"No matter what the job is or who needs help, I guarantee you there will be one person who is first in line–and that's Donnie Downs," speaker Jim Hewitt said, introducing the 2019 Hillsboro Sertoma Club Service To Mankind award winner Thursday, May 2, at a dinner in his honor at the Hillsboro Lions Club.
The Service To Mankind award is the top honor the service organizations bestows on those outside its membership, and the Hillsboro Breakfast Sertoma Club has annually presented the award since 1974.
Downs has served as a Hillsboro Moose Club volunteer for 30 years, volunteered for the Hillsboro Sports Association at the Hillsboro Sports Complex for 13 years, has been active with Imagine Hillsboro since its inception, is a member of the Bost Hill Cemetery Board, and has helped the Montgomery County Cancer Association as master of ceremonies for the annual Birthday Party and Celebration of Life, and has raised funds for the organization during Stamp Out Cancer. He is an elected member of the Hillsboro City Council, serving as commissioner of streets and public improvements.
Hewitt, who works as executive vice president at Allscripts and graduated with Downs as a member of the Hillsboro High School class of 1985, pointed out that Downs is also frequently mowing weeds and sweeping up intersections around Hillsboro.
Hewitt said Downs began showing up at his house every morning in the sixth grade to help him get to school on time, and continued to do so until the two graduated.
He said that when knee problems prevented Downs from playing football and basketball early in high school, he continued to support the team by becoming a spirited fan, and has remained so throughout the years.
"You will not find a man who cares more about this town and the people in it," Hewitt said of the award winner.
"It's humbling," Downs said of joining the list of distinguished award winners. "I wasn't expecting it."
The honoree described his father, John Downs, as an early example of service to one's community.
A member of the Illinois State Police, his father also served as a volunteer firemen, active Moose member, and civic leader as an elected official on the Montgomery County Board and as mayor of Hillsboro.
"I got to see my dad and the other volunteer firemen do something special," Downs said, emotionally describing the day when one of his childhood friends was hit by car in his neighborhood. "I'm glad you're my dad."
He was proud when describing his son, Dalton, who works for Bondurant Plumbing in Hillsboro, and his daughter, Lauren, who is about to graduate with a nursing degree from MacMurray College in Jacksonville.
"I think we did okay, didn't we?" Downs said to his wife Gail before telling her "I love you and everything you've done for our family."
Sertoma member Russell Greenwood presented two $2,000 Service To Mankind scholarships, one each to Alexa Huber and Kelly Jansen, both seniors at Hillsboro High School. Huber will be attending the University of Illinois beginning this summer to study bio-engineering, and Jansen will head to MacMurray College in Jacksonville to pursue nursing.
Hillsboro Sertoma President Willie Cobetto opened the meeting by pointing out that Sertoma is 100 years old this year, and the Hillsboro Club, established in 1973, has annually presented Service To Mankind awards since 1974.
Sertoma member Bob Fuehne led the Pledge of Allegiance to begin the meeting, and Father Dan Willenborg asked a blessing before dinner provided by Milanos Catering.