montrew dunham award recipient

2021: Dave Humphreys

The Downers Grove Historical Society announced Dave Humphreys was the recipient of the 2021 Montrew Dunham Award. This award was created in 2019 to honor those whose significant service and contributions to the Village of Downers Grove have earned them a place in its history, following in the footsteps of noted teacher, author, historian, and community volunteer, Montrew Dunham.

Humphreys, a Downers Grove native, said his involvement in music began early on. Both he and his sister, who became a music teacher, were encouraged to be musical. By age five, he was taking piano lessons. He studied cello in grade school, soon moved to string bass, and added percussion in high school. He and his musician friends played everything from the Classics to Jazz and Swing. By playing local gigs, they made decent money in high school, which meant they had to join the musicians’ union as teenagers. Humphreys, himself, did so well, he was able to pay for most of his expenses at Oberlin College by using his musical gifts.

His mother, Mary Ann Humphreys, was involved with the D.G. Music Club, and along with Thelma Roe Milnes (mother of famed opera star Sherrill Milnes) and Donald Drew, co-founded the D.G. Oratorio (now Choral) Society, giving Humphreys an upfront look at great musical talent and the spirit of volunteerism. His family also enjoyed song fests at the Milnes’ farm just south of town almost every Sunday night as he grew up.
Right out of college, Humphreys was offered a position at IBM; he retired from there after 27 years of leading marketing activities for technical sales to large corporate customers (1965-‘91).  During that time, though, he continued playing music professionally and began producing concerts and festivals.

More importantly, graduating from college marked the real beginning of Dave’s life of com-munity service. During his IBM career and after retirement, Humphreys spent and continues to spend his free time as a “Music Enabler,” as he describes it, and community volunteer. His list of current activities, past achievements, contributions to the community and awards he’s received is long and impressive. One role for which he is especially well-known had its inception while he was still in college. That is his creating and running the Two Way Street Coffee House in his hometown.

At Oberlin, he’d found a local coffee house that was a welcoming place where he could listen to music and spend time with friends. He also developed a special affinity for Folk Music,  having had what he described as a “life-changing experience” when he went to a Pete Seeger concert and was later able to jam on string bass with Seeger at the reception that followed. This experience strengthened his love of folk music.

When Humphreys returned home in the mid-’60s at the height of the Vietnam War, he saw a need for a place where teens and young people could go for the music and socializing with a live-and-let-live vibe…and where communication would be a “two-way street.”

In 1970, coordinating with then-Mayor Freibert, Downers Grove youth officer Lou Fulgaro, and the County Health Department, along with the support of the First Congregational United Church of Christ, *(hereafter simply referred to as “the First Congregational Church”), of which Humphreys is a lifelong member, he established the Two Way Street Coffee House in a room in the church’s basement.

Humphreys scheduled the acts and served as master of ceremonies and host. The coffee house became a success and has continued to thrive through supporting folk music, and has put Downers Grove on the map; Two Way Street is a nationally known and sought-after venue for both developing and experienced folk artists.  Not surprisingly, Two Way Street was where Downers Grove guitar player Muriel Anderson had her first paying gig, which helped launch her career as an internationally-known American fingerstyle guitarist and harp guitarist.

Humphreys handed over the running of the Coffee House to his successor in 2017, just 3 years short of the venue’s 50th anniversary, and is pleased that it continues to thrive.

While the venue continues to build on its music history, at the time it was founded, it was more than just a place to play or hear music; “it provided human services, such as counseling, plus legal, medical, and financial assistance,” Humphreys explained.

Humphreys has always had the desire to help anyone in need of help, including those members of the population who have mental health issues. In fact, he served as President of the Mental Health Advisory Committee for DuPage County from 1976-‘78, and as President of the DuPage County Board of Health from 1980 to ‘84.

That is by far not his only experience serving on the board of some worthy enterprise. One other example is his having served since 1993 as a trustee for the Downers Grove Library Board, and in the role of Secretary from 2016 to the present. Humphreys takes these responsibilities very seriously; for example, the library is one of the Village’s respected and award-winning resources, and he feels that, for the benefit of its patrons, it is deserving of the very best management and staff.

He also has been one of the producers of Downers Grove’s Heritage Festival, from 1982 to 2009. This annual music, food, and arts festival attracted over 100,000 visitors annually. As an active member of the Rotary Club, he has, beginning in 2010, served and continues to serve as the music producer for the Downers Grove Rotary GroveFest, which replaced Heritage Festival.

Meantime, he is the Rotary Club Music Scholarship Program administrator and presents awards at the Downers Grove Music Club’s annual Piano Festival/Competition. In addition, he served on the Village’s Community Events Commission from 1987-2020 and was its Chair from 2002-‘05 and 2017-‘20.  Moreover, he was an active participant in the Village-wide Total Community Development I (TCD I) and TCD II task forces which focused on Economic Development and Tourism in his hometown and was a member of the Community Arts Center Task Force, 1992-‘93, and Performing Arts Center Study Commission, 2003-‘05.

