September 6, 2001

Downing Days Time To Appreciate Some Of That Community's Finest

The annual Downing Appreciation Days scheduled for this weekend will allow area residents to travel to the small town just across the county line in Schuyler County to enjoy a weekend of fun.

The event also allows the Memphis Democrat to do a little something along the lines of the event's namesake, Appreciation Days, as each year a Downing couple is honored for their community service.

This year's deserving duo is Roberta and Ronnie Martin. They reside on the family farm just north of Downing.

Ronnie grew up in Winfield IA, before moving to the homestead in 1944.

Roberta was born north of Downing, then moved south of town when she was in third grade. She attended school in Downing before going to Coffee country school and ultimately graduated from Downing High School in the same class with Ronnie.

Ronnie has called Downing home ever since school, except for the three years he spent in the Army.

Roberta married Charles Sayre and moved to Eureka, IL, where she spent 30 years as the office manager for the city administrator. Charles died of cancer in 1978. She retired from the position and moved back to Downing soon after Charles's death. Her family, daughter Linda and son Stanley, still call Illinois home.

Some time after returning home to Downing Roberta became reacquainted with an old classmate, Ronnie, and in 1985 she married him.

Ronnie raises row crops and livestock on the farm and has called agriculture his occupation his entire life.

In addition to the two children in Illinois, there are also six grandchildren and two great-grandchildren to be spoiled by grandma and grandpa.

The couple has been a big force behind the Downing Appreciation Days as they ran the organization's food sales. They've retired from the full-time position but Roberta still handles all the ordering of the supplies for the event.

Both Ronnie and Roberta are very active in the Downing Baptist Church. Ronnie is a deacon of the church. They both work in the kitchen at the church as well as the nutrition site.

"They're just pretty handy people to have around," said Inez Shaw. "If someone needs a hand they are always willing to help out."

Roberta was quick to praise the handy work done by her husband, but Ronnie made it very clear the couple was most effective as a team.

"It's easy to do because we really like to do things for people and for the church so it doesn't seem like work," Ronnie said.

They have been volunteering at the nutrition site since 1988. Ronnie helped renovate the building when he took a month off from work at the farm to help. Roberta has been a board member for the group and helps deliver meals. She currently works coordinating the meal carriers during the week, scheduling deliveries and making other arrangements.

Roberta also serves as secretary/clerk, and served as treasurer previously before handing off the job to lighten the workload.

In her spare time she makes baby afghans for all the grandchildren. She currently is finishing up an afghan to be donated to the fire department as a raffle prize to help raise money for a new community building/fire station. That's especially fitting as the theme for this year's Downing Appreciation Days is a salute to volunteer firemen.

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