Donald Smith named College Heights president

Taylor Harrison

Alex Downing may be leaving his position at the College Heights Foundation, but the job is staying in the family.

The announcement was made on Tuesday that Donald Smith, Downing’s nephew who previously worked in the alumni office, will take over as president of the foundation. The College Heights Foundation is responsible for distributing scholarships to many WKU students.

Downing is leaving the job for Franklin Bank & Trust, a corporate partner of the university. Downing said Smith is an excellent choice for the job.

“We took a great step up and made a great upgrade when we hired Donald Smith,” Downing said.

Although he will no longer serve as president, Downing will remain on the foundation’s Board of Directors.

Smith said he has worked closely with the foundation as associate vice president for advancement and executive director of the WKU Alumni Association.

“I’ve seen what they’ve been able to build and the tradition that has been here,” Smith said. “…I see the difference that it makes in people’s lives

and how it can change the trajectory of those students and the opportunities that it opens for them in the future.”

Harriet Downing, Downing’s mother and Smith’s grandmother, said her son talked to her about his decision to leave. Her husband, Dero Downing, served as WKU president from 1969 to 1979, as well as president of the College Heights Foundation before Alex.

“I guess I was a little surprised, but his dad had told him before he died that if anything ever came along that he felt would be beneficial, not to feel that he was being disloyal to him or to the foundation or to the university,” she said. “So, I think he could not have made this decision if his father had not told him this before he died.”

Kathryn Downing, Alex’s daughter, said his leaving the university is bittersweet.

“I know he loves what he does and he’s all about Western — our whole family is,” she said. “But I know he’s looking forward to doing something new, and it’s a good opportunity, so we’re excited for him.”

Ginny Hensley, director of alumni programming, has worked closely with both Downing and Smith for years.

“It’s a huge loss for the university to lose Alex,” Hensley said. “He’s a mentor to a lot of people on this campus — he has been for years and will continue to be. He is, in a lot of ways, the WKU spirit to a lot of people.”

While Hensley said she is sad to see Smith leave the alumni office, she is glad he won’t be going far.

“It is in his blood, and he will continue what Alex has started and do a very good job filling in Alex’s shoes,” she said. “If anybody’s going to do it, Donald Smith is the one to take it over.”

Downing also said it’s exciting to keep the position in the family.

“Our family’s been fortunate to be associated with this place for a long time,” he said.

Smith said he’s hoping his transition into his new position is so smooth that students don’t notice it.

“All in all, the organization’s been working great since 1923, and I don’t have any wholesale changes that I have in mind,” he said.