Humphreys furthermore was on the Village’s Community Grants Commission, 1994-2009, which included a stint as Chair, 1994-2005. He was part of the Mayor’s Youth Conference in 1976, the Hotel Tax Advisory Board from1990 to ’93, plus was on its replacement, the Visitors Advisory Board, from 1993-’95, and on the Visitors Bureau Board of Directors, 1995-2001.

His involvement with the First Congregational Church includes his currently holding a part-time staff position as Community Liaison. He has also served as a Youth Advisor, 1966-’72, plus 2018 to the present. As the leader of the Joyful Noise Ecumenical Youth Ministry, 1967-’71, he oversaw the group’s performing/study tour of Europe in 1969. Other church-related music ministry work involved several choirs and included his playing string bass.

He is active in many of the church’s Mission and Justice activities, “with an emphasis on peace, farmworker and immigration justice, anti-racism, and support and justice for marginalized and underserved persons,” Humphreys explained. He helps represent his church in the activities of DuPage United, “a non-partisan group which engages in democratic action in such public initiatives as seeking justice for mentally ill offenders, reducing gun violence, and increasing the availability of low-income housing,” he further commented.

Humphreys has also been helpful in assisting food-and-housing-insecure people, which includes his involvement with his church’s recently-established partnership in the Community Kitchen initiative.

His additional church work has included buildings and grounds management, endowment oversight, and serving on the UCC Fox Valley Association Committee on Ministry.  He has been on at least seven Search Committees, interviewing applicants for positions ranging from minister to organist and music director, and he serves as Parliamentarian and Constitution/By-Law consultant and editor.

Humphreys’ humanitarian work includes mission trips to Europe, South Africa, Puerto Rico, Israel, and Palestine, as well as to Texas, California, and Florida in the U.S. One purpose of the multi-generational trip to South Africa was to work with children and adults affected by HIV and AIDS.

Another social issue of which Humphreys is supportive is LGBTQ+ rights. He helped host a PFLAG group in Downers Grove to support LGBTQ+ persons, families and allies, and holds a leadership position in EQDG Pride (EQuality Downers Grove), which “creates an accepting and equitable environment for LGBTQ+ people through education, support, social action, and advocacy,” Humphreys explained. Working with EQDG Pride, he is helping to bring a Youth Outlook Drop-in Center for LGBTQ+ youth to Downers Grove this Fall.

Not surprisingly, Humphreys has received numerous awards over the years in a variety of areas; these range from music and entertainment to civic and humanitarian ones. In 1997, he received the Citizen of the Year Award through the Chamber of Commerce for his efforts in government, social service, peace, and environmental and social justice organizations, and he was honored in 1999 with the Studs Terkel Humanities Service Award from the Illinois Humanities Council, for “improving cultural understanding through music and art.” In 2009, he was given a Distinguished Alumni Award from Downers Grove North High School.

In 1990, he helped found the music-business organization Folk Alliance International, and served on its board of directors, 1997-2003,  as treasurer, 1998-2000, and then as president from 2000 to ‘02. In 2005, the Midwest Region of the group honored him with a Lifetime Achievement Award; the Spirit of Folk Award from the parent organization FAI was bestowed upon him in 2010. Humphreys was also the inaugural recipient of the “Woody” Award at the Woodstock Folk Festival in 2018. Not surprisingly, he also has been a member and on the board of the Plank Road Folk Music Society since 1985.

Meantime, he continues to work as an independent music producer of concerts, festivals, and events throughout the U.S. and Canada, but, thankfully, still finds time to jam occasionally, as well as camp and hike in the Canadian Rocky Mountains. Humphreys also enjoys watching Cubs games, and had a coincidental gift from them; when they won the World Series in 2016, it was on his 75th birthday! He spent that night celebrating near Wrigley Field!

No one deserved that perk and all the others that have come his way more than Dave Humphreys. Surely, if anyone knows anything about being fully involved in his community, via something music-related or civic or humanitarian, it is he. His advice to others wanting to get involved is, in so many words, “just do something. Don’t limit yourself. When you see repression, depression, or opportunity, it is time to act.  All those are great reasons to get involved,” and, “if people don’t volunteer,” Humphreys stated, “a lot of very important work will not be done.”

He, himself, is a perfect example of being successful at what he describes as “weaving history and humanities, including music, community service, and social activism, into the civic fabric of Downers Grove” – a situation he is happy about, along with his “planting seeds of creativity to help others.”

The Downers Grove Historical Society honored Humphreys with the 2021 Montrew Dunham Award in a ceremony on September 18th, 2021 at the Montrew Dunham History Center on the Downers Grove Museum Campus.

Dave Humphreys
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