Donald Humes unplugged: The man behind the myth
by WILLIAM WRIGHT
Aug 24, 2011 | 1374 views | 0 0 comments | 23 23 recommendations | email to a friend | print
DONALD HUMES posed with his lawn jockey statue in front of his home in Cleveland. The 6-foot-4 businessman loves working in his flower and vegetable gardens.
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Donald Humes always told his children, “I don’t make presidential promises. When I say something I mean it.”

That philosophy has worked in his personal life, family life and business affairs as Humes took a no-nonsense policy when it came to getting things done and keeping his word.

Born and raised in the natural beauty of Virginia, Humes’ parents owned a farm and raised him to take work seriously, not mixing business with pleasure. In high school the 6-foot-4 student played football and wrestled on the school team. But after school Humes was taking note of his stepfather’s work ethics and skills.

“My stepfather was a genius. He could do it all,” Humes said. “He was a plumber, a welder — he did it all. He was very particular in his work. I followed after him. In my work I like to give 150 percent. That’s just the way I am.”

As the owner of Humes Painting Company in Cleveland for the past 33 years, Humes said most people might describe him as serious and reserved, but that does not define the man behind the myth.

“A lot of people don’t know me because I’m not a person who smiles all the time,” he said. “But I’m probably one of the most generous persons you’ll ever meet, if you get to know me. I’m a no-nonsense person.

“I was raised to work. We weren’t raised to joke, so I’m not a big joker. When I come to a job I want to get the job done. That’s the way I am. When you get the job done that’s when you laugh and joke.”

Relaxing on his patio, Humes expressed a lighter side to life as he reflected on his family and what he really enjoys — gardening.

“My mother had a whole lot of flowers when we were growing up on the farm,” he said. “She believed in flowers. I just took after her. I love a whole lot of flowers inside and outside.”

According to Humes, working his garden is both relaxing and therapeutic after a hard day’s work.

“It keeps my mind occupied. Mostly I feel free. I get a lot of stress off me. It relaxes me. I also raise a big vegetable garden. We plant corn, okra, green beans, tomatoes, squash, zucchini — everything. This is my hobby — my passion.

“I work in my gardens all summer long, anywhere from when I get off work in the evening around 5 p.m. to dark. I fish and hunt in the winter time but this is what I like in the summer.”

The big man with the baratone voice enjoys collecting African-American art and figurines, particularly Thomas Blackshear’s “Ebony Visions” and Martha Holcombe Root’s “All God’s Children.”

As the past president of the College Hill Ruritan and the first chartered member of 100 Black Men of Bradley County, Humes said he believes in giving back to his community and inspiring youths to greater community service.

“I’m a community person,” he said. “I’ve always been a person to give back. I like to give through 100 Black Men because I love kids and want to see them get a higher education. I support them 500 percent. I’d love to see more black youths get into real estate and learn about business.”

Humes, who lives in the southeast part of Cleveland, buys real estate to renovate and rent out.

“What I try to do is build this community up on this side of town because I really enjoy living over here,” he said. While he may be the “king of his castle,” Humes is quick to credit his wife of more than 30 years for her contributions to his success, praising her and their children.

“I couldn’t do it without my wife. Cynthia is the queen. She taught school for 37 years and still works part time. We have six children — all grown with their own professions. We’re proud of them. They don’t ask for any money, so I’m very proud of them,” he said, laughing. Humes joked about the thing he likes most about his wife.

“She don’t do a whole lot of talking,” he said, laughing louder. “She’s a woman of few words.”

Although the husband, father and businessman is able to share his sense of humor and hobbies, Humes said raising a family and running a successful business has never been a laughing matter.

“It’s a struggle out here, especially during the past year, because people are not spending money,” he said. “It’s a crunch out here. Most of my jobs come from referrals and repeat business. But even my repeat customers are not spending much money because they’re feeling the crunch too.”

In spite of the economy, Humes said in his expert opinion people should continue to invest in their quality of life through proper maintenance and good upkeep.

“Most paint jobs should last seven to eight years,” he said. “It’s cheaper to keep a house painted before it starts peeling. When you prolong it, it takes more labor and materials to get the job done. It’s cheaper to get someone to take care of it before it starts to go downhill.”

The secret to his success is simple. “I always ran my business like I was broke,” Humes said. “I get up every day at the same time — seven days a week — and go to my office and try to make something happen. Reputation in running a business is probably the most important factor of running a business — being prompt, on time.

“I always put my help first. I never ran a business where I couldn’t pay my help. I would pay my help first. Then I would pay my suppliers. Then I would pay me. That’s one of the secrets to my success.”

When it came to raising his children, Humes said he stuck with his “no-nonsense” approach and it paid off.

“I was a very hard disciplinarian. I didn’t believe in nonsense. When I told my kids to do something I wouldn’t tell them 10 times. I told them one time. I didn’t make presidential promises. You know, a president will promise you everything until he gets elected. I never did that with my kids.

“If I told them to get off the phone I meant get off the phone — not tomorrow — right now. That’s the way we were raised and I raised my kids like that. I meant what I said.”

Not only has Humes’ reputation as a man of his word permeated his family and business life, but as a member of the Hiwassee M.W. Prince Hall Grand Lodge No. 31, Humes has earned the respect of his peers and fellow Masons in being trustworthy, fair and outspoken in his beliefs.

“I raised my kids to believe that every black man was not your friend and every white man is not your enemy,” he said. “Most of my business — about 99.9 percent is from Caucasians. It doesn’t matter what color you are as long as the product is good. When I started my company 30 years ago, I had to be the cheapest. But I also had to be the best.”

After 35 years in Cleveland, Humes said it is his hope that people know him as the man who did things his way, who was more serious than humorous, but always generous.

“I’m a giver, not a taker. I really like that about myself,” he said. “I believe in helping people if I can. I’ve done that all my life. But as I get older I see you cannot help everybody. Still, I don’t see any reason to gain the whole world and lose my soul. So I give back.”