Don Williamson named Middleville’s Hometown Hero
Cathy and Don Williamson have been involved in the community for many years.
Don Williamson's friends know him as a quiet man - not one to boast or talk about all he's done for the community. He values honesty and trustworthiness, takes pride in his community and family and is more than willing to take an active role to give back to his community and his school.
Those qualities and his continued service to the community and Thornapple Kellogg Schools made him an easy choice to be named this year's Hometown Hero by the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation.
Williamson said he's honored and surprised by the recognition.
"It's a nice honor, and I'm very proud to be following some big leaders in the community," he said.
His commitment and pride are obvious in many ways – love for his family, his community and his local school district, according to a press release from TAEF. Williamson has left a considerable impact on all, but talks mostly about giving back to Thornapple Kellogg Schools.
"Giving back to Thornapple Kellogg was very high on my list of priorities. I always thought of school as a second home. People there have been good mentors and helped guide me to what I've been able to do," he said.
Williamson moved to Middleville from Grand Rapids when he was in the third grade and said it was the first time he really felt comfortable in school.
"There [Grand Rapids] it felt like it was survival, and then when we moved here, I felt like it was home – and just a good place to be."
"I found a family in the school; teachers who cared enough to take you aside and deal with you as a friend and help you," he said. "I hope it is still that way. This is a good place to raise a family and feel like you belong."
He's most proud of his role as a founding member and the first president of the Thornapple Kellogg Alumni Association, formed about three years ago.
"To watch it grow in such a short time is my reward," he said. "I've used this district for myself as a place to grow up, but I've put back into it as well. It's called giving back."
This spring, the alumni association will award the first TK Alumni Association scholarship. As one of 49 members of the TK Class of 1957, Williamson also has been instrumental in establishing and awarding the Class of '57 Scholarship every year. He and his wife, Cathy, also started their own art scholarship awarded annually through the Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation.
He's been a member of the Middleville Rotary Club, Lions Club, Lincoln Meadows Senior Living board, Thornapple Arts Council and Thornapple Area Enrichment Foundation, serving as president of each organization at some point. He also served 20 years on the TK Board of Education and was able to hand each of his four children their diplomas.
Williamson received the TK Distinguished Alumni honor and is proud of the alumni association receiving the Community Partner Award by the Barry Community Foundation.
He said he will be forever grateful to the school and community. He volunteers every year to be part of the career fair at Page Elementary School and talks to students about finding their passion and meaningful careers. He tells them about his former high school art teacher, Edna Bender, who strongly encouraged him to pursue an art degree.
After high school, Williamson began eight years of service with the Army Reserves while also attending Kendall College of Art and Design. He earned a fine arts degree and later a master's degree in fine arts from Western Michigan University. After working nine years in advertising and marketing, he returned to Kendall to become a professor and then later served as the dean of faculty for 29 years.
His art teacher wasn't the only one he remembers playing a large role in his life. During high school, Williamson was a decorated athlete, earning four varsity letters each in baseball and track and three each in football and basketball. Major League scouts visited to watch him play, and he eventually signed with the Detroit Tigers organization, playing with the Sullivans in the Grand Rapids City Majors, a Minor League team.
"My coach, Bob White, was a very important mentor," he said. "And there were many others."
While he's been retired for several years, Williamson said art is still a big part of his life.
"Painting or drawing every day is high on my list of me being me," he said. "I paint for myself mostly. I give some of my paintings away and sell a few."
His "man cave " in the basement of his home is filled with art supplies, paintings he's working on and several he's already completed. He teaches art through TK's community education programs and offers private lessons from time to time. His grandchildren each have a box of memories they've created with him over the years.
Williamson’s most visible art is “The Reclaimed Spirit” sculpture and park in front of McFall Elementary. It stands as a lasting tribute to the former high school that was located on the site. The design features a curved walkway representing the Thornapple River and the sculpture made from bricks of the old school shows the path from the past to the future.
He also enjoys going to art shows and playing golf regularly.
He and his wife have four grown children – Melinda Cutlip, Don Williamson Jr., Stacey Willshire and Ken Williamson – and six grandchildren. All of his children graduated from TK, and his grandchildren either graduated from or are attending TK Schools now.
Cathy Williamson worked in real estate for 30 years and was named the Michigan Realtor of the year in 1983. She served as a Barry County commissioner and was director of the Barry County United Way for five years.
Don Williamson will be honored at the TAEF Hometown Hero dinner Thursday, Sept. 19. The dinner will be at the Barry Community Enrichment Center, 231 S. Broadway, Hastings. Tickets are $35 per person. A cash bar will open at 5:30 p.m. with dinner served at 6:30 p.m. Reservations may be made through the Barry County Chamber of Commerce online at http://bit.ly/HTHTAEF. More information can be provided by calling Kristen Cove, 269-838-0424, or emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.