Dr. Dero Downing, WKU's fourth president, died April 4, 2011. He was 89.
Dr. Downing began his long affiliation with WKU as a student in 1939, earning his undergraduate degree in mathematics in 1943. He was a prominent student leader during his undergraduate career, serving as president of the senior class and being elected at “Who’s Who in American Colleges and Universities.”
After graduation, Dr. Downing joined the U.S. Navy as an ensign and served as an officer on a ship carrying troops and supplies in the first wave to hit the beaches at Normandy on D-Day in June 1944. He was engaged in naval activity across the English Channel between England and France until the end of War World II. In late 1945 he was released from active service with the rank of lieutenant.
In 1946 he returned to Western as a mathematics teacher and basketball coach at College High School, the high school division of Western’s Training School and completed his master of arts degree at Western in 1947. He gave up coaching in 1950 to devote full time to teaching mathematics and in 1956 was named director of the training school.
Dr. Downing received his Ed. S. degree in 1958 from George Peabody College for Teachers in Nashville. He was named registrar for the university in 1959 and director of admissions in 1962 and served as dean of business affairs before being named vice president for administrative affairs in 1965.
In 1969, Dr. Downing became WKU’s fourth president, a position he held until he resigned in 1979, being named president emeritus. From there he became president of the College Heights Foundation where he continued to serve as Chairman of the Board.
Dr. Downing has received several honors, including honorary doctor of humanities degrees from Kentucky Wesleyan College in Owensboro in 1970 and Morehead State University in 1974 and honorary doctor of laws degrees from Murray State University in 1972 and Eastern Kentucky University in 1979.
In 2010, he became the first recipient of the Warren County Environmental Stewardship Award, which was named in his honor. His son, Alex Downing, said his father was proud of the honor. The Downing family was known for spending weekend afternoons picking up litter around the Hill. “He has set a wonderful example for his children and our children,” Alex Downing said.
He was married to the former Harriet Elizabeth Yarnell. Each of their five children are graduates of WKU, as are six of their 13 grandchildren.
Contributions in honor of Dr. Downing can be made to the Dero and Harriet Downing Scholarship Fund in the College Heights Foundation at WKU.