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Remembering KAXE's tie-wearing, poetry-writing contributor Steve Downing

A man stands on a stage reading a poem into a microphone.
Contributed
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Grant Frashier
Steve Downing at the Great Northern Radio Show October 12, 2012.

Steve Downing died June 5, 2024, in Grand Rapids. He was a writer, musician, arts administrator and supporter, Northland Foundation trustee, bon vivant and more.

GRAND RAPIDS — Like Elvis before him, Guido has left the building.

He was Elvis to us. He was a man of many talents.

A man in a beret and sunglasses recites poetry in a microphone.
KAXE
Steve Downing, Guido, hosting the original Beat Cafe in 2009.

When Steve Downing — otherwise known as Guido — retired, we knew that wouldn't be the last we saw of him. Everywhere there were arts, martinis or live music, Guido was there, along with his trusty sidekick and partner-in-crime, Kathy "Dodger" Dodge. Dodger died March 19, 2022, from ALS, surrounded by friends, family and her beloved Guido.

Steve Downing died June 5, 2024. A graduate of Grand Rapids High School and St. John's University, he was a quiet, steady force for all things arts throughout Minnesota.

Dodger and Guido's love affair, with each other, with art and words and northern Minnesota, will not be forgotten. Their persistent, quiet influence throughout the region remains.

His official bio for his work on KAXE read: Steve Downing has been a teacher, house painter, conflict mediator, musician, arts administrator, freelance writer, and has occasionally worked for money, too.

Guido served as executive director of the MacRostie Art Center and development director at the Reif Center. He was a Northland Foundation trustee as well as the leader of the fundraising and outreach to build KBXE in Bemidji. He was a staple on KAXE as well, contributing essays to Between You and Me, The Morning Show, The Great Northern Radio Show, Stay Human and the daily poetry segment The Beat. He also hosted The Beat Café, a live jazz and poetry event for three years. He and Dodger were members of KAXE since its inception in 1976.

Guido was known for his sly sense of humor, poetry man-cave, endlessly hip-tie collection and kind heart.

Listeners remember Guido

Bri Roberts, Guido's niece wrote, "Can we talk about Guido's fashion sense? His blazers, his matching outfits, always ready for a philosophical conversation - about any topic because he knew stuff about literally everything...and his traveling bar! He'd bring the party of liquor with him!"

KAXE volunteer and host of Wordish Robert Jevne wrote, "Steve was instrumental in getting poetry into the conversation at KAXE. Through his own writing and his steadfast involvement with The Beat, he inspired me to pursue that conversation after he retired. I can only follow in his wake. Via con Dios, Guido!"

A photo of writing to honor the passing of a local teacher.
contributed
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Tim McDonald
Steve Downing's writing about the passing of Ann McDonald.

Tim McDonald texted in about the writing Guido wrote at the passing of his wife, Ann Colleen Bonner McDonald: "Best gift I've ever received. Brilliant, genius Guido as usual."

Steve Downing holds a mug, received as a gift, that says "I pooped today," with a wry grin.
Contributed
/
Tammy Bobrowsky
Steve Downing received a mug during a KAXE holiday party gift exchange.

Tammy Bobrowsky, staff librarian at KAXE, wrote, "I always admired Steve's calming and reserved nature. So I was mortified at a staff Xmas exchange to see that Steve ended up with my gift — a coffee mug that said 'I pooped today?' He seemed genuinely amused by it."

Ellen Smilianich texted, "Guido and Dodger were my in-laws and I feel very luck to have known them. Rob [Downing] and I lived in Minneapolis for 37 years so didn't get to see them very often. I do remember one visit however when they were down in the cities, staying at a hotel in downtown St. Paul. We ate at the wonderful St. Paul restaurant and sat in their hotel room, looking out over the same Mississippi River you're looking at now, having one of the most interesting conversations I can ever remember. It was my hope that when we moved back to Grand Rapids , we would be able to spend more time getting to know them, but it was not meant to be. I grieve for the lost opportunities, but have a heart warm with personal memories and very much appreciative of the contributions to our community from both Guido and Dodger."

Work funded by the Arts and Cultural Heritage Fund

You can listen to our live Morning Show broadcast above, or check out some of Guido's work over the years.

Poetry

ON SELF-LOVE by Steve Downing

A man stands with arms outstretched and multiple crazy ties around his neck.
Heidi Holtan
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KAXE
Steve Downing, aka Guido, exemplifies his style icon status with his many ties in 2014.

Hello, in there! — my inside me— hi!
I love you, I do: you-me-us.
Inside— as with quark hearts and
95% of everything we have discovered — inside,
we are unjoking, unreflecting, undiscovered lightlessness.

From outside, I love you, my sainted insides:
in there where no shadow ever falls;
all the gushy, crusty, inscrutable miraculousness
of inside-us, requiring only utter darkness
to do whatever needs doing.

Heartburn, knock-knock jokes, pride, malice,
jazz, zero gravity: all, everything begins
in our grinding, grumbling inner-darkness.

As that is true, and as I do love you, does it seem unseemly
that this radiant biblical glow I observe around my head,
our head — look! in the mirror! — has me yodeling right now
like two loons?

Obituary

Steven “Guido” Downing, age 74, of Grand Rapids, MN died Wednesday, June 5, 2024, at his home at The Pillars.

Guido was born in 1949 to J.R. “Bob” and Eleanor Downing in Grand Rapids, MN. He attended school and graduated from Grand Rapids High School. He later attended St. John’s University and St. Thomas University, earning his master’s degree. Guido and Kathy “Dodger” Dodge were married on July 3, 1976.

Guido was a lifelong Grand Rapids resident. He served as the Art Director for MacRostie Art Center. He was also employed at the Reif Center and KAXE. He also served as president of the board at the Northland Foundation.

Guido was an avid writer, including writing many editorials, a published poet, and an accomplished musician.

Guido was preceded in death by his parents and wife. He is survived by his sisters, Mary, Catherine; brothers, Patrick (Holly), Will (Cindy), Tom (Janet), John (Holly Christenson), Rob (Ellen Smilanich); many nieces, nephews, and many wonderful friends.

A celebration of life will be held on Friday, June 14, 2024, from 3:00-5:00 p.m. at Libbey Funeral Home, Grand Rapids, MN.

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Heidi Holtan is KAXE's Director of Content and Public Affairs where she manages producers and is the local host of Morning Edition from NPR. Heidi is a regional correspondent for WDSE/WRPT's Duluth Public Television’s Almanac North.