Remarks by John N. Sias and Rev. Donald Rowley at the presentation of the Humanitarian Award to Rev. Donald Rowley
Fifth annual awards luncheon of the Nashua Charitable Foundation, May 4, 2000, Marriott Hotel in Nashua, New Hampshire
Remarks by John N. Sias
Last Tuesday Don Rowley and I went fishing. We didn't even get a bite. To make it worse, it was the fifth consecutive time he and I had been fishing and did nothing but drown worms, not a single fish. Now, wouldn't you think a minister would have some influence?
Don Rowley was born in Cooperstown, NY, home of baseball's Hall of Fame. He was brought up on a farm in Walton, NY, 50 miles from Cooperstown, the third of four boys.
In 1933, at the height of the Depression, his family lost its farm and they were forced to move into town. Don's father got a job with the WPA which was a welfare like, make work program by the federal government. The pay was $7.20. Not an hour, not a day. $7.20 a week.
He declared to his four sons, "You boys are all going to college!" And to college they went, all four receiving their doctorates. One became a physician, another an attorney, another a microbiologist. And Don a minister.
Don graduated high school in 1939 and for the next two years, worked two jobs, six and seven days a week. He earned $22 a week. He gave $10 to his parents and $10 for his brother's tuition. The remaining $2? I don't know what he did with it , but he probably just frittered it away.
In both high school and college, Don was a knuckleball pitcher. He admitted to me, "I wasn't very fast but I had great control."
In September 1941, he entered Hartwick College as a theology student. Four months later came the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the US was at war. Theology students were exempt from the draft. But in March 1943 at the height of the war, year, Don left college and enlisted in the Army. He said, "I just thought it was the right thing to do."
Our theology student became a combat soldier in the 103rd Infantry Division. He fought on or near the front lines in France and Germany.
After Germany's surrender, this theology student volunteered his services for the planned invasion of Japan. But you know what happened. We dropped the atomic bomb and thousands of American lives were saved, probably including Don's.
In November 1945, he was mustered out of the Army and three days later he was back pursuing his studies as a theology student at Hartwick College. During his years in college he worked as a janitor, graduating in 1948.
Two months later he began his studies at Harvard Divinity School, graduating three years later in 1951.
After serving as a minister New Castle, New Hampshire and Westford, Mass. he was recruited to be the minister of the Unitarian Universalist Church here in Nashua in 1958.
And what was Nashua like in 1958?
Where Pennichuck Square is now was located a combination gas station and restaurant with a prominent sign which said, "Eat here and get gas"
There were only a handful of non-profit organizations because we citizens either didn't know problems existed or refused to do much about them.
In 1958, public kindergartens were decades into the future. Seeing that the community needed another kindergarten, he persuaded his church to develop the White Wing kindergarten. For 40 years the non-denominational White Wing has been a significant element in the education of thousands of Greater Nashua children.
White Wing met the needs of well to do parents. But what about the poor kids of Nashua. Under Don's leadership the church also founded the state's first Head Start, a pre-school program for disadvantaged children. So when the White Wing building opened in 1960, it was a kindergarten in the morning and a Head Start program in the afternoon.
In 1960, there were no mental health services. There was not a single psychiatrist in town. A psychiatrist from Greater Boston visited the community for a half day once a month. Mental illness was something to be ashamed of, something you denied having.
At that time, if you needed to be hospitalized for even a few days for a mental illness, two doctors had to sign a form so you could be admitted to the state mental hospital in Concord. Then the police would put you in a cruiser and drive you there.
Don became a founder and president of the Nashua Mental Health Committee. It was the group's goal to educate the community regarding the need for mental health service.
The late Dave Hamblett, a member of Don's church, and a 1996 recipient of the Humanitarian Award, was a vice president of Memorial Hospital in the early 1960s. Don, representing Community Council, and Dave representing the hospital worked out an agreement between the two agencies whereby the hospital would provide 12 beds for mental health patients. You no longer would have to go to Concord in a police cruiser.
Don served as Chairman of Community Council's Mental Health Committee during those years it was becoming a major provider of mental health services. Community Council later elected him acting president for one year and president in 1973 and 1974. In 1960 Community Council had a budget of $50,000 and a staff of five. Today, it has a staff of 165 and a budget of $10 million.
The NH Assn. for Mental Health presented Don its Mental Health Volunteer Award in 1979.
If you think abortion is a controversial topic now, you might have some idea of how the community regarded family planning in the 1960s. It was controversial both medically and religiously.
