Cover photo for Juliet Maria (Appel)  Duncanson's Obituary
Juliet Maria (Appel)  Duncanson Profile Photo
1957 Juliet 2023

Juliet Maria (Appel) Duncanson

February 19, 1957 — November 9, 2023

Juliet Maria Appel Duncanson was born to Mary and Arthur Appel early in the evening of February 19, 1957 in the University of Chicago's Lying-In Hospital.  She was brought home to an excited, and instantly adoring older sister, Sarah.  Soon the adoration became reciprocal and enduring.  Arthur was a limitlessly curious and easily sociable physicist working at the space, defense and biology focused Armour Research Foundation, later renamed Illinois Institute of Technology Research Institute (IITRI.)   Mary was a thoughtful, kind and supportive University of Chicago trained child psychologist who developed a business testing children in the Appel home.  Sarah was soon to enter kindergarten at Horace Mann Elementary School in the neighborhood.

The family's home was a flat-roofed architect-designed structure in the Bauhaus, or International Style, rather than what we now call Mid-Century Modern.  It sat in a sea of bungalows and two- and three-flat apartment buildings and larger courtyard apartment buildings in Chicago's, soon-to-change, South Shore neighborhood.  The home was eventually furnished with pieces now recognized as classics by Charles & Ray Eames, Eero Saarinen and George Nelson.  The home was filled light, and with books and with music via Chicago's classical music radio station, WFMT.  Significantly, WFMT also provided hours of folk music programming most Saturday nights through their “The Midnight Special” program founded by Mike Nichols.

Gardening was an activity that involved the whole family, also dining al fresco. Whenever in season the family prioritized sailing in their Lightning class sloop in the fleet at Burnham Harbor near McCormick Place.  They also made trips to the Ravinia Festival in the northern suburbs mostly to hear the Chicago Symphony Orchestra perform with noted soloists.  They also prioritized traveling, usually by car, to Anaheim California to visit Juliet's Grandmother and Aunt Dorothy and her family, creating remarkably strong bonds for such geographically distant cousins.

Juliet became an early and avid reader.  She loved quality, inspiring and nurturing children's books through her entire life.  She read and reread them and gave carefully chosen favorites as gifts.  Sarah led Juliet further into folk music.  Juliet wowed some of her classmates when she accompanied the class on her guitar as they sang a French folk song at a school assembly.   Juliet dug into the music of folkies, Peter, Paul and Mary, the Chad Mitchel Trio, and the Limelighters.  Later the Midnight Special and other sources would introduce her to Janice Ian, Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ian and Sylvia Tyson, Phil Ochs, Bob Gibson and Chicago folk music heroes like John Prine, Steve Goodman, Michael Smith and countless others.

Arthur fostered an interest in sound reproduction and recording technology and provided his open-reel Ampex tape recorder so Juliet, as a 12 year old, could record Sarah's unofficial South Shore High School Folk Music Club's marathon show at a local church.

Juliet followed Sarah into Horace Mann Elementary and also into Jewish religious instruction at the “Classical Reform” Chicago Sinai Congregation.  Juliet transferred from Horace Mann after seventh grade to the University of Chicago Laboratory school where she was excited by the expanded educational opportunities (such as a pottery class and formal instruction in choral singing) and the innovative teaching approaches in literature and history, but she was most excited by the engaged, vibrant and expressive classmates she found there.

Juliet loved the Lab school and identified as a city-smart kid with racially and culturally diverse friends and skilled in communicating across cultures.  She was heartbroken to be taken out of the lab school and her city home and moved to the remote and sedate suburb of Lake Forest, in the middle of her Spring semester as a sophomore in high school.  None-the-less, she eventually grew through the experience and made good friends there.  When considering college, she dearly wanted to return to the University of Chicago and the Hyde Park neighborhood.  Her parents strenuously objected and Juliet countered by suggesting that she might go to Columbia University in NYC.

Juliet eventually applied only to the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign and entered with no declared major.  Early in college she began to perform folk music written both by herself and by others at the open stage at the Red Herring Coffeehouse at the campus Unitarian student foundation.  In the Spring semester of her freshman year she met her Alan at lunch in their dorm and the two immediately fell deeply in like.  (Romance was to sneak up on them later.)  She became an anthropology major specializing in the biological aspects of the study of man and developed a particular skill in identifying and analyzing human bone material.  She took a literature class every semester so that she would have an impetus to read, and found as she prepared to graduate that she had satisfied the requirements for a minor in comparative literature.  Juliet became a volunteer cook at the Red Herring's vegetarian restaurant and later traded on that experience to get a summer job as a cook for the Illini Union cafeteria where she prepared dishes for several hundred diners daily.  Juliet and Alan were married on a snowy February Sunday in 1977 at Chicago Sinai Congregation then in the Hyde Park neighborhood of Chicago.

