Local Obituaries

Charles Duncan, former Cap’n Delta, was curator of McClatchy family media artifacts

Charles Duncan as Cap’n Delta
Charles Duncan as Cap’n Delta Duncan family photo

Charles Henry Duncan entertained Sacramento audiences on radio, television and stage, and devoted much of his career to preserving local history.

Best known for his role as Cap’n Delta, the host of a local TV program for children in the late 1960s, Duncan died Jan. 17 of complications from Alzheimer’s disease, said Shirley Duncan, his wife of 65 years. He was 86.

“He was a history major by education and an actor by avocation,” she said.

He was able pursue both loves during his varied career, but Cap’n Delta was his favorite job, his wife said. Duncan was Sacramento’s second Cap’n Delta. He was hired in 1966 and filled the role for about five years.

Children joined him on a TV studio set that looked like part of a paddle-wheel boat. He advertised items for children, to pay the bills, and the children got an opportunity to win a treasure trove, Shirley Duncan said.

He previously had been involved in “KFBK Goes to School,” a radio program geared to children, his wife said, noting that he was quite good at doing voices for various characters, both men and women.

“When he became Cap’n Delta, he played to the children,” she said. “It was a great delight to him, and they responded in kind.”

Duncan left the show when Eleanor McClatchy, president of McClatchy Newspapers, asked him to oversee the McClatchy family’s collection of newspaper memorabilia. He became curator, rounding up and cataloging 130 years of news-related artifacts to create the collection housed at the Center for Sacramento History.

“It was wonderful for him to be a part of that and take care of these treasures,” Shirley Duncan said. “He knew things about all of them, and Eleanor relied on him a great deal.”

Duncan had studied broadcast technologies at Grant Tech, the forerunner of American River College, and had started his career as a farm reporter for then-McClatchy-owned KFBK radio, where his talents had come to Eleanor McClatchy’s attention.

The two worked together in other areas of interest, as well. McClatchy was a great supporter of the arts, particularly the theater, and Duncan had been a thespian since his days as a student at San Juan High School in Citrus Heights.

“The theater was her baby and Charlie was her baby sitter,” Shirley Duncan said.

He performed in community theater and became known for his role as Benjamin Franklin in a bicentennial production of the musical “1776,” his wife recalled. In the years that followed, he often was asked to perform as Ben Franklin for school and community groups.

When he became Cap’n Delta, he played to the children. It was a great delight to him, and they responded in kind.

Shirley Duncan

Duncan was born May 4, 1930, in Fair Oaks to Reta and Marvin Dave Duncan. He was the youngest of five children.

He and his his wife met at San Juan High School and remained active members of the school’s alumni association, helping plan reunions for the class of 1948. Charles Duncan was a member of a group of 1948 and ’49 grads who called themselves The San Juan Guys. The original group of about 15 members now consists of a half-dozen men who meet once a month for lunch, said Bob Donner, Duncan’s friend for 70 years.

Duncan was active in student politics, serving as freshman class president. He also was a member of the high school basketball team, played the French horn in the school band and performed in school theatrical productions, his friend recalled.

“He had a very quick wit and a very keen sense of humor,” Donner said.

Bill Gaylord, who worked as an engraver and in advertising at The Sacramento Bee, said he and Duncan met in the 1950s, when Duncan worked for KFBK radio. McClatchy encouraged employees to volunteer as ushers at the Music Circus, which also allowed them to see the performances, and the two men ushered the same nights.

Duncan was himself a master of comedy, his friend recalled.

“He was always on,” Gaylord said. “He was a comedian without even trying. He saw the funny side of everything.”

Shirley Duncan said her husband was devoted to his church. The couple were charter members of Northminster Presbyterian Church, founded in 1955, where he was a deacon and an elder. He also used his writing and theatrical talents on behalf of the church, and became the historian for the Presbyterian Church’s Zephyr Point Conference Center at Lake Tahoe, his wife said.

In addition to his wife, Duncan is survived by sons Craig Duncan of Chico and Timothy Duncan of Sherwood, Ore.; daughter Terry Duncan of Sacramento; five grandchildren; and five great-grandchildren.

A celebration of his life will be held at 2 p.m. Saturday at Northminster Presbyterian Church, 3235 Pope Ave., Sacramento.

Contributions in his memory may be made to Sacramento Area Regional Theater Alliance, the Center for Sacramento History or Alzheimer’s research.

Cathy Locke: 916-321-5287, @lockecathy