17Strong seems to be building increasing momentum, with more neighborhoods holding regular meetings to discuss things happening in their areas, and ways to improve things.
“We seem to be getting some real, real interest generated, and in two or three years, if I think somebody was as eager as it as I am, I would gladly begin to wean myself from PROTOCOL also, but for now I’m content to do it,” Downie said. “We’ve got the Lindenwald Civic Association starting up.”
Jane Curry, co-owner and instructor at Kensho Traditional Shotokan Karate, who also operates a nearby gift shop, has been a leader of that effort. Duff Carpentry recently has helped launch a Lindenwald litter patrol. People have been planting flowers along the Lindenwald business district.
“It really boosted the look of the neighborhood,” Downie said.
“I’m feeling good about some of the interest that’s been generated,” said Downie, a 1968 Badin High School graduate (with a bachelor’s degree in psychology from the University of Cincinnati) who has worked in the greenhouse business most of his life. Although retired, he still works for A.J. Rahn in Cincinnati.
Joan Stidham, who lives downtown and represents the city’s urban neighborhoods on the 17Strong board, said, “Frank Downie exemplifies the mission of 17Strong, and has done so even before the organization existed. It’s all about the power of the people in the neighborhoods.”
Frank Downie is stepping down from 17 Strong board but not from supporting Lindenwald and the city of Hamilton. NICK GRAHAM / STAFF
Credit: Nick Graham
Credit: Nick Graham
A Skeptical Start
Downie started his journey to improve Lindenwald and the city as someone who was skeptical of city government.
Brandon Saurber, who now is the city’s director of neighborhoods and a Hamilton spokesman, asked him to become involved in a city-improvement effort that then was known as Sense of Place, first suggested by the then-new city manager, Joshua Smith.
“I met him (Saurber) a few hours after he was born,” Downie said. “I’m real good friends with his Mom and Dad, and when he first went to work for the city, Joshua threw out this thing that one of the pillars upon which he was going to try to rebuild the city was neighborhood connections,” Downie said.
Saurber called him, and noted Lindenwald, the city’s most populous neighborhood, argued Lindenwald could use a neighborhood organization.
Outside of the historic districts, Downie believes PROTOCOL was the first such group in the city.
“I’ll be real honest with you, I went to the first few meetings to kind-of humor him because I really thought politics was not my thing,” Downie said. “Then I began to see the difference between politics and civics — there’s a huge difference.”
He believes it was the first meeting, in about 2010 when he met Council Member Kathleen Klink, and he was impressed by her take-charge, dynamic personality. Sense of Place later transformed into the 17Strong effort, which has $50,000 annual funding. 17Strong distributes micro-grants that are dispersed among neighborhoods for improvements that can be made in them.
The biggest 17Strong accomplishment so far? Downie had to think about that for a while.
“I think we’ve helped residents and every neighbor better connect with its government,” he said. “I think we’re helping build trust in the government, because I don’t think a lot of people trust. I mean, I’ve gained a lot of trust in city government. I was kind of apathetic about it before. I didn’t care one way or another.”