John Vincent steps down as historical society president

DOWNEY - After 27 years at the helm, longtime resident and community leader John Vincent is stepping down as president of the Downey Historical Society. "It was time for me to leave long before this," said Vincent who took off his WWII veteran cap and slid on a navy blue beret with a 'past president' pin attached to it. "The presidency is supposed to change every year, but it was impossible to find someone to fill the position...I enjoyed every year though."

After serving in the Pacific during WWII, Vincent, a Wisconsin native, settled in Downey where he became a poet and educator, leading the science department at Santa Fe High School.

An active member of the Historical Society since April 1982, Vincent was pivotal in helping to preserve the Rives Mansion and the old McDonald's on Florence Avenue when the site was set for demolition.

"History, they say, repeats itself," said Vincent with a smirk. "But if you don't save something, you don't know if it repeats or not."

Vincent believes his greatest achievement is the relocation and restoration of the historic Dismukes House.

Before the Historical Society took possession of the house, it was set to be demolished to make way for a parking lot. Under Vincent's leadership, the Historical Society raised more than $5000 to restore the Dismukes home to its original condition.

After its move to Apollo Park, the Downey Historical Society spent nearly six years reconstructing the Dismukes house, which is opened occasionally today for tour groups who desire to remember Downey's past. In addition to his preservation work with the Historical Society, Vincent also served as president of the Downey Rose Float Association three different years, winning two trophies during his tenure.

Over the last 30 years, Vincent has also supported the Rotary Club of Downey, Assistance League of Downey, Downey Kiwanis Club, Downey Chamber of Commerce, and Downey Cemetery.

Vincent will be succeeded by Downey native Bob Thompson, who officially assumed the top spot two weeks ago.

"I have big shoes to fill, I still need John's help, but hopefully I'll do a good job," said Thompson, who was encouraged by other society members to take the job. "I thought, 'why not, I love Downey - here I am.'"

Thompson says he plans to continue Vincent's legacy by focusing on recruiting new members and encouraging young people to get involved in Downey history.

Vincent, who will celebrate his 92nd birthday on Aug. 12, is now known as President Emeritus of the Historical Society, but he prefers a more humble title.

"I'm just one of the workers now," said Vincent who will continue attending monthly meetings and helping visitors inside the Downey History Center. "Once it's over, history is all we have. If we wish to look back, we'll be fortunate someone has kept the stuff in the family and the community."

********** Published: July 4, 2013 - Volume 12 - Issue 12