Longtime PBL school board member hanging it up

PAXTON — When Dave Dowling began his lengthy tenure as a member of the Paxton-Buckley-Loda school board, he had a pretty good idea of what the volunteer, unpaid position entailed.

After all, the son of longtime educators said: “Education’s been in my blood. Education’s just been there all the time.”

What Dowling did not know when he joined the board in 1998 was that his service to the PBL community would continue for the next 21 years.

He never would have dreamed that, he admitted.

Now 60 and ready for retirement, Dowling has opted to not seek re-election this April. He expects to attend his final meeting as the school board’s vice president on March 13.

“I’m retiring in May from Ameren Illinois, and that basically was (the reason),” said Dowling, who has worked for the utility company since 1980. “My wife (Kathy) and I wanted to be free to do other things.”

A rewarding job
Dowling said he has thoroughly enjoyed his two-plus decades of public service.

“Sure, there are times when it’s hard, and, sure, there are things you don’t like and there are tough things,” Dowling said, “but the good things — and the feeling you get for doing good things — just outweighs all of that.”

From seeing two new schools built in Paxton through voter referendums to seeing technology upgrades made annually in the school district with help from the nonprofit PBL Education Foundation, Dowling can point to a number of initiatives as signs of progress during his time on the board.

The most rewarding aspect of the job, however, has been seeing PBL’s schools prepare students to succeed in their careers and lives, Dowling said.

“My kids got a great education here, and I want other kids to have that opportunity,” said Dowling, a father of two. “Just to be able to be there to help them get the resources that they need is so fulfilling.”

Dowling said he never took lightly the responsibilities that came with being a board member.

“As I had someone tell me a long time ago, when you’re on a school board, you’re dealing with two things: you’re dealing with people’s kids, and you’re dealing with their money,” Dowling said. “So (the job that school board members do is) going to be important to a lot of people.

“I just felt that if I could help, that if I could serve and bring something to the board, then I was more than willing to do it. It was just something I felt I needed to do.”

Advice to new board members
Filling Dowling’s seat on the board will be one of three people running in the April 2 consolidated election for three available four-year terms on the board: incumbent Steve Pacey of Paxton and newcomers Dana Bergandine of Paxton and Jason Dirks. Besides Dowling, also not seeking re-election is Doug Wolken of Paxton.

Dowling’s advice for the two newcomers: “Be willing to listen, but also be willing to express your viewpoints.”

“Everybody has a different angle on how they look at things,” Dowling said. “Sometimes I would be completely surprised where people came from with ideas, but when you’d stop and think about it, you’d think, ‘Yeah, they have a point.’”

Dowling said he was proud to be part of a school board that listened to not just each board member but the community as a whole. Such communication was evident a couple of years ago when the board considered the feedback it received from residents through the “community engagement” process to help guide the construction of a two-story addition to Clara Peterson Elementary School — a project that is nearing completion today.

“I think one of the things I’m most proud of is that our board has communicated with the community, and the community has given us unbelievable support,” Dowling said. “I mean, the community rises to the occasion every time.

“We’re now building our second school (in a 14-year period), which is unheard of in this area. This community just supported it so much, and a lot of that had to do with the board, I think, getting out and communicating with the people about why we needed it.”

The new school addition is expected to be completed in August. Dowling hopes it will serve as a “selling point” for others to move to Paxton.

As for the district’s oldest school building — PBL Eastlawn School — Dowling sees no way of saving it from the wrecking ball. Dowling said he expects the building to be torn down once its students relocate this fall to the new addition at Clara Peterson.

“The building is just plain falling apart,” Dowling said. “I know there are people who want to save it, but it would cost so much money to make it a really good building again that I just don’t think it would be worthwhile. It’s lived its life, and it needs to come down.”

Education a lifelong passion
Like his parents — who died in a traffic accident last June — Dowling’s interest in education would become a lifelong passion.

After he and his wife moved to Paxton in the mid-1990s with their two kids, Dowling first got involved with the PBL school district as a member of its newly formed “school improvement” committee.

Dowling was asked to join the committee — which was comprised of community members, teachers and administrators — by Cliff McClure, who was then the principal of Clara Peterson Elementary School, where Dowling’s kids were students.

A couple of years later, around 1998, a seat became available on the PBL school board, but nobody was running in the election to fill it. Dowling decided to run as a write-in candidate and ended up winning election to his first of five four-year terms.

“My education background was always there ... so I was like, ‘Let’s get involved and do something,’” Dowling recalled.

Dowling’s father, John, was principal of Watseka Community High School while Dowling was attending classes there in the 1970s. Dowling’s father also was a teacher at that school and others in the area during his three-plus decades working in public schools, in addition to serving as principal at two Watseka grade schools.

Dowling’s mother, Reta, meanwhile, taught at grade schools in Bismarck and Crescent City. She also started the art department at Watseka’s high school and taught at a preschool she co-owned.

Long career in energy sector
Since 1996, Dowling has been living and working in Paxton. He moved to the Ford County seat from Springfield, where he had been living and working for the previous 16 years.

Dowling’s entire professional career has been spent in the energy sector. After graduating in 1980 from Eastern Illinois University with a bachelor of science degree in energy management, Dowling began working as a reports accountant for a utility company which was then known as CIPS (Central Illinois Public Service).

The company later merged with Union Electric in the mid-1990s to create Ameren.

Dowling spent the first 16 years of his career with CIPS in Springfield. At some point in that same time frame, Dowling earned his master’s degree in business administration from what was then known as Sangamon State University (now the University of Illinois at Springfield).

Following the merger of CIPS, the utility company gave Dowling the option of either working in St. Louis or Paxton, and Dowling chose Paxton as it was much closer to his native Iroquois County.

At the time, Dowling was working as a fuel supply specialist. When he arrived in Paxton, he returned to an accounting position.

Dowling is now a senior distribution design specialist for Ameren Illinois’ Division IV, which comprises much of East Central Illinois.

Dowling said his retirement plans are “in flux right now,” but he and his wife will “probably” move back to Springfield.

“I’ll absolutely miss it a lot up here,” Dowling said. “I’ve gotten to know a lot of people. I’ve got friends here — people I work with, people outside of work — and it’s a great community, a great area, so I’ll miss it a lot.”


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