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Dossier: Duke White, Umpire, Struck a Homerun with Brighton's Youth

Updated: Dec 20, 2023

Sleuthing Brighton Colorado, with a full Investigative Report by the Brighton History Detective® (aka Robin Kring)

Case Number: 00012, Identify Mural Subject

Mural Location: “Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza” by Hans Joseph Geist

Subject Identified: Baseball Umpire & Youth Advocate

“DUKE” WHITE (1899-1977), Baseball Umpire and Youth Advocate, was a Kuner employee for 59 years. Before Kuners, he was a ball player in various leagues throughout the west and later worked as a professional umpire. Duke was the first man to receive a lifetime membership to the Rocky Mountain Umpires Association and the First Black umpire in the state. His mark on the community was his love for children and his Little League coaching of Brighton’s children.

Duke was born, C. E. Dumond White, on Feb. 3, 1889, in Denver 1889. He earned the nickname “Duke” after the packages of Duke Mixture tobacco of his dad. Kids from his childhood dubbed him “Duke” after seeing him on frequent errands to and from the neighborhood store, with a Duke Mixture package in hand.

A Lifetime of Baseball

Duke was involved in baseball almost all his life, starting play in 1900 and turning pro by what he describes as an “accident” when he was unexpectedly asked to sub while attending a game. He played with the Salt Lake Occidentals, beginning in 1902 and playing through Nebraska Montana and Utah. Salt Lake’s KUTV reported that the Occidentals, Utah’s all-Black baseball team, pre-dated the National Negro Leagues by roughly 20 years, and regularly drew thousands of people to their games. Duke played as a “utility man,” playing positions where he was needed, including pitching.

In 1924, Duke was forced to stop playing professional ball, after a baseball hit him while playing first base, leaving him with a bad leg. Loving baseball, as he did, he pursued the game with a different hat, as a professional umpire of semipro, amateur, collegiate and softball leagues. Duke attended and graduated from the George Barr School for Umpires. Although he umpired his last game in 1969, coaches from Greeley, Denver, and Fort Collins still consulted him about proper baseball rules and plays.

Duke wrote about many highlights of his career, including what he called his greatest thrill: “batting against Walter Johnson.” He also worked the first American Legion Baseball game ever played in Denver, and remembers Babe Ruth and Lou Gehrig (both working for Spalding at time) showing up at the game. Duke was impressed that Ruth “was no big head and had time to talk to you.” Another time while umpiring in Greeley, Satchel Paige was pitching. Duke wrote that he worked as an umpire in the 1920s for the Denver Bears, and he “was so doggone nervous, I didn’t know what to do.”

Duke played on Kuner’s baseball team and after retiring from the company, he was hired by the Brighton school board to coach Little League. In 1974, the Brighton City Council named him “Outstanding Senior Citizen of the Year.” A recipient of many honors throughout his lifetime, Duke claimed the 1968 naming of Brighton High School’s baseball field (located at 950 E Skeel St., where he had coached and umpired many games), meant the most to him.

Duke and May

Duke, and his wife, Alberta M. “May” (Fields) White married on Jan. 11, 1911. They moved to Brighton in 1917, after Kuner Pickle operations ceased in Denver and the company moved its headquarters to Brighton. Duke had started with the company in 1901 and May in 1904. Duke worked as a shipping clerk, and was a trusted helper of the owner Max Kuner, including taking daily plant receipts to the bank. After May’s first job peeling onions, she worked as the order desk “city girl.” In 1911, she was promoted to “forelady,” a position she held until she retired in 1952.

The couple lived in one of the 15 side-by-side company-built houses, known as “Kuner Row” (located on the east side of the 200 block of 4th Ave., between Longs Peak and Brighton Streets). They had two sons, Eugene “Gene” and Luther, and also raised a niece with nine other relatives’ kids.

When Duke died in 1977, historians wrote he was “loved by everyone in Brighton, especially the children he coached.”

©2023 Robin Kring, including excerpts from A Postcard History of Brighton

Discover More About the Artist and the Detective

Learn more about the Artist, Hans Joseph Geist, behind the Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural, in the Brighton History Detective® dossier, The Case of the New Mural and its Artist (Hans Joseph Geist). See more of Hans art at: Art by Hans Geist on Facebook.

Find more Investigative Case Reports, by Brighton History Detective®, each revealing the identity of one of the 20 intriguing Brighton characters and places, painted on the mural. Investigate the sleuthing and writing stories of yesteryear, mystery, and intrigue on the Clear Creek Publishing Authors Blog site, including: New Fiction, Victoriana, Event Planning Extraordinaire, Colorado History, and Cemetery Chats.

The Historic Brighton at Founders Plaza mural is located on the southwest corner of Main St. and Bridge St., in Brighton, Colorado. The mural is a project of the Brighton Cultural Arts Commission, whose mission is to increase arts and culture awareness and promote cultural and scientific opportunities in our community. It has been made possible with funding from the SCFD and Brighton Lodging Tax Grants.

®Brighton History Detective is a registered trademark of Clear Creek Publishing.

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