After graduation the couple made the short but significant move to Indianapolis where Alan had taken an engineering job with the Navy and Juliet took up housekeeping.  She soon fell into volunteering as a cook for Indianapolis Hebrew Congregation (IHC) programs.  She also volunteered for the Children's Museum of Indianapolis working with the curator of ethnographic collections.  For two consecutive years she was recognized by the Children's Museum as their top volunteer.  Juliet also volunteered for both Planned Parenthood and the “Indiana Civil Liberties Union” (sic) in her early years in Indianapolis.  She soon joined the IHC choir to continue to practice and develop her choral singing skills.  She loved singing the complex and demanding liturgical music written in classical idioms characteristic of periods spanning from the 18th to the  20th centuries.

While in college Juliet began to exhibit symptoms that would later be identified as typical of Multiple Sclerosis.  She was formally diagnosed with MS 4 years after graduating.  Soon after diagnosis she tentatively attended a first MS Support Group.  The group was far more to her liking than she expected (or feared)  and she soon made good friends with many members, and eventually took a turn leading the group.  Seeing a need for an effective client services program at the Indiana Chapter of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society, she volunteered to head up such a program, which she did until the chapter hired a professional for the role.  She also served on a client advisory board for the chapter.  Juliet said that this volunteer work allowed her to investigate and to dismiss the possibility of entering social work as a career.  It was in that role that Juliet became aware of an Indianapolis based, year long program to teach disabled persons to program computers professionally.  She referred herself to the program, was accepted and excelled, finding the disciplined thinking required to clearly and completely define instructions for an  inflexible, non-intuitive machine to complete a specified task, to be a very satisfying challenge for her.  Shortly after completion of the program she was hired by RANAC Computer Corporation near the Northern boundary of Indianapolis.

At RANAC Juliet wrote and modified computer programs to allow medical offices to function, supporting tasks such as scheduling appointments, billing customers, Medicare and insurance companies, and creating medical records.  Industry standards and requirements changed frequently, so the demand for upgraded programs was continuous.  As much as Juliet enjoyed the task of creating and modifying these programs, she excelled at supporting the users of those programs, being a calm, ever reassuring voice on the other end of the phone when they had problems and confidently leading them to solutions.  The customers she supported were very appreciative of her.  Also at RANAC she developed strong ties to her employers and coworkers.  During this period her Multiple Sclerosis progressed until she was dependent on a power wheelchair for mobility and she could not reliably transfer without aid from chair to chair.  Eventually RANAC invited Juliet to work from home and later she retired on disability.

Through out her life Juliet was a voracious reader.  She read and reread favorite children's books including the works of Tove Jansson, Madeleine L'Engle and J. K. Rowling.  She loved fiction.  She read every book and many short stories and essays written by Kurt Vonnegut, most more than once.  She revisited the Russian authors she was introduced to in college.  She delved into history, biographies, memoirs and nonfiction particularly in her beloved field of anthropology.  She devoured the writings of Oliver Sacks.  She pursued writings by women and African and Asian Americans.  It is truly not possible to accurately characterize the breadth and depth of her reading by a simple enumeration.

Juliet long sought out live musical performances to attend.  Starting before college, she attended operas, recitals and folk music.  She developed a deep love of chamber music and was frequently seen at early music performances and also at concerts presenting twentieth century and contemporary works.  However, the range of her musical appreciation did not skip the 19th century.  She was particularly excited by performances featuring voice.   She and Alan traveled to attend concerts and operas in Chicago, New York, Aspen, Santa Fe, San Francisco and Prague, as well as Bloomington, New Harmony, Lafayette and Valparaiso within Indiana.

Juliet was a fan and supporter of public and non-commercial broadcasting.  She rarely missed the PBS NewsHour, or Masterpiece or even Antiques Roadshow, Nature or Nova and many other PBS series presenting arts, drama and documentaries.  However, she also watched NCIS at almost every opportunity.

Juliet was diagnosed with bladder cancer in March of 2023.  Her cancer did not respond significantly to chemotherapy through the Spring and, due perhaps to her MS, her systems were not strong enough to rebound from the major surgery to remove her bladder and other organs performed in August.  After surgery, the cancer was described as advanced and aggressive.  She was never judged fit to start the  radiation therapy that was indicated following her surgery.  She endured multiple emergency room visits and hospital readmissions and suffered multiple crises of respiratory, GI or neurological origin.  She died on what would have been her father's 105th birthday, November 9th 2023.  Juliet retained her cheerful disposition and optimism until the last week of her life.

Juliet is survived by her beloved husband of 46 years and devoted care giver, Alan Duncanson and her dear sister, Sarah Appel, and loving family members: Aunt Dorothy Cohen, the Cohen cousins and the Duncanson family.

Juliet strongly supported agencies that provide relief for refugees from conflict or disaster; also those providing food and healthcare for all people; and also organizations advocating for reproductive freedom. Memorial contributions consistent with those values will be greatly appreciated.

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