Donald A. “Don” Dow Jr. is being remembered as a man of humor who worked tirelessly for the interests of generations of student-athletes throughout the Katahdin region and around Maine.
The Fort Fairfield native, who went on to become the longtime athletic administrator at Stearns High School in Millinocket, died at his home Monday after a period of declining health. He was 76.
“The impact Mr. Dow made on me and all of my classmates at Stearns High School left a great impression on all of us about how life is supposed to go,” said John Montgomery, a 1997 Stearns graduate who is the athletic director and dean of students at neighboring Schenck High School in East Millinocket.
Dow began his career in education at Harmony High School, where he taught English and Latin and coached baseball, girls basketball and cross-country.
He moved to Millinocket in 1967, and among his early achievements at Stearns was starting a cross-country team. Dow went on to teach English, Latin, civics, algebra, driver education and motorcycle education, and in 1978, he was appointed athletic director.
Dow spent the next quarter-century working in that post as well as contributing to numerous conference and statewide interscholastic athletic initiatives before retiring in 2003 for health reasons.
He was named the state’s athletic director of the year in 1990 and was a former president and associate executive director of the Maine Interscholastic Athletic Administrators Association. Dow received the MIAAA’s Martin Ryan Award of Excellence in 2015, and that organization’s annual scholarship program is named in his honor.
“To say he was an advocate for all student-athletes doesn’t come close to the truth when it came to what he stood for on behalf of Maine’s high school athletes,” said Gerry Durgin, a longtime friend who is the MIAAA executive director.
Dow served in various capacities in the Penquis League and was secretary-treasurer of the Little Ten Conference for 23 years. He was recognized by the Big East Conference for his contributions to that league and was the recipient of a Maine Track and Cross Country Coaches Association lifetime achievement award for track and field in 2003.
Dow was inducted into the Maine Sports Legends Hall of Honor in 2010 and the Maine Principals’ Association Hall of Excellence in 2017.
“Don had such a welcoming personality,” MPA executive director Dick Durost said. “He had such an appreciation for high school athletics and activities that he wanted everybody as an athletic administrator to have success and to be able to do the job with the minimum amount of problems and issues.”
Dow went about his life with a dedication to his profession amid an ever-present spirit of good humor, friends said.
“He was one of those guys who loved to have the stage,” Durgin said. “It didn’t matter where the venue was, if he could hold court he was more than willing to tell stories and embellish stories — and he has a million of them. Sometimes you heard the same ones over and over, but you always waited for it again because it was always told a bit differently the next time.
“Don made people smile. It could have been the governor or a logger from Millinocket, it didn’t matter who it was.”
Shortly after Montgomery graduated from Husson College in Bangor, Dow hired him as an assistant football and baseball coach at Stearns.
“He was the first one who gave me the opportunity to work in high school athletics,” Montgomery said. “Now I always think back on a lot of decisions that I make as an athletic director and think about decisions Mr. Dow had to make when he was our athletic director. I’d think, ‘How would Mr. Dow handle those types of situations?’”
Durgin and Dow met when both were young athletic administrators, Dow at Stearns and Durgin at Fryeburg Academy and later Gorham High School.
“Don was one of those guys who was easy to be drawn to because he was sort of like E.F. Hutton — when Don spoke everybody listened,” Durgin said.
Durgin watched as Dow dealt with striving to maintain top-level athletic opportunities for his students amid trying economic conditions as the paper industry that once dominated the Katahdin region began to disappear.
“I remember when the mill there first closed we took our gate receipts from a Gorham basketball game one night and sent them up there and said to do something positive for your kids, so Don got together with the coaches and took the kids out for pizza and tried to add a bit of sunlight to their day.
“He was the type of guy who it didn’t matter where it was or when, he’d always step up to the plate.”
Durgin and Dow often enjoyed their passion for the outdoors whether it was fishing, hunting or snowmobiling together, and Durgin appreciated the attention Dow and his wife of 55 years, Joyce, gave to the small-town life they shared.
“Four or five years ago they were hosting a drama festival at Stearns, and I was going up to stay with Don and Joyce,” Durgin said. “When I got there, she must have made 200 whoopie pies, and they just took them over to the school and donated them so the kids could make some money.
“Don was an integral part of that whole sense of community pride and community giving. I think he was one of those guys no one could say no to because you liked him and you knew that whatever he did it was to benefit kids.”
A celebration of Dow’s life will be held at 2 p.m. Sunday at the Stearns High School gymnasium. Gifts in his memory may be sent to the Stearns Athletic Boosters, care of Stearns High School, 199 State St., Millinocket, ME 04462.