Reprinted with permission from the March – April 2010 issue of The Fourth R.
Always on Track
Glenn Downing is a man who follows his interests with a deep, penetrating analytical passion. Take his fascination with trains.
As a small boy in Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, he was often found at switching yards a couple of blocks from his home, watching the movement of the trains. All he wanted for Christmas was an electric train. When he received an American Flyer, he spent countless hours running it.
Glenn’s thesis for his master’s degree in economics at the University of Michigan was The Problems of Losses with Passenger Trains. This helped him land his first job with Norfolk and Western Railway in Roanoke, Virginia, and later a job with L. E. Peabody & Associates, in Alexandria, Virginia, an economic consulting firm specializing in railroads. He and a friend eventually took over the firm, and he became the executive vice president. After a highly satisfying and successful 30-year run, he retired in the early ‘90s but continues to consult with former clients.
During his time at Peabody, Glenn started a short-line railroad in Illinois—Kankakee, Beaverville and Southern Railroad—which still runs today. He also had a hand in establishing three other railroads. And his fascination with trains continues. “I love to feel the throb of a diesel locomotive, to hear a railroad whistle, to smell the smoke of a steam engine, and to watch a train wind its way through a canyon and across a bridge,” he said. After a recent Westar meeting in Salem, Oregon, Glenn and his wife, Mary, took off to “chase trains” in the West. The Downings even renovated their home to better accommodate Glenn’s extensive train layout.
Glenn’s quest to understand the historical Jesus began in his Unitarian church, where he studied the Bible intensively, even starting to write a book called Letters from Thaddeus. In 1998 he joined an archeological dig sponsored by the University of South Florida focused on the city of Sepphoris, a booming metropolis adjacent to Nazareth in Jesus’ time. He participated in that dig for about ten years, spending between five and ten weeks in Israel each summer.
It was about the same time that Glenn learned of the Jesus Seminar. He began by attending Jesus Seminars on the Road, and those experiences sold him. He next found himself attending a semi-annual meeting in Santa Rosa, and he has attended at least one session each year since then. “I was totally taken with the collegial approach to scholarly issues. It was part of a long quest for me for religious and ethical values. I had found a home,” he said. “Westar has become my church.”
His enthusiasm and generosity soon brought him to the attention of Westar’s Board of Directors, and he was invited to join the Board in 2008. There he has already distinguished himself by applying his penetrating, analytical skills and his passion to help Westar and Polebridge Press meet their financial challenges.