Getting Busy with Fred Downing '40

Don't buy Fred Downing '40 a rocking chair any time soon.

Although he's retired he may be busier now than when he was employed.

A resident of Hallowell, Maine, Downing volunteers about forty hours a week at the Kennebec County jail, serving as an educational coordinator at the facility.

"I taught my whole life," Downing said. "I like teaching and do fairly well at it."

Downing has volunteered at the jail since 1990. "I did it because they asked me to," Downing said. "It's just great to help people learn to read."

Downing said most inmates are very willing to learn. "I tell them, 'I don't want to teach you what you know, I want to teach you what you don't know,'" Downing said. "I also tell them I think I know what they need to learn."

The educational programs at the old Kennebec County jail started in a closet, big enough for only one instructor and one inmate, Downing said. Now, located in the new Kennebec County Correctional Facility, the educational programs consist of a large classroom, library, and more than twenty computers, Downing said.

"The programs have grown tremendously here," Downing said. "We have people who donate books and computers for (many) types of reasons."

Downing said he and his wife, Judith Chick Downing '42, have been active all their lives. Judy is the administrator at the St. Mark's Home in Augusta.

Fred, who received a bachelor of arts degree in political science, earned a master of arts degree from Columbia University in 1949. He served five years active duty in the U.S. Navy and twenty additional years in the Navy Reserve.

Prior to retiring, Downing was employed as the director of civil service for the State of Vermont from 1959 until 1962 and then served as the guidance director in Gardiner schools from 1962 until he retired in 1977.

Downing also has been very active in the town affairs of Hallowell, where he and Judy have lived the past thirty-five years. He serves as the chairman of the planning board and is a member of the comprehensive plan committee. Downing also is a member of the Literacy Volunteers of America's Greater Augusta Area Chapter.

"We try to get the inmates to expand their imagination," Downing said. "Many of them have lived lives where they haven't seen much of a future. We at least try to change their attitudes a bit."

An avid hiker, Downing pointed out that he has trekked more than six thousand miles up mountains across New England and New York. "That's the equivalent of walking across the United States and back," he said, noting he has climbed Mount Washington more than seventy-five times and hiked up Mount Katahdin more than twenty times.

He doesn't have much free time for hiking now that he volunteers five days at the jail. "When inmates leave here at least they know what a computer is," Downing said. "That is something that can help them get a job when they get out."


By Alan J. Keays
Reprinted courtesy of the Kennebec Journal of Augusta.

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