As one of the top students in his elementary school, Don Gallimore was selected to integrate his Wisconsin junior high school in 1968. He then went on to be one of just a few black students at his high school. He remembers when another black student, the school football star, was selected by the student body to be prom king. When the white prom queen was announced, the ensuing uproar caused the administration to cancel prom altogether.
Being the first was kind of a family tradition, as his mother was the first black police officer in Wisconsin in 1946. “She had to go through a lot to achieve that, but she also had to have a lot of support and sponsors from the community,” he says.
His mother had to quit her job as a police officer when Don was born in 1955, but she then became a juvenile probation officer, a job she loved for 35 years. “She always knew the importance of law enforcement being part of the community,” Don shares. “She knew you could mitigate a lot of problems by working with kids and their families and making sure they knew who their patrol officer was.”
Growing up with that sense of community shaped Don in significant ways, and he has worked to share that sentiment his entire life. Don’s parents started bringing him to protest marches when he was young, and he remembers seeing Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. speak in Cicero, Ill. in 1966.
“We went down in the middle of the night to help make sure he was safe,” he shares. “And his message has stayed with me. Once you have rights, you don’t ever give them back. We’ve worked too hard to get them.”
In addition to working for civil rights, Don has always stood up for women, and he says it is with the same goal — equality for all. His vision has been reinforced by the people he marched with, including Bella Abzug, Gloria Steinem, Gloria Allred and, of course, his parents.
Finding His Match
His most important community partner is his wife, Patricia, whom he met in Los Angeles in 1982, when he was coaching her son’s Little League team. The daughter of a longshoreman and a beautician who had suffered a catastrophic auto accident, Patricia remembers spending a lot of time in union halls growing up. “My dad was a union steward, and my mother was often ill, so he brought my brother and me with him,” she says.
Patricia says she never really experienced racism until the late 1970s. “When I was in high school, we would sometimes get attacked by the white folks, who were coming after us with bats, sticks and chains,” she says. “I had my own car, so I was driving away from a riot one day when I got pulled over by an officer asking me why I was running. I gestured to the people chasing me, but it’s like he couldn’t see it.”
After graduating from Marquette University in Milwaukee, Wis., Don worked in the advertising departments for the LA Times and then the Herald Examiner. Los Angeles is also where Patricia started her career working for AT&T.
The Move to Nevada
Looking for a calmer lifestyle with shorter commutes, Don and Patricia moved to Reno in 1990, where they immediately began giving back to their new community. She was working in customer service for AT&T, eventually moving on to IT, which enabled Don to stay home with the kids for a few years. Being a full-time dad gave him the opportunity to volunteer even more.
“Everybody has a responsibility to give back, especially those of us lucky enough to live in America,” he says. “We all have a duty to stand up and be a role model for democratic ideals. You can’t stand for American values if you’re being negative, spewing hate or sowing divisiveness.”
Though they’re officially retired, Don gives back about 20 hours a week, while Patricia donates 10 to 14. She is the past president of the NAACP, a board she has served on for 10 years — four as president. Don has also served in a variety of roles for the NAACP, currently as third vice president.
While at AT&T, Patricia served as the local chief steward for the Communications Workers of America (CWA) union, and she is now the president of the CWA Retirees. She is the vice president for Nevada Alliance of Retired Americans and the secretary for Democratic Women of Washoe County. And she serves on boards for Progressive Leadership Alliance of Nevada (PLAN) and Northern Nevada HOPES. She was also part of Sheriff Allen’s Green Ribbon Panel of spiritual, political and other community leaders that met quarterly to discuss Washoe County issues.
Don is a citizen lobbyist, working with the Nevada Legislature on civil rights, women’s rights, homeless and housing issues, among others. He’s also the volunteer president of the Nevada Alliance for Retired Americans multicultural coalition, Sergeant at Arms for the Democratic Party of Washoe County while serving on committees for PLAN, ACTIONN, NARAL, Women of Washoe and Protect Nevada’s Children.
Don’s goal today is the same as it was when he was a child — to help people come together as a community. “We’re all here together in this world, and if we can’t mix together, we’re going to destroy it,” Don says.
Generations of Voluntarism
Though they spend a significant amount of time volunteering, Patricia says her primary role at this time is as grandma to her seven grandchildren, ages 2 to 25. “I worked so much when my own children were small, but now I get to be a hands-on grandma,” she says. “I pick them up from school and take care of them and help their parents in other ways.”
Their children are continuing the tradition of giving back in their own ways. Donald Jr. works for the State of Nevada Welfare Department, Kelli is an attorney working on Title 9 issues for the University of Nevada Reno, Shannon works with senior citizens for the City of Reno, Simone is an admissions representative for California State University, Long Beach and Alfonso is a director for Salesforce in California.
When their kids were small, Don and Patricia included them in their community service, and they have continued that tradition with their grandchildren. “We talk to them about why we do what we do and how important it is to give back,” Patricia says. “They attend NAACP and other board meetings with us, and they give back in their own way.” One granddaughter served as the president of the NAACP youth organization when she was 9 years old.
“We take them with us wherever we go. And if they can’t come, often we won’t go,” Patricia adds. “They learn from being there and when I run my meetings I don’t mind if there are babies or children there. If children are our future, you have to practice what you preach.”
“Everybody can’t do everything, but everybody can do one thing,” Patricia says. “We’re retired now, so we have more time to give back — something that can be hard to do with both parents working. But we can’t count on someone else to always be doing the heavy lifting. Think how amazing the world would be if everybody would choose one way to give back.”
Though she does admit to occasionally being tired from all of the community work she does, Patricia says it’s her children and grandchildren that keep her going. “I want them to have a better future, and that means continuing to work for it.”