Guest Column: Two decades of service to Winters

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By Woody Fridae, former Mayor of Winters
Special to the Express

Rotary is an organization that serves the needs of its local and international communities.  As such, the Rotary Club of Winters wanted to have a formal party to celebrate the years of service that John Donlevy dedicated both as the City Manager, and as a member of our club.  Because of Covid-19 precautions, we were not able to have a large gathering.

I wonder if the readers of the Express understand the depth of Mr. Donlevy’s service to our community.  You may have seen him on the soccer field as a dedicated referee or at the Rotary breakfast on Youth Day making pancakes,  but he has helped Winters in countless other ways. I am writing this in honor of his dedication to Winters for nearly two decades.

I served on the City council with John for twelve of those years, and can attest to the huge number of projects.  I will only list a few here:

When he arrived in Winters, it was at the corner of Main and Railroad where John Donlevy started to make “base hits,” as he likes to call them.  He wanted to start making a difference in small ways first and then on to bigger ways later.  These “base hits” included:

·         Downtown Revitalization projects

·         Community Center Amphitheater renovations of Rotary park,

·         The trestle bridge,

·         Façade improvement program of downtown and the, antique lighting

As the townsfolk saw the successes, people started to believe that change could happen, so he starting going for bigger, “home run” projects that required public/private partnerships.  To build on prior successes, it required a revitalization of personnel and a belief that City Hall could really get things done.  Here are a few of the projects that the City Council, public agencies, and private investors were able to accomplish under John’s leadership:

·         Built North Bank bike/pedestrian trails of Putah Creek

·         Secured two California Redevelopment Grants, over $40M in improvements, including:

·         Secured $11M in Water and sewer renovations and expansion that saved a decaying infrastructure,

·         Installed new pump number 7

·         Planned for and secured funding and land for the new Public Safety Facility.

·         Oversaw construction of new vehicle bridge replacing the old one that had been condemned for years

·         Began 24/7 Fire service and Paramedic Ambulance service

·         Built new Bobbi Greenwood Swim Center

·         Organized After School Child Care Program

·         Convinced PG&E to build gas training facility here

·         Partnered with other agencies to develop Putah Creek realignment project

·         Planned for the Downtown Hotel

·         Helped establish Winters Health Care Center

It’s hard to tell where John’s passion for the City of Winters as his profession ends, and his passion for doing good works through Rotary begins.  During his time in Rotary, he put his heart into many projects, including:

·         President in 2005

·         Past President 2006

·         Club reassessment project and visioning project

·         Youth Day Breakfast Coordinator

·         Two community garden projects

·         Playground cleanup projects

·         Senior Citizen helping hands project

·         Library painting project

· Planting and watering oak trees at the I505 interchange

· Installation of the Rotary Clock on Railroad and Main

· High School Track renovation

· Shirley Rominger Sports improvement project

As International Service Coordinator, he took our desire to help others and expanded our local Rotary club’s reach to make a huge, worldwide impact:

· John came up with the $20 a week program  (instead of the usual $15 weekly lunch cost) that made it easier for our Rotary Club to support a variety of International Service projects such as LN4 Hands (inexpensive ,artificial hands for victims of landmines), wheelchairs for immobile children and adults, “Rotoplast” surgery for cleft palate deformities, Malaria and Polio Eradication, and clean water projects around the world.

· In John’s tenure as our Polio Eradication Chair, John helped Rotary International reduce Polio’s stranglehold from occurring in dozens of countries and hundreds of thousands of cases down to a few dozen cases left in this world in only two countries now.

· John helped coordinate two big projects in Tanzania, leveraging over $100,000 to build a girls’ school and adult Occupational Training Center, and clean water wells

· He participated in a hands-on project, going to Mexico to install a water reclamation project and garden for the “Casa de Misericordia” school for unaccompanied minors in Nogales, Mexico.

· John has been the all-around-guy-to-call when you need help, from schlepping tables and chairs, to just needing the keys to the storage bin. He is usually the first to arrive and the last to leave when there is work to do. He is the guy to call to get the project done.

And on a personal note, John was my sponsor into Rotary, and I have to say that in many ways, it was the kind of religion I had always been looking for, but never found.  It changed my life and for that I am forever grateful. He made serving the local and international communities seem like FUN!

John Donlevy has made a tremendous impact on Winters, and his shoes will be hard to fill. His tenure was not without controversy, but he was the guy I wanted on my side when I wanted to get something done. As a personal friend, I appreciate his leadership and his can-do outlook.

John, we will miss you.

Best of luck to you.

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