Each year the Forrest E. Powell Foundation’s Work Ethic Award recognizes someone in the community who embodies the kind of work ethic that Mr. Powell demonstrated in his own life.

This year’s recipient not only demonstrated those qualities but credited Mr. Powell himself with serving as an important early influence.

James F. Davis was named the winner of this year’s award. After crafting a successful working career, Mr. Davis served the Evanston community through his church work as well as helping others make positive life changes.

Hecky Powell, owner of Hecky’s Barbecue, and his wife, Cheryl Judice, announced the award at the Foundation’s brunch and awards ceremony held at the Hilton Garden Inn on April 14.

Mr. Powell established the Foundation in his father’s name in 1994. The award recognizes individuals who have demonstrated a commitment to family and community through hard work.

Forrest Powell embodied those ideals, said his son, by working hard, raising a family of nine and never depending on outside assistance.

Mr. Davis’s family was originally from Louisiana and came to Evanston when he was just starting school, said Mr. Powell and Dr. Judice in their introductory narrative to the award.

He came from a hard-working family, “not unusual for his generation, learning at an early age that hard work is a pre-requisite to personal growth and later life success,” Dr. Judice said.

Developing many friends along the way, Mr. Davis graduated from Evanston Township High School in 1967. It was then he put his work ethic to the test, learning the welding trade and beginning his welding career at International Harvester. He later enlisted in the Air Force, leaving Evanston for basic training at Lackland Air Force Base in Texas.

Mr. Davis eventually shipped overseas to Taiwan, where he ensured the smooth operation of the mail system at the base where he was assigned.

Returning to the area after completing his military service, Mr. Davis put to use skills he learned in the military, Dr. Judice said, crafting a successful work career. He spent 38 years at Commonwealth Edison, retiring as an overhead construction crew leader.

Mr. Davis then developed other passions, “most important being the service of others,” said Mr. Powell and Dr. Judice. “For many years this year’s recipient has been involved in the lives of men who need support and help to make positive
life changes.”

Part of his passion to help others came from his decision to change his own life,” the introduction said, committing in 1992 to participate in a 12-step recovery program.

“In making this choice he furthered his personal growth and developed deeper connections with those he loved and those he served,” they said.

Mr. Davis, with his wife Janet Alexander Davis, whom he married in 1998, have been active at the First Church of God Christian Life Center in Evanston. Mr. Davis was trained as a church deacon and later named an elder at the church. In addition, he serves as head of security for the church.

He has also played an important role in Evanston politics, working with former Fifth Ward Alderman Delores Holmes as well as the current Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons in their successful campaigns. In addition, Mr. and Ms. Davis played a key role by helping raise seed money in the late Lorraine Morton’s groundbreaking election as the City’s first African American mayor in 1993.

Accepting the award, Mr. Davis said that when he was growing up, “the majority of time my father wasn’t around,” and that men like Mr. Powell and Sam Johnson [from the Church Street Barber Shop] all mentored me. People like that were needed. I saw strong men with a strong work ethic, how they lived and how it was supposed to be.”

His advice today is “if there is somebody in your neighborhood, a young man, don’t let him go by the wayside – let him know you care. It happened to me. I had plenty of father images who helped me to be who I am today.”

At the event, speakers also paid tribute to the Forrest E. Powell Foundation’s WE (Work Ethic) program. Recognizing “that not every kid is meant to go to college and that there’s nothing wrong with a trade,” Mr. Powell founded the program in 2016 as part of the Foundation’s effort to formalize vocational training and employment opportunities available to ETHS students.

Through the program, students are matched with local employers so they can pursue interests in different vocational fields.

Speaking at the April 14 event, Chloe Smith, a junior at ETHS, said she discovered she was interested in radiology while attending a WE informational session in November.

Through the WE program, she said she has already learned valuable lessons on “what is appropriate in the workplace and what employees are looking for in an employee.”

Bob Seidenberg is an award-winning reporter covering issues in Evanston for more than 30 years. He is a graduate of the Northwestern University Medill School of Journalism.