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Duane Furman dies at 89

Educator was first MUSD superintendent; a community leader

Duane Furman and Cecilia Massetti, former Madera Unified School District superintendent.


Duane Earl Furman, one of Madera’s most highly regarded leaders, has died at the age of 89. The long-time educator and indefatigable booster of many of the community’s charitable efforts died on Saturday of natural causes.

Furman was born and grew up in Dinuba. After graduating from high school in 1945, he enlisted in the U.S. Army and served until 1947.

Upon his discharge from the Army, Furman and Patricia Lavin, also of Dinuba, were married, and he enrolled in Reedley College. After earning his AA degree at Reedley, he transferred to then-Fresno State College, where he earned a BA degree in 1951.

Furman started his career in education with Fresno Unified School District and remained there for 12 years as a teacher and then as an administrator. During that time, he concurrently taught in the Stanford-Kellogg Administrative Training Program, and in 1957 earned his master’s degree from Fresno State. In 1962, he became an adjunct professor of education at Fresno State, a position he held until 2007. He went on to earn his Doctorate in education from the University of Southern California in 1971.

Armed with this array of teaching credentials, Furman decided to broaden his experience with a sojourn to Madera. That move proved to be much more than a professional stopover, however. When he came to Madera to work, he never left.

Furman’s first employer in Madera was the Madera Elementary School District, where he remained at the helm for two years. Then came the school unification election of 1965, and a brand new district was born: Madera Unified School District.

The unification election was held in May of 1965, and the next month the new unified school board selected its superintendent — Duane Furman. For the next year, Furman worked for two school boards simultaneously, the Madera Elementary school board and the Madera Unified school board. On July 1, 1966, the Madera Unified School District replaced the Madera Elementary School District as well as the other nine surrounding school districts that were drawn into unification.

For the next year, Furman labored to make things work. He negotiated with the teachers. He assuaged the fears of the electorate in the outlying former school districts, and he coordinated the educational programs of nine separate school districts into one.

During those first years of Madera Unified School District, Furman began to reveal his real educational agenda. He firmly believed that nothing stood alone in the community, and that included the school system. Furman held fast to the idea of involving the community in the schools and vice versa.

In 1963, the year he and his family moved to Madera, he joined the local Rotary Club and began to link hands with like-minded promoters of civic involvement. By 1974, he had become the president, and under his leadership, the membership reached its peak — 106 Madera Rotarians. Diana Barden, wife of the late Jerry Barden, remembers Furman for his ability to exude a certain calmness and to bring people together, and suggested that characteristic helped explain the rise in Rotary membership that year.

By 1965, others in the community were taking notice of the interpersonal skills Furman possessed. Dr. Edward Grootendorst, who was a member of the first MUSD school board that hired Furman, praised him for his steady hand during times of tension.

“I held Duane Furman in high regard,” Grootendorst recalled recently. “At first we were friends, then neighbors, and our lives began to intertwine. He was a man of integrity with diplomatic skills.”

Carl Janzen, who was also an MUSD school trustee, but at a later time, saw humility in Furman. “He always gave the school employees the credit — never took it himself,” said Janzen. “He knew the (school) board; he knew the people. He hired good people and allowed them to do their jobs,” Janzen added.

In keeping with his belief in a strong “town/gown” relationship, Furman promoted his idea of partnerships between the schools and the community. As a result, the Linkage program was put into place.

Gail Beyer, who was a director of Linkage, remembers that Furman was absolute in his conviction that there must be connections between the community and the schools. “Nothing in education exists in isolation,” was Furman’s apologia, according to Beyer.

Another exercise in Furman’s community involvement took place in his own living room one day. Along with Nancy Clute and a few others, the Madera County Arts Council was formed. One immediate effect of this development in Madera schools was the PACES program wherein local artists came into the schools and taught the students in their respective media.

Furman gave ample evidence of his concern for students who at times fell through the cracks—students who were unable to function in a traditional high school. As a result, with a dedicated teacher (Phil Pendley), eight students, and a large bathroom facility at Millview Elementary School, what became a district-wide independent study program called Furman High School was launched.

Duane Furman retired from Madera Unified in 1987 after 22 years as MUSD superintendent and two years as Madera Elementary superintendent, and in a very short time the community came calling. “He could not say no,” his son Donn Furman insists. One of the first to beckon Duane Furman was the Madera County Hospital Board.

Anna DaSilva, who served with Furman on the hospital board, also remembers Furman’s calming influence and his ability to “smooth things out” when conflict appeared. “He was a real pro,” says DaSilva, at knowing how to defuse things.

Another agency that pulled at Furman after his retirement was the San Joaquin River Parkway Trust and the Conservancy. He served on the boards of both, and Coke Hallowell, who is the acknowledged inspiration for the entire program, said of Furman that he was an inspiration, that “when he spoke, people listened; he was the voice of wisdom.”

Not long after the Fairmead Landfill began to yield the bones of several prehistoric creatures, Furman joined forces with Terry Dolph and Grady Billington to lay the virtual foundation for the Fossil Discovery Center just off of State Route 99, north of Madera. According to Billington, Furman not only gave of his time to serve on the board, he even helped to excavate fossils, and serve as a docent at the center once a week.

Duane Furman is survived by his wife of 68 years, Patricia, their three children, Donn and his wife Cynthia and their son Nicholas; Debora and her two daughters, Kathryn and Nicole; and Doug and his wife Artemis.

The impact of Duane Furman’s life on Madera and beyond will be celebrated on Jan. 8 at the Vineyard Restaurant from 2 to 5 p.m.


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