Robert Downs, 91, of Oelwein passed away Tuesday, March 7, 2023, at the Buchanan County Health Center in Independence.Visitation will be from 3-6 p.m. on Sunday, March 12, at the Geilenfeld-Buehner Funeral Home in Oelwein. Hawkeye apparel if you wish!
Funeral services will begin at 11 a.m. on Monday, March 13, at Grace United Methodist Church in Oelwein with the Rev. Rick Johnson officiating. Inurnment will be at Woodlawn Cemetery in Oelwein at a later date.
Robert Eugene Downs was born in Titonka, Iowa on Jan. 10, 1932, to parents Charles and Ethel (Bowker) Downs. Bob Downs found his true love for sports early in life playing junior legion and high school baseball as a youth. After graduating high school, he attended Morningside College Mankato State College and Drake University. While attending Morningside (College) in Sioux City, he played on the freshman basketball team, as well. But when spring came it was all about baseball. Bob played baseball two years and in the summer of 1950 signed a professional baseball contract with the Brooklyn Dodgers. He went back to Morningside for a semester and then showed up at the Dodgers spring training in Florida. He played ball during the summer of 1951 season and followed the same routine in 1952.He once noted his greatest accomplishment on the diamond was getting a base hit off of Satchel Paige, in an exhibition game against the former St. Louis Browns major league team in Centralia, Illinois in 1952. He played for six different ball clubs during those two years.
Bob transferred to Mankato State Teachers College where he graduated. He played varsity basketball and baseball while attending there, going on to a teaching and coaching position at Minburn in 1955. He married his college sweetheart Nancy Schmillen on Aug. 11, 1956, in St. James, MN. While at Minburn for four years, he took a team to the state tournaments in 1958-59.
Bob’s teaching and coaching career continued at Manning for three years, taking the 1961 basketball team to the state tournament. He continued to play semi-pro and amateur baseball through the 1959 season in the Western Minny, in Minnesota, and the Iowa State League with Bancroft and Mason City.
They then moved to Oelwein where he taught and coached 32 years. He assisted in football and was the varsity boys basketball coach for 14 more years. He began coaching the boys golf team in 1969 and continued with that assignment until retiring 26 years later. Bob taught boys physical education, junior high social studies, accounting, typing and recordkeeping. Throughout his basketball coaching career, he garnered 163 wins, 118 losses, with a team finishing first or second in conference 11 of 14 years.
During summers, Bob worked as a crop hail adjuster for insurance companies a total of 41 seasons. He also spent many leisure hours after retirement with his family at their resort home on Leech Lake, at Walker, Minnesota.
Bob was a lifelong Iowa Hawkeye fan and enjoyed attending many basketball and football games. Over the years, he had amassed 525 ticket stubs and traveled 91,000 miles going to Hawkeye games. He was rarely seen without some item of Hawkeye clothing on.
Left to celebrate Robert’s life are his wife, Nancy; his three children, Debbie Downs of Oelwein, David (Debbie) Downs of Casa Grande, Arizona, and Cathy (Shane) Clark of LaPorte City; his eight grandchildren, Ryan Bender (Maribel), Courtney (Wally) Woodson, Chris (Sara) Downs, Carrie (David) Onofrychuk, Brad Miller (Abby), Sam Pirillo, Aidyn Clark and Libby Clark; seven great-grandchildren; brother-in-law and sister-in-law, Frank and Debbie Schmillen; sister-in-law Agnes Downs; numerous nieces and nephews; his AFS daughters, Emiko Murakami-Kasai and Sari Mutka; his dog Mollee, and a host of friends and former students.
He was preceded in death by his parents; his daughter Denise Downs; and his brother Richard Downs.
One of Bob’s favorite quotes: “If it’s free, it’s advice; if you pay for it, it’s counseling; if you can use either one, it’s a miracle. True happiness in life can only be attained when you are doing something you truly love to do, the things that you were born to do.”
In lieu of flowers, memorials may be directed to the family for later designation.