WINDOM — When Windom’s Howard Davis is asked about his lifetime of service to area youths, he will probably deflect the attention from himself by sharing stories about the kids he’s helped over the years.
Davis moved to Windom with his wife, Rosalee, in 1970, and a list of the people he’s served since then would require its own edition of The Globe.
He began as a guidance counselor at Windom High School, following five years of teaching junior high math in Tracy.
“Education, whether it’s college or not, is important,” Davis said. He tried to emphasize that with Windom students throughout his nearly 30 years as a guidance counselor.
He wasn’t just helping students in his office. Davis also dedicated his free time to creating programs and resources for Windom’s young people.
In 1978, Davis led a group of community members in forming Windom Dollars for Scholars, a program that offered zero-interest loans for graduating seniors to attend college. Loan recipients agreed to repay the balance after they finished school and went on to their careers.
Since then, the organization has split from its original parent organization to become Windom Education Honor Loans. It is still guided by the vision Davis outlined in 1978.
In 1985, Davis started Windom’s knowledge bowl team, and he served as its advisor until 1995. He also advised the student council and Windom’s chapter of the National Honor Society, volunteering hundreds of hours of his personal time to help students grow and learn.
Davis was honored as the Windom Schools Teacher of the Year in 1983 and as the Minnesota Senior High Counselor of the Year in 1993.
“When I retired,” Davis recalled, “I didn’t know what I was going to do. Three weeks later, I was bored silly.”
He quickly found a new way to serve: as a guardian ad litem for the Cottonwood and Jackson county court systems.
“Ad litem” is a Latin phrase meaning “for the lawsuit.” A guardian ad litem, Davis explained, “reports to the judge what’s in the best interest of the kid.” Guardians ad litem are appointed by courts for a variety of cases, including truancy, parental rights and juvenile crime.
Davis performed this work from 1999 until 2003, when a change in state law made his service untenable.
The state of Minnesota decided to adopt a new system of area guardian ad litem offices, and Davis would report from then on to an area office out of Worthington. Between the additional distance and the cutting of reimbursement for mileage and expenses, the new system just wasn’t going to work for Davis.
He then began doing foster care licensure for Cottonwood County Family Services.
“I was more my own boss,” Davis said. This job required a lighter caseload and mainly consisted of home inspections to ensure families were qualified to provide foster care.
During this time, Davis moonlighted one day a week as a guidance counselor in Fulda. He also served as the legal guardian for a couple of youths with nowhere to go, and as a conservator for a blind man.
The time Davis spent with the foster system taught him compassion for social services employees.
“It’s remarkably tough,” he said. Social workers not only manage large caseloads, but try to help each individual child find a safe home, all while managing not to crumble under the emotional weight of some of the cases.
Davis also began to see life through the eyes of the children he helped. In many cases, kids attended alternative learning centers after struggling to succeed in traditional schools.
“ALCs are important,” Davis said. For children who didn’t take to school naturally, sitting in a classroom for eight hours a day could be particularly challenging.
“If I had a full-time job I didn’t like, that would be terrible,” Davis said. “But I’ve had some choices in life.”
Davis stopped working for Family Services in 2006. Since then, he has kept up a steady flow of community service projects.
He has been a member of the Board of Trustees for the Robert and Helen Remick Charitable Trust since 1999. The Remick Foundation helps fund projects mostly in Jackson and Cottonwood counties, with a special focus on youths and the arts.
“It’s been fun,” Davis said of his 20-year run on the board. He loves hearing pitches from organizations with a plan and a passion for improving the community.
“That makes my life a little bit better,” he said.
Davis’s favorite part of serving on the board is making site visits to see the projects the Remick Foundation has helped fund.
“Those are some of the best days of my year,” he said.
For example, the Remick Foundation contributed to the Jackson County Central Schools’ Read 180 program, which provided reading intervention for students districtwide.
At the site visit, Davis was able to hear the kids describe how they had benefited from the program.
“They shared heartfelt stories about how this affected them and their families,” Davis said. “It gave them self-worth.
“That was money well spent,” he reflected.
Beginning in 1998, Davis has been doing woodworking projects for community members and organizations, at no cost to them — although, depending on the project, sometimes they must provide the wood or help work on the piece.
Frequent beneficiaries of Davis’s woodworking skills are his grandchildren and the Windom American Lutheran Church. Other organizations that he’s helped with woodwork include Windom Area Library and Red Rock Ridge Learning Center.
Davis has had a notable impact on the community of Windom, as shown by his receipt of the Mayor’s Medal of Honor for community service in 2014 and the Education Minnesota Windom 2015 Friend of Education award.
Davis said he plans to continue giving back for as long as he is able. He wouldn’t want to miss a chance to brighten his own day by helping someone else.