Program (Meals on Wheels) is now in place.
“We used to also serve food inside the center, but not now due to COVID. It varies, but around 110 meals are delivered by volunteer members of many organizations, seven groups on the roster each day.”
Meals - with the daily menu on a public calendar - are prepared for and delivered to those in the Fort Pierre area and the Pierre area by volunteers.
“These are organizations and people who have a feeling for people,” Duffy said.
Perhaps in March, the facilities will again be available for rent, Duffy said.
“That’s how we pay our bills,” Duffy said.
Members of the community rent space - including tables, chairs, and the kitchen - for family reunions, organization and business meetings, wedding parties, and other gatherings.
Very friendly, yet also intimidating, Duffy says phrases such as, “The 10 board members running the center are all volunteers. To get off of the board, you either have to donate lots of money (like Scott Jones who along with his wife donated $500,000) or die.”
Jones has gone on record for saying, “Pat Duffy has been the lifeblood of the center since it started almost 40 years ago, so it was a very clear choice. My wife, Julie, and I agreed to make the naming gift, and stipulated that it has to be called the Pat Duffy Community Center. We couldn’t imagine anyone else.”
Then there is the GOLD program, which gives kids a safe place to go after school and during summer months. There is a clear reason the community decided to call the north part of the building the Pat Duffy Community & Youth Involved Center.
In July 2019, the Stanley County GOLD program received a 21st Century Community Learning Center funding award for a five-year period.
“We were founded about 1940 to have a place for kids to go. That is what it is about,” Duffy said in 2019. “We are getting between $170,000-173,000 per year for five years. This does not include food, so we will have to raise about $12,000 for the summers each year.”
These grants support out-of–school-time programming for school-aged children. The grant was awarded to the Three Rivers Special Services Cooperative, with the Pat Duffy Community Center as the local coordinating agency.
“No cost to any child. This is not a recreation center, but a learning center. The kids really do learn,” Duffy said. The grant application was written based on a projected 75 participating children, mostly pre-kindergarten through sixth grade.
Before COVID, in August 2019, the 33rd annual Country Cookin’ fundraising event for the Community Youth Involved Center saw another great community turnout. The record participation is around 600 people. Though Duffy was the head, she was grateful for the 50-or-so volunteers who helped prepare and serve the food, and all the other work involved. People helped, including board members and their families.
“They like what they are doing; feel good about themselves, had a great time,” Duffy said.
In 2016, Mayor Gloria Hanson nominated Duffy for the “Spirit of South Dakota” award.