Dr. Jerry Bower- 37 Years Teaching In The Driftless

By Marilu Miller –

Once again, our wonderful Publisher Dion, approached me and said, “I would like you to speak with Jerry Bower.”

Okay. “You mean, Dr. Bower who taught History at the Richland Center Campus?  This is going to be fun!” Well, that got me a bit of a look. After several days, Dion made contact with me.  It was simply to tell me that if I sat down with Jerry, I might want to approach it as a straight interview, make it like a Fireside chat. Well, the only thing that was going through my mind, was that I now had the opportunity to interview, chat, and reminisce with a gentleman that I have known for most of my life. My only question at this point was what will I learn? I knew one thing for sure,  a conversation with Dr. Bower, would be quite the learning experience…

Where were you born Dr. Bower?
Chicago, Illinois
Where did you go to school?
I graduated from Merrill Senior High. Then I went to Marathon County Extension Center from 56-57. From there I went to Wisconsin State College at Stevens Point. Then it was Michigan State for my graduate work.

Who was your favorite teacher and why? And what teacher impacted you the most and why?
Frank Crow at Stevens Point was my favorite. He would walk into the classroom write an outline of four or five items on the board and then sit down on the corner of the desk and just talk with us. The teacher who impacted me the most would be Fred Williams at Michigan State. He was my graduate studies adviser and he was a spell binding teacher. I was his graduate assistant. There was one class that he taught on the Civil War that was in a large auditorium with several doors that we often opened to get the air moving. I can remember many times when at the end of class there were many people at each of the doors, just standing there listening to him lecture to our class. Writers note: As a former student and 4-H’er, I could tell that these men influence him. His teaching style was like that of Mr. Crow, as he would come in and write an outline on the board and then either sit on the corner of the desk or stand there and talk to us. He didn’t drone on as some teachers did. His voice rose and fell. We could hear the excitement in his voice. In that way I believe he was also like Mr. Williams. More than once, we had to gather after class to come up with notes because we would get so caught up listening to him that we would forget to write down the information!

What brought you to Richland Center and this part of the Driftless Area?
I needed a job. After seven years of graduate school and four sons, I needed a job. In the spring of 1967 I got an invitation to interview at La Crosse. While I was planning our route from Upper Michigan to La Crosse, I noticed Richland Center on the map and it rang a bell. So, I dug thru my pile of applications that I had sent out and found the one that I had sent to the Campus there. I called Dean Ross Papke and asked if we could talk when I came thru Richland Center on my way to the interview for La Crosse. He said yes. So, we arrived about mid afternoon and talked and then the next day I had the interview at La Crosse. I got a call a week or so later from Dean Papke offering me the job at Richland Center. I asked if I could wait to answer him after I heard from La Crosse, he said yes. Well, when I did hear from La Crosse, it was to inform me that they had given the job to someone else. So, I took the job here in Richland Center. I think that God wanted us to be here. Writers note: As someone whose life has been impacted by Dr. Bower, I would say, that I too think that God had a hand in this. Dr. Bower had hundreds of students in his years of teaching at what was then UW-Richland- a two year campus that was/is part of the University of Wisconsin System. The campus is now called: UW-Platteville-Richland.

How did you and Mrs. Bower meet?
My family moved to Merrill in 4th grade because my Dad’s job took us there. He was a manager for an auto parts retailer. I started school at the Brickyard school where there was this dark-haired pig-tailed girl named Donna. Then we moved into town and I went to school there. We were both at Merrill Senior High, but, we never really saw each other. Then when I started going to Marathon, II got into a carpool- four guys and two ladies, Donna and a friend of hers. I had had a steady girlfriend, but, in the spring of ‘57 she dumped me and I finally screwed up the courage to ask Donna to go to the movies. We got married in ‘59.

Tell me a little about your family please.
Well, we have four boys, four daughter-in-laws, ten grand kids, and three great-grand kids.