There was no birth control information or methods available to Nashua's poor or young.
Don was elected Chairman of the committee that formed Nashua Family Planning Association. He requested John Carter to be the organization's first president. John accepted, just as he did when asked to be the first president of the organization we are celebrating here today, the Nashua Charitable Foundation.
Nashua may be America's No 1 city today, but it was not always that way. In the 1960s we had a slum area as bad as any city in New England. It was called the Myrtle Street area, a section of downtown near the present District Court House. It housed most of the black community. The landlords did little to maintain the properties. Windows were out, plumbing did not work, and hallways were open to the out of doors.
Members of the black community could not afford to buy a home in Nashua. And the high level of discrimination made it impossible for a black to find a rental outside the Myrtle Street slum area. The community basically denied there was even a problem and opposed anyone who tried to work on the problem.
Don was founder and president of the Nashua Fair Housing Practices Committee. This group, made up of some members of his church and several members of other religious groups, worked to secure housing for African American families in the Nashua area.
Without invitation and alone, he knocked on doors of people living in this deplorable ghetto to personally learn their needs. Later, all of that housing was torn down to make room for public housing.
As Minister of the Unitarian Universalist church, he always urged members to become involved in the community, especially in response to human needs.
At his suggestion the church established a policy of designating part of its annual church budget to donate to community organizations in which church members were volunteering their time. The church made financial contributions to many community services including Nashua Family Planning, the Hospice program, Rape and Assault Committee, Big Brother/Big Sister, a service program in the County jail, and a social program for patients at the Concord State Hospital. The church continues this financial support 40 years later.
In more recent years Don served on the board of Harbor Homes, which provides housing for the mentally ill.
In 1982, church member Jim McCormick who had been a Big Brother in Yonkers, NY asked Don why there was no Big Brother Chapter in Nashua. So Don organized and became chairman of the Feasibility Committee comprised of several church members and community leaders who started the chapter here. He served on its first board of Directors.
He was on the Board of the Adult Learning Center. He was a director of New Hampshire-Vermont Blue Shield and a voting member of Blue Shield-Blue Cross. He served on the Board of Trustees of Matthew Thornton HMO and on the regional health planning committee.
He was Chairman of the committee that selected the families who would live in the newly built Gingras Garden Housing Development off Lake Street. The families selected, on a non-discriminatory basis, could rent the houses with the right to purchase. It might have been the city's earliest program to make home ownership possible for low-income families.
In 1985, the Meadville-Lombard Theological School, affiliated with the University of Chicago presented Don its Honorary Doctor of Divinity.
Don retired as minister of the Nashua Unitarian Universalist church in 1987.
Of all the people I have ever known, I am not aware of anyone who is held in such high respect-even loved- by so many others.
Although this knuckle ball pitcher, born in the hometown of baseball's Hall of Fame, never made it to baseball's Big Leagues, there are a lot of people in this world who believe Reverend Donald Rowley is Big League in every other way.
Remarks by Rev. Donald Rowley
I am not at all certain that I deserve this award, but I am quite sure that the members of my generation have earned it, and I accept it on their behalf.
I hope I am a fairly typical member of my generation. Growing up in the Depression, I experienced the physical and emotional hardships of poverty. As one of the poor, I developed a great admiration for them -- for their courage in the face of adversity, for their determination that their children's lives would be better than theirs, and for their welcoming to their meager tables those who had no table at all. They have been a life-long source of inspiration and courage for me.
As combat soldiers who returned from World War II, we knew from that day on that every day of life was a gift. We had learned the preciousness of life and the precariousness of life. We wanted to serve our society in our own right, and also on behalf of our comrades in arms who did not return.
It was during my graduate studies at Harvard that I came to appreciate the concept that, for every privilege one accepts in our society, there is a corresponding obligation to improve that society, and to serve those who suffer from whatever causes. Life has taught me that fulfilling the obligation is vastly more rewarding than living the privilege.
It was during my years of association with Community Council that I came upon a statement in its records made by a medical doctor on its board over fifty years ago. He said, "Let everyone be aware that no one needs to stake out claims in the land of the suffering." The land of the suffering is a vast land. It not only has room for all of us, it has need for all of us doing all that we can together.
Thanks to the Greater Nashua Charitable Foundation for this honor, and even more for the works you are doing. None of us can accomplish very much without the financial resources to enable us to achieve our goals, and, to all who provide those resources, we are indebted. Thank you.