Naming honors cement a leader’s legacy

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GREENFIELD — Kathy Dowling was given less than 10 days to live last month when she checked into the hospital with kidney failure.

Well-known for her ability to beat the odds, she returned back to her Greenfield home two weeks later, after having a lumbar catheter inserted into her spine and heart to remove fluids.

Shortly after that, she got the news that not one but two Greenfield facilities were being renamed in her honor — the Riley Park Swimming Pool and the board room at the Greenfield-Central Educational Services Center, 700 N. Broadway St.

The naming honors indicate the high level of respect Dowling has established among colleagues throughout her lifetime of serving the community. They also reflect two of her main passions — aquatics and education.

Dowling has served on both the Greenfield-Central School Board and the Greenfield Parks Board since 2011. She started her third term for each this past January.

“Kathy is an extremely valuable member to this board,” said school board president Dan Brown. “Even going through numerous surgeries and illnesses, she would very rarely miss a meeting, even taking calls or texts from her hospital bed.”

Dowling, who one friend described as “the Energizer bunny,” seems to just keep going, despite the odds.

“The doctor who gave me nine days to live last month was the same one who gave me a month to a year to live last May. I keep surpassing my expiration date,” Dowling said with a chuckle, as a friend drove her home from a dialysis treatment last week.

It’s Dowling’s tenacity and inner strength, as well as her compassion and generosity, that makes her such a revered member of the community, said Ellen Kuker, Greenfield parks superintendent.

“Kathy has always had such a heart for this community, and has given so much back over the years,” said Kuker, who has worked closely with Dowling through the parks board.

Most recently, Dowling served on the task force to renovate the Riley Park Swimming Pool in 2019; and the committee to create the Splash Pad in 2018.

“She was instrumental in bringing both those projects to fruition,” said Kuker, who will take part in a ceremony July 22 to rename the city pool in Dowling’s honor.

It’s a fitting tribute for a woman who has shown a lifelong passion for aquatics, which can be traced to her days as a young girl, swimming nearly all day at the original Riley Park swimming pool.

The daily summertime ritual started when she was around 8 years old, when she and her friends would ride their bikes down to the pool, which was then an above-ground pool in Riley Park where the basketball courts are now located.

“We’d go when they’d open then swim all day until they closed for dinner from 5 to 6, then we’d go home and have dinner and come back to swim until they closed around 9 o’clock,” said Dowling, who would later be a lifeguard and teach swim lessons at the pool. Her love of aquatics also eventually led to her becoming a diving coach at Greenfield-Central High School.

She also developed swim programs for those with special needs.

During her long career as an educator, Dowling served at Greenfield-Central High School as a teacher, coach and journalism adviser before serving as a school counselor, director of counseling and dean of students.

She continues to give back as a member of the school board.

At the June 14 board meeting, the board passed a resolution renaming the conference room where the school board meets in Dowling’s honor. Her name was among a list of many other longtime educators and administrators, but Superintendent Harold Olin said Dowling’s name rose above the rest.

“She truly has a heart of gold and is in (education) for all the right reasons: the kids,” Brown said last week. Kathy loves kids and has always looked out for and counseled numerous kids throughout the years. The board and I wanted to do something special to honor her.”

Dowling, who abstained from voting, told the board she was humbled by the decision.

“There are a lot of people they could name these things after. I’m really, really blessed,” said Dowling, who is determined to continue serving the community she loves for as long as she can.

“I don’t think God’s quite done with me yet,” she said.