Okay, I want to take a brief step back in time. I remember a quote from one of your US History classes, “Close only counts in horseshoes, hand grenades, and Presidential elections.” If you were to pick a favorite President who would it be and why? If you were to be president, is there any one thing that you would like to do?
Teddy Roosevelt. And I will tell you why. He overcame a lot of adversity. Physically and in his political and presidential life. If I were to become president, it would be to enact fully paid healthcare. Obama Care was a start, but, only a start.

If you could travel thru time to witness one event, what would you like to see or whom would you like to sit down with and talk with, and why?
Teddy Roosevelt at his ranch out west. My dad was born in Montana and the family moved to Wisconsin in the 1920’s. I would just like to talk with him.

Considering that there was just a very large lottery drawing and winner, if you won the lottery, what would you do?
Oh, probably some endowments. We are comfortable, so we would probably set up some endowments. I would endow the Food Pantry, our church, and maybe a few more. Probably the Ocooch Mountain Humane Society and some other environmental organizations. Maybe help the caboose grandkids with college. We have helped the rest, so we have started a fund for the two youngest for when they get there.

If you were to invite someone, that you had just met, to come visit the Driftless Area, and they asked, ‘Why?’, what would you tell them?
Come and see some unique geography and geology. This is a very unique area of the state. Hills, valleys, streams, rock out-croppings. So many things to see and experience.

I know (since I am a former student) that you taught for many years at the campus here in Richland Center. In addition to that, what else have you done here in Richland County and in the Driftless Area?
Well, I taught 37 years full time and four more part time and the UW-Richland Campus. I taught three years at Port Heron Michigan Junior College. And three years as a graduate assistant at Michigan State. That’s a total of 47 years of teaching. I was a big part of the Richland County Historical Society, still am a part of it. I have done lots of research and writing about local history. I and Donna were 4-H Leaders for about 10 years (the Richland Busy Beavers). And I have been part of the Food Pantry for about 20 years and President of the board for about four years.  Writers note: It was during his time as a 4-H Leader that I first met Dr. and Mrs. Bower as they were the leaders of the 4-H Club that my dad found for me and my sisters to join. We were a mix of town and country kids, that met in the gym of a local grade school (Jefferson Elementary School) here in town.  

How would your friends, family, or former students describe you?
I think the students would say a good teacher. Fair. Maybe even entertaining. I was rigorous. Assigned certain things and didn’t cut them any slack. But you could probably describe me better. My family would say Grandpa. Enjoyable. Likes to tell jokes. We have helped all of the kids with college expenses. Donna would say an excellent painter of walls.
Writers note: I could, but, I chose to reach out to some friends who also had Dr. Bower. Peggy said this: “He had a passionate and enthusiastic teaching style from which it was enjoyable and easy to learn. It seemed he had a little bounce in his presentation style which I remember the most about him.”

If given the opportunity to teach one person any one thing that you have learned in your life from your many years of study or from life itself, what would that be?
If you work hard you will amaze yourself with what you can accomplish.

How would you describe the Driftless Area to someone who has never been here?
It is a very rugged area with lots of rock out-croppings. Many small creeks that run down valleys and hills to join the Pine River. When floods happen with the Pine River, they happen quickly and then we have ‘Lake Twin Bluffs’ and lake front property. But, mostly, it is really, really pretty.

What do you enjoy doing in your free time?
I read a lot. I do crossword puzzles and jigsaw puzzles. Donna and I also do lots of gardening.

Thanks Dr. Bower

It has been several years since I had had the chance to have a lengthy conversation with Dr. Bower. I must say that I am beyond happy to have been chosen to do this interview. I really wish that we had had more time, because as we talked about things more questions kept coming to my mind. Ah, well, perhaps another time and another article…

EDITORS NOTE: The Driftless Area Magazine will be featuring a 5 part, historical piece, ‘Social Housekeeping in Richland Center: The Federation of Women’s Clubs, 1898-1925’ – written by Dr. Jerry Bower. Look for it in upcoming issues.

PHOTOS: Nova Video | Ben Koelsch – Richland Center WI