81-year-old reflects on a life of success with dyslexia

Like many dyslexic people, 81-year-old Duke Evans thinks outside the box.

His creative thinking skills have taken him on many adventures during his lifetime, including obtaining his pilot’s license, playing NCAA Division I golf and even filming the infamous 1991 Andover, Kansas, tornado on his new HD video camera.

Despite the difficulties Duke had learning to read, write and spell as a young person, he has thrived.

“I don’t want anybody telling me I can’t do it,” Duke said. “Anyone can find 400 reasons why you can’t do it. I want people to say ‘can do.’”

Duke grew up playing golf, and he earned a golf scholarship to play at Oklahoma State University after playing at Wichita State for two years. His 1963 OSU team won the NCAA tournament championship.

While athletics were a strength for Duke, he had so much trouble reading academic material in school that he figured out how to take short cuts to pass college. He tried things like tape recording his professors, selecting courses based on professors’ teaching styles and memorizing as he was listening.

“I knew I was a horrible speller,” he said. “I could read, but it was slow.”

During these college years, a young woman who was her way to becoming a public school teacher was the first person to tell Duke about dyslexia.

After he learned he had dyslexia, he immediately began talking to young school children who had also been identified as dyslexic. He went to talk to some students in Lyons, Kansas, when he was in his early 20s.

“I drove up with a yellow Porsche, and they were all hanging out the window,” Duke said. “I walked in the class, and I said, ‘Is this the learning disability class? … Wrong, this is a learning advantage class.’”

Duke gave the group of students a motivational talk, encouraging them they could pass college and giving them tips how to do so. He also listed off famous athletes and artists who were also dyslexic and had successful careers.

Duke graduated from Oklahoma State with a liberal arts degree. Out of college, Duke and his father ran an outdoor advertising company in Wichita, selling advertising on billboards.

When regulations for billboard advertising changed, Duke went back to Stillwater, Oklahoma, and worked on a golf course and coached freshman golfers at Oklahoma State. He got tired of working weekends, so after a few years he got into the industry that encompassed most of his career: stock trading.

Eventually Duke opened his own successful brokerage. His dyslexia “super powers” — like being able to see the big picture, intuitiveness and thinking differently — got him ahead. He had a knack for hiring people who were also good at his craft.

“I could project things,” he said.

Duke has many nuggets of advice for young people with dyslexia.

“Never go into something you don’t like,” he suggests.

And, most importantly, “You don’t learn anything by quitting. I have had some failures, but I have never quit.”

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