Beloved Homeport resident-activist Robert Fontaine passed away in January, leaving behind a wealth of good memories for those who knew of his take on life and ability to interact with his neighbors.
Mr. Fontaine, a long-time resident of the Pheasant Run community in Reynoldsburg, was known for his friendly ways, ever-present smile and trademark saying of “howdy neighbor.”
“He liked people, wanted to put a smile on their face. He knew that the essence of community was about relationships and feeling good about your neighbors,” said Homeport President/CEO Amy Klaben.
In 2012 Mr. Fontaine was one of seven individuals nationally honored with the Dorothy Richardson Resident Leadership Award from the NeighborWorks Community Leadership Institute.
The award is named in honor of Dorothy Richardson, a pioneer in the community-based development movement who was the driving force behind the establishment of Neighborhood Housing Services (NHS), Inc. in Pittsburgh. NHS was the forerunner of today's NeighborWorks America network. Homeport is part of the network.
As president of the residents’ council at Pheasant Run, Mr. Fontaine was instrumental in the start of an active youth council at the apartment community. He was also known for ability to build trust by knowing neighbors by name.
His motive was to make a difference and inspire others, particularly young people.
“I can’t be in any community unless I’m active; there is a need everywhere,” he said prior to winning his national award.
He was especially motivated to work with the young people of the community whom he recognized as the future leaders. He formed an active Teen Council and also became president of the Pheasant Run Resident Council.
He started a basketball league. Using his infectious enthusiasm, he persuaded a former professional basketball player to help him sign up dozens of boys and girls to take part in the league. Said Fontaine: “Young people want to latch on to something, so we need to give them something positive to latch on to. We can be a role model for them and let them know they can be successful.”
Alex Romstedt, Homeport’s assistant director for Learning & Engagement, described Mr. Fontaine as a “great man” who cared about his community and inspired others to do the same.
Gwyn Stetler, former director of Homeport’s Community Life program, eulogized Mr. Fontaine at a memorial service on Jan. 30, and praised his ability to keep redefining himself into his 80s.
“He was a college football star at Oklahoma in his 20’s. And a hat shop-small business owner throughout adulthood. But, it was in his eighth decade that he may have made his most significant impact. He taught us, “Keep at it!” Stetler said.
“Mr. Fontaine’s neighborhood safety strategies were both practical and visionary. No. 1: ‘hellos’ minimize loneliness, and a genuine, “howdy neighbor” can foster trust. No. 2: ‘participate.’ If every person contributes one hour a week, that is 52 hours a year. What a difference can be made in the community with 52 hours of service, magnified by each person,” Stetler said.