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'Guardian angel' lost in passing of minister

The first half of his life was spent serving his country in the military. The Rev. Solon Ducker's second career as a minister was spent serving others.

© St. Petersburg Times
published February 15, 2002


GANDY -- As Maxine Graff underwent emergency surgery last year, her husband, Bill Graff, worried: Would his wife and best friend survive?

Bill Graff didn't have to worry alone.

South Tampa minister Solon Ducker, a man known for visiting the sick and comforting their families, provided the strong shoulder and encouraging words. Rev. Ducker sat with Graff until 3 in the morning.

"I told him he was my guardian angel," Graff said later.

Wednesday, Ducker's own relatives and friends needed the comfort. They gathered at Palma Ceia United Methodist Church to say goodbye to Rev. Ducker, who died unexpectedly Saturday of apparent natural causes.

The North Carolina native and World War II combat veteran was 79.

"We're going to miss him terribly. He's really irreplaceable," said Palma Ceia senior pastor Earle Rabb.

Only a day before his death, Rev. Ducker had scoured his Interbay neighborhood for aluminum cans. He regularly gave recycling proceeds to a children's charity.

Only two days before his death, he had shelved books for the church's new library.

"He was always helping someone," said son Steve Ducker.

From his earliest years, Solon (pronounced sew-len) Ducker understood the heartache of loss. The second eldest child in a family of three boys and three girls, he was 10 when his mother died. He and his older brother cared for their siblings while their father worked.

"The family was dirt poor," said Rev. Ducker's daughter, Carla Bruning.

They lived in a log cabin in the Appalachian Mountains near Asheville, N.C. The house, built by their father, Solon Ducker Sr., didn't have indoor plumbing, electricity or telephone service.

The Great Depression tested them further. But struggle seemed to strengthen the family's bond, holding them close most of their lives.

As a Marine during World War II, Rev. Ducker fought in the Pacific theater. He was at Guadalcanal island. He retired as a mortar gunner sergeant after the Korean War and went to work for the Veteran's Administration.

In the 1960s, Rev. Ducker and his wife, Leslie, moved to Tampa, where he worked in accounting at MacDill Air Force Base, while dreaming of becoming a minister.

"He wanted to help others," said Steve Ducker, who recalls his father attending classes at night after working all day.

Rev. Ducker served first at Trinity United Methodist in Hyde Park and then at the United Methodist Church of Thonotosassa. Four years ago, he became Palma Ceia's minister of visitation, though officially retired.

Rev. Ducker spent countless hours at hospitals and nursing homes, carrying afghans, booties and other church handiwork to anyone who needed a lift.

"He was one of the greatest guys I know. He was kind to everyone," said his sister, Betty Ducker Lytle.

"He'd do anything for anyone," his daughter said.

"He touched so many lives," said daughter-in-law Divina Ducker.

Rev. Ducker leaves his wife, Leslie, of 50 years; two sons, Steve and Tim Ducker; a daughter, Carla Bruning; three sisters, Betty Lytle, Grace and Inez Owen; a brother, Robert; and two grandchildren.

- City Times chronicles the lifes of the famous and not-so-famous. To suggest an obituary, e-mail or call 226-3382.

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