The Essence of a Gentleman: Alumnus Donald Pomfrey Remembered

Don Pomfrey’s senior photo and listing from the 1954 yearbook.

A phrase used most often about Donald Pomfrey was “a true gentleman.”  A member of the Class of ’54, he excelled in so many areas that honoring his memory adequately is a challenge. His service and dedication to the school and the alumni association were a major part of his legacy, but his unwavering strength of character is also worthy of praise and respect. Don died August 16, ‘21, at age 85.

Three traits that Don was widely known for were loyalty, dedication and integrity.

When the Pomfrey family moved from Vermont to Painesville, Don was only 10, but accounts he gave of his years at Madison Avenue School attest to how quickly he adapted to his new home. One of his favorite stories was about how he and his friends wanted to form a basketball team at the school. A coach was needed, and the fellows “drafted” an enthusiastic teacher, Martha Goodwin, to lead them. Martha later became a teacher at Riverside, and Don delighted in telling stories about how good she was to HER team.

However, Don’s love of his birth state never waned. It became somewhat of a joke among his friends about how he would insist that Ohio maple syrup in no way compared to the real Vermont

syrup. After visits to his birth state, he gifted many friends with jars of the “best stuff” to prove his point.

After finishing high school, Don enlisted in the Army in ‘55 and was transferred to Arizona and Fort Knox. Loyalty to his country was deeply ingrained in him, but he had an inherent humility and talked about service to his country only when it was mentioned by someone else.

Don attended Kent State University for a while but soon married and fathered three children, Bryan, Julie and Drew.  To support his family, he worked at Mentor Lumber, Georgia Pacific, P&M Supply, and Active Plumbing. He remained loyal to the many friends he made at the companies, and no doubt each fostered his interest, knowledge and work ethic directed toward “anything with wood.” He established Concord Cabinets Company and worked over 50 years, making customers’ kitchen and bathroom cabinets gorgeous works of functionality and beauty.

From the 1954 yearbook: Don Pomfrey is #28.

A loyalty to Riverside developed in Don immediately. He served as Senior Class president and Student Council president. He had natural athletic ability fostered by a love for the school. He was a star of RHS teams each year and lettered in football, baseball, basketball and track. He was a coach for Little League for several years, and what a role model he must have been. Of course, he remained a life-long enthusiast for all Cleveland sports teams.

Don Pomfrey at his induction into the RHS Hall of Fame.

Always humble about his abilities and inherent good looks, he tended to change the subject when anything like admiration came his way. He was an uncontested choice when the alumni association inducted him into its Hall of Fame, Athletic Division.

The loyalty Don demonstrated toward RHS remained a lifetime commitment to him, best illustrated by his activities with the alumni association. He was one of its earliest members, and his dedication to its efforts continued until health issues curtailed his participation. When membership in the association several years ago greatly declined, he remained steadfast, certain that it would someday revive.  He served as treasurer for many years, keeping extensive and flawless accounts that always balanced perfectly – such a model for so much dishonesty that seems rampant in today’s world.

The first several dozen ducks approach the finish line in the 2016 race, attended by Riverside and Harvey volunteers.

When several alumni members wanted to establish a fundraising program, with the major purpose being a scholarship fund, the collaborative Riv-Har Duck Race was born. It was decided that Harvey High School and Riverside alumni would take a passionate but friendly competition a different direction. Centered around the two Painesville schools’ football rivalry, proceeds from the Duck Race should be split evenly between the schools with several students from each awarded scholarships each year.

The Duck Race was a labor-intensive endeavor requiring dedication from both schools’ alumni associations. Ron Balogh, Harvey’s Alumni Association’s president, became half of the working team. Don and Ron became immediate “cheerleaders” for the investment in buying 1,000 rubber ducks, organizing the volunteers over the years, doing all record- keeping and advertising, supervising the event itself, and cleaning up. Huge blocks of work time occupied both men throughout each summer, but preparing and planning actually involved efforts year around.

Don’s image among his friends each spring was very much connected to the Duck Race.  Comments were made, such as, “He doesn’t look, walk or sound like a duck, but he sure is good at organizing a race.” His loyalty to the cause even extended to his much-loved pick-up truck, in which he transported race equipment to fundraisers and to the scene of the race on the Grand River. One dared not make disparaging comments about the duck ornament on the dashboard of his truck, either.

James Kalis, superintendent of the Riverside district had this to say about Don:

Don was an ardent supporter of the RHS district for decades. His legacy will continue because of his involvement in many programs. He was truly a gentleman, and he will be greatly missed. I extend condolences to his family.

A memory: Don often stopped at RHS to retrieve mail for the Alumni Association. He always found time to say hello to me. During one of the visits, we found ourselves in the gym. As we were walking, I picked up a stray basketball from the floor. I jokingly handed it to Don because I had heard he was quite the athlete back in the day. He started to shoot around the court and was knocking them down no matter where he was standing. Not bad for a guy who was nearly 80 at the time.

Don Pomfrey, 1954 yearbook.

The practical knowledge Don had gained during his early years also translated into the building of his unique home on Prouty Road. Every job that was possible for one man to do in construction, he did by himself at that home. He loved the creek that flowed through the backyard, and he enthusiastically watched the wildlife that came by.

“Integrity” is one of those words almost impossible to define because it involves so many characteristics of a person who represents it: honesty, kindness, generosity, strength in one’s convictions, determination to overcome life’s setbacks, dependability, and much more.  Perhaps it is best to simply say that most perceptive people recognize integrity in a person when confronted with it. Integrity is not the sum of what a person says or does; speech and actions are simply clues to the essence of a person. Don Pomfrey was a man of integrity because of what he was and how he lived.


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One Thought to “The Essence of a Gentleman: Alumnus Donald Pomfrey Remembered”

  1. Merralee Retallick

    Mrs. Reed – Thanks for doing such a great job of putting into words the numerous things that made Don Pomfrey such a great guy. I’ve known him since I was about 10 years old and have many fond memories of fishing trips and time spent shooting hoops or tossing around a baseball. He was a true class act and his passing leaves a big hole in the world.

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