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Bowe's story an inspiration

by Ed Waggener in issue 41

Bobby Bowe has a dream job, as far as most people in Adair County would think. Hes the superintendent at Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup County, where he is addressed as Mr. Bowe. But when he was a kid . . .

... he, didnt know whether I was Bobby or Robert, until I went to Frankfort and looked up my birth certificate and found out I was Bobby.

His story is one of grit, luck, great mentors in the right places, and a God-given personality that won him friends and lifted him up the career ladder. I was raised poor and I didnt want to be that way all my life, he remembers. If youve never been through the humiliation of being one of the free lunch kids, you cant know what it was like when we had to show our lunch ticketsand the color said we were eating free. He is by no means poor today, and his is one of Adair Countys most remarkable stories. Bobby Bowe grew up on what is now Curry Street, just off Jamestown and Tutt Streets. The house stood on the back of what is now the Sonic Drive-in lot. It was unpainted, covered with weathered gray wood, had little grass in the yard, and lots of kids.

Back then, it was part of a distinct Columbia neighborhood, with its own grocery store, a Gulf Station, and Donnieslater Jim Dandy-Drive In restaurant where, pre-1964, Bobbys people could only order at the curb or walk-up window. The dining room was reserved for whites only. Bobby was fourth of Eugene and Millie Bowes ten children, which include William Owsley, John David, Patty, Betty, Laura, Vernon, Phyllis, Henry ONeal, and Bobby. A brother, Jerry, had died as an infant.

EARLY LIFE IN COLUMBIABobby Bowe gives his parents the most credit for his success, because of three rules they constantly drilled into him: 1-Go to school. 2-Go to church. 3-Go to work. Those rules, he says today, served him well. School for Bobby for the first two years was at Jackman. That was before blacks and whites went to school together. When the school burned, he and his people went to school in a house.

Then, when court-ordered integration came to Adair County High School, he transferred to Colonel Casey Grade Center. One of his earliest major influences there was Irene Marshall. I really like her. I was afraid not to do what she said. His academic progress took many turns. He dropped out of high school. Mom gave me a pig to go back to school, he remembers. I was 20 years old when I graduated. That accomplishment attracted the attention of Columbia businessmen, brothers Charles and the late J. C. Marshall, the founder of Marshalls Shoes. Charles and J. C. made up money to pay my tuition at Lindsey when I graduated from high school. But I was too scared of college and didnt go.

He remembers the help he received from friends when he finally did go to Lindsey. Cyrinthia Terry, the business manager, was an inspiration, he says. And he remembers how Rev. Douglas Moseley, guided him through Admissions at Lindsey. Moseley, who owned The Mens Store, at the time, also gave him clothes while he was in Lindsey.

ACADEMIC MISTAKE PUT HIM IN ARMYWhen he was 23, Bobby let his college class load drop from 12 to 9 hours. They drafted me. At that time they had a lottery and my number was drawn. Thelma Harper Cundiff (the secretary of the draft board) about near cried, he said. He took basic training at Ft. Knox, and AIT at Ft. Bragg. When he got out in 1973, he went back to Campbellsville College and completed the requirements for a Bachelors degree. For Bobby Bowe, graduating college was a major family event. I was the first in my family to graduate from college, and after a pause, he adds, as a matter of fact, I was the first to graduate from high school.

HARD WORK FROM AN EARLY AGEAs a teenager, Bobby Bowe took any job he could get, sometimes working two jobs at one time. He was the projectionist at the Columbian Theatre back when that Oscar-meriting exhibitor Charles Marshall was the impresario, and he was daytime rack boy for the House of Billiards, next door. His boss there was Ralph Roy Waggener, now president of South Central Printing. When Bobby came in to work one day, Ralph stopped him and said, . I dont need you any more. He was stunned. I didnt know what Id done wrong, he remembers. Then, it was explained, Ive hired your brother Vernon Lee. That was a crushing blow. Vernon Lee was a pool shark, and I wasnt. Thats all I could figure out. He vowed hed show them both. Ten years to the day later, he says, I went in there and bought that pool room.

After he became the proud proprietor, Ralph Waggener came in and said, Bobby, Im proud of you. I always knew you had it in you. That was blue ribbon validation, Bowe remembers, He was one of the people I always looked up to. Hes like family to me.

GOVERNMENT CAREERHis government career started in 1965 with the Headstart program at the Lake Cumberland Area Development Districts Community Services Department. His main mentor there was Pat Bell, who ran interference when Bobby Bowe got static from up above.He kept me motivated. He kept me on track and allowed me to pursue personal growth and development. To boil it all down, Bobby Bowe says, Pat Bell is a damned good coach, especially where management, discipline, achieving goals, and government are concerned.

Bobby moved later to Dale Hollow Lake State Park. He was manager of Buckhorn Lake State park in Perry County, manager of Green River State Park, just over the line in Taylor County, and then manager of Greenbo Lake State Resort Park in Greenup County. After a brief retirement, he went back to Lake Cumberland State Park to work in the business office, and in 1997, he returned to Greenbo State Resort Park as the head man, Superintendent of the Park and Manager of Jesse Stuart Lodge.

GEORGIA PEACHESLike many successful men, Bobby Bowe married above himselfat least he admits so for his second-marriage to Euline Wheat Bowe. He made a mistake marrying while in the Army in Georgia. I thought she was a George peach and she turned out to be a grapefruit. But Euline, he says, turned out to be the Georgia peach I was looking for. Bobby and Euline are now in their 21st year of marriage. At the time this story is being researched, she is dining room manager at Dale Hollow State Park in Cumberland County. They call each other every night. They have one child, Phillip, who lives in Bowling Green and is married to the former Brandy Holmes of Millerfield. Theres a new kingpin in the family, born to Philip and Brandy: Damian Bowe, now 14 months old. Religious literature and icons occupy prominent places in Bobby Bowes residence at Greenbo as well as in his home in Columbia. You can see, he says looking at a picture of Jesus on a table, religion plays a big part in my life. He attends Columbia First Baptist when hes home in Adair County, and New Hope in Ashland when hes at Greenbo on weekends.

Soon hell be retiring again from Greenbo. He and Euline have a home and acreage in Flat Woods, Kentucky. He isnt sure what all hell be doing besides being close to Euline where both will look after each others health. But he doesnt plan to be idle. Hes already looking at businesses he like to start or buy. And he may run for office. Bobby Bowe remembers every helping hand which enabled him to change his life circumstances and he doesnt hesitate to say what a grateful man he is as he enjoys his work, his life, and giving back.

This story was posted on 2002-10-22 15:25:18
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