Former WKU president Downing dies at 89

Dero Downing, WKU’s fourth president

Jonathan Lintner

Dero Downing, WKU’s fourth president, died Monday at age 89 at the Centennial Medical Center in Nashville.

Visitation for Downing will be from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. and 4 p.m. to 8 p.m. Thursday at the Johnson-Vaughn-Phelps Funeral Home in Bowling Green. Funeral services will be at 9:30 a.m. Friday at the State Street United Methodist Church.

WKU has asked that contributions in Downing’s honor be made to the Dero and Harriet Downing Scholarship Fund in the College Heights Foundation at WKU.

A Fountain Run native, Downing served as WKU’s president from 1969-1979, when he was named president emeritus.

Current President Gary Ransdell said in a statement Tuesday that Downing “defined the personality” of WKU.

“The WKU spirit filled Dero Downing’s personal and professional life,” Ransdell said. “He lived it in everything he pursued.”

Downing became president of the College Heights Foundation and was inducted as a member of the WKU Hall of Distinguished Alumni in 1993.

He was his senior class president at WKU and played basketball for the late Ed Diddle, after which he joined the Navy and served during World War II.

When Downing was released from his Naval services in 1946 as a lieutenant, he began teaching math at WKU and eventually completed his master of arts degree in 1947.

Downing served as registrar, director of Admissions, dean of Business Affairs and vice president for Administrative Affairs before being named president.

He has five children, all of which are WKU graduates.

Deborah Wilkins, chief of staff and general counsel, said Tuesday that Downing was a “consumate gentleman.”

“That’s just the kind of guy he was — a very, very nice person,” Wilkins said. “He just loved Western with all his heart.”