Curator Don Downing recalls being crowned first Homecoming King
He was crowned in 1977.
Oct. 14, 2011
While students across campus are looking forward to the centennial Homecoming celebration, UM System Board of Curators member Don Downing is instead taken back 44 years to when he was nominated as MU’s first Homecoming King.
In 1977, Downing made history as the first MU student to earn the title.
Previously, MU had only ever elected a Homecoming Queen, but decided that year to join the small group of schools that also chose Kings. Downing said it was a new concept to the students on campus.
“No one had even heard of a Homecoming King before,” he said.
The Kappa Alpha Theta women’s fraternity originally nominated Downing. Then, every living unit was allowed to nominate a senior for the Homecoming court, including residence halls and Greek Life houses.
In the weeks following, Downing, along with four other finalists, had undergone multiple interviews with alumni, trips around the state to promote MU and a student vote. The announcement of Downing’s victory came at a breakfast at the Hearnes Center on the day of Homecoming.
For him, the achievement was worth more than just a crown.
“My father was there, and was very proud,” Downing said. “My mother had passed away the year before, and it made me proud to promote the school I cared about so much.”
A native of Kennett, Downing now works as an attorney in St. Louis. He said winning the title had an effect on the rest of his time at MU. He was involved in the Missouri Students Association, and after the nomination was asked to be the campaign manager for the next MSA presidential election. Later, Downing was appointed the Presidential Assistant of Student-Faculty Committees. He attributes part of his later success in MSA to his Homecoming victory.
“People knew me from Homecoming, and I don’t think I could have gotten the MSA job without it,” he said.
Since Downing’s election, much has changed with the Homecoming Royalty process.
Mizzou Alumni Association Director Todd McCubbin said candidates are no longer nominated from living units, but rather from student organizations. Instead of traveling the state to promote the university, the Homecoming finalists participate in many activities and service projects around campus. Now, the King and Queen are crowned during halftime of the football game.
Despite changes, some aspects remain the same.
“It’s a cornerstone tradition of the Homecoming celebration,” McCubbin said. “Royalty candidates proudly represent themselves, their campus organization and the university.”
Downing has witnessed these changes from a unique vantage point. He now serves on the UM System Board of Curators. Downing is working with the board to improve faculty salaries and obtain more research funds. He has two sons that attend the university and tries to make it to at least one football game a year.
Downing said he believes the tradition of Homecoming has been preserved extremely well. Although there might be more activities now, the structure is very much the same.
“The students are still proud of their school,” Downing said. “The school spirit is still alive and well.”