Group honoring Champaign couple with philanthropy award

Group honoring Champaign couple with philanthropy award

CHAMPAIGN — A Champaign couple with a track record for generosity will be honored Thursday by the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois.

Dave Downey and Jane Hays will receive the Kyle and Phyllis Robeson Philanthropy Award at the foundation's annual Hearts of Gold gala.

This is the fourth year that the philanthropy award named for the Robesons, who were the inaugural recipients, will be given.

Downey is president and founder of the Downey Group, a Champaign-based provider of advanced life insurance products and related planning services. His wife, Hays, is the firm's managing director.

The foundation considers Hays and Downey to be standouts among community givers — generous with both their time and money — according to Joan Dixon, the foundation's president and CEO.

"We kind of look for that broad philanthropy throughout Illinois," she said.

For the United Way of Champaign County, Downey and Hays have been donors, advisers and leaders, always willing to step up when help is needed, according to United Way President and CEO Sue Grey.

Downey and Hays are among a handful of recipients of the United Way's lifetime giving awards, given only to $250,000-plus donors, and both have led annual United Way fundraising drives, she said.

"They have probably volunteered at every level," she said.

Two of a kind

Hays and Downey both hold undergraduate and law degrees from the University of Illinois.

They knew each other professionally for years before Hays went to work for Downey's business, and they were married eight years ago. Each has three grown children.

Downey is a native of Canton who has served as president of his own business for more than a half-century. In addition to his work with the Downey Group, he has been a frequent speaker at professional meetings and has held seminars nationally and internationally.

Hays is a native of Champaign and a former partner in the Champaign law firm of Thomas, Mamer & Haughey. She joined the Downey Group 25 years ago and has worked in all aspects of the business.

Both she and her husband have served extensively in the local community and beyond.

Downey is a life member of the University of Illinois Foundation board and serves as a board member for First Busey Corp. and The News-Gazette.

He is also a former member of the UI College of Business Board of Overseers, the Illinois Board of Higher Education, the UI Board of Trustees and the UI Athletic Board.

Hays is a former board member of the State Universities Retirement System of Illinois. She currently serves on the boards of Delta Dental of Illinois and the Delta Dental of Illinois Foundation, the Illinois Board of Higher Education and the Illinois Humanities Council.

She's also a member of the Dean's Advisory Committee at the UI College of Law, the Investment Committee of the American Dental Association Foundation, Promise Healthcare's development committee and University Laboratory High School's advisory board.

Giving back

Downey was a star basketball player at the UI, and he continues to hold the single-game scoring record with 53 points, set in 1963. He came from a poor family, but he was blessed with a mother who read to him, athletic skills and a gift for relating to audiences.

When he left for college, his mother marked a passage in a Bible he brought along to remind him much is expected from those given a lot. He hasn't forgotten that.

"Many of us are blessed, and we need to share our blessings," he said.

Downey encourages sharing locally.

"This is where we live," he said. "I think if everybody paid attention to their own hometown, we'd all be better off."

Clients of the Downey group are encouraged to consider the legacies they want to leave, not just their financial ones, Hays said. She and Downey believe it's also important for people to pass on their values.

Several years ago, she started a family donor-advised fund with the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois. This type of fund gives donors a hand in selecting the charities that receive the money, and Hays said she has given her kids the annual task of researching charities and making their suggestions during the holiday season.

"The purpose was to get my children engaged, think about community needs and feel good about giving," she said.

Community engagement is important even for those living in Champaign-Urbana just temporarily, Hays said.

"I really want people to realize as long as they're here, this is their home, and consider giving to the community while they're here," she said.

While it's a great community, Champaign-Urbana also has a lot of needs, Hays said.

"I feel fortunate to live in this wonderful university community," she said. "So I don't want to take it for granted."

Good as gold

Seven philanthropists will be honored at the Community Foundation of East Central Illinois' fourth annual Hearts of Gold gala, set for Thursday at the Champaign Country Club. Chosen for Heart of Gold awards:

— Mohammad Al-Heeti
— Charles Cowger
— Donna Mayer
— Cesar M’Nyampara
— Vickie Tolf