43.0386° N, 82.4769° W
Fort Gratiot, Michigan
Catherine Duffy Houghton, 98, of Fort Gratiot, began her self-proclaimed “love affair” with trains when she took her first ride on one at the age of just two years old.
Fate shined a bright light down on her when she grew up and married a man whose family owned a railroad.
“I was just batty about trains,” she said, “and here comes this guy with trains! I was so excited I was with a family that owned a railroad. What more could you wish for?”
That man was George Duffy, whose family owned the 19-mile long Port Huron & Detroit Railroad, and Duffy Houghton felt truly blessed to be his wife for 45 years. Together, they had three now-grown children: George “Sandy” Duffy, Jr.; Michaele “Mino” Duffy Kramer; and Katherine “Kathy” Duffy, all of whom still live in the Blue Water Area. Duffy Houghton’s marriage to George and, subsequently, after his death to Englishman Herbert Houghton, took Duffy Houghton on a fun-filled and meaningful life path that saw significant life changes for women and left her with a global view of the world that one can only obtain after almost 10 decades on the planet.
A Midwestern gal who was born in Cleveland, Ohio, Duffy Houghton eventually settled in suburban Detroit, where she completed high school at the notable Kingswood School Cranbrook, on the campus of what is now known primarily as Cranbrook Schools in Bloomfield Hills. While there, she took ceramics classes from the renowned Marshall Fredericks, who later went on to sculpt many famous public art pieces, including the “Spirit of Detroit” and the Night and Day sculptures in front of McMorran Place in Port Huron. She continued her friendship with him until his death a number of years ago.
Following high school, she attended Sarah Lawrence College, a school of the arts for women, near Bronxville, New York, in Westchester County. The following year, she attended Connecticut College.
Following her collegiate years, Duffy Houghton eventually followed her parents when they moved to Port Huron. Here, she worked in the office of the local American Red Cross chapter as a secretary until her marriage to George Duffy.
Throughout her first marriage, Duffy Houghton was a wife, mother and involved community citizen, volunteering with projects for her children and causes that were dear to her. To this day she very carefully follows local, state and national politics and during the 1960s she was very involved with the Republican party.
“I was president of the Republican Women’s Club,” she said, noting that her children recall, from a young age, being dragged along to local Republican headquarters to stuff and stamp envelopes during campaign seasons. Today, Duffy Houghton feels disappointed in a Republican party that she doesn’t recognize.
She recalled hosting former Michigan Governor George Romney in her home and she called former Governor William Milliken a “gentleman.” She chuckled when recalling her “Obama” sticker on her car years ago. “Can you imagine? The former president of the Republican Women’s Club?”
Duffy Houghton closely follows current events and there are issues that are near and dear to her heart and she is generous in her support of those good causes.
“It’s hugely important to me (to give back),” she said. “There is so much that needs doing and these organizations just don’t have the money needed to do it all.”
Issues of greatest importance to her include the environment, Planned Parenthood and, as an accomplished artist herself, the arts.
“The world’s population is a great big huge problem,” she said. “It touches our water systems, it touches our school systems and many other facets of life.” She is fascinated with what she has read about stem cell research and she considers it a personal responsibility to have a global view of the world.
She noted that young people need to be encouraged to look creatively at the world and its problems and to be creative in their thoughts and actions.
“All older people should feel the way I do because we have something to compare our world view to,” she said. “There was more love than hate in the past. People tend to be more selfish now and you feel kind of vulnerable now. It doesn’t have to be that way.”