Memories of the Burg... Real Life Heroes...
By Tom Hendricks
Published May 20, 2021 in The Burg
My father-in-law, Roger Bowman (“Pop” to the grandkids), is a humble man and has retired twice now—first as an Illinois State Police Trooper and then as a courtesy driver for Yemm Chevrolet. “How do you want to be remembered?” I asked. After a long pause, his simple answer was that he hoped people saw him as “honest, trustworthy, and not one to carry a grudge”. At 87, he still exercises regularly and keeps fit, able to run circles around much younger people. In normal times, a YMCA regular, he often bikes, runs the track at Knox, and works tirelessly on yardwork.
“They never seem to change,” we often hear about him and Donna Jo. When the wind blows, Roger works for hours on clean up. Numerous barrels get filled and lined up by the curb, full of sticks from trees in their park-like yard. I have never met a harder working man at ANY age and one never hears him complain about much of anything—except maybe his Chicago Cubs’ latest game.
Donna Jo (“DJ”) grew up on a farm just outside Woodhull. She had been a cheerleader in high school and later, they met while she was working at a local insurance office. Roger proposed and they were married on a very hot day, in a church with no air conditioning. Roger’s buddy and ISP partner, Al Johnson, was their best man. For two years, an apartment on Kellogg Street served as home until they bought the house on Phillips where they raised their family and still reside. Before meeting, Roger studied 18 months at Brown’s Business College and then set sail on a troop ship to Korea. In the Air Force, his job was to store, dispense, and maintain fuel reserves and drive a fuel truck—skills learned at Advanced Training in Tillamook, OR. The couple recently celebrated their 61 st wedding anniversary.
But life started rough for Roger. Ten days old, they rushed him to the hospital, stopping at First Lutheran Church along the way. The abdominal surgery went well but he could have died—that’s why the baptism happened on the trip to St Mary’s. His family lived and worked at 940 E. North. Bowman’s Grocery was one of several neighborhood groceries in Galesburg, before the big chains came to town.
He attended Weston, Lombard and the “old” GHS downtown, walking home for lunch each day. Roger delivered groceries, stocked shelves—anything that was needed. Life threw him another curveball as father, Herbert, died when Roger was only 16. There wasn’t much they did for heart attacks in those days. He was prescribed bed rest but never recovered. All of the Bowman men before Roger passed young—aged 37 to 60. His mom, Mildred, ran the store with the help of a few local ladies, Roger, and his sister, Merle. Merle Miller passed away recently at the age of 98.
He recalls Meadow Gold Dairy (site of the Children’s Depot) delivering milk to neighborhood homes by horse and wagon, townsfolk collecting metal for the war effort, buying war bonds and rationing things like gasoline. After a stint lugging 400 pound blocks at the Ice House and his time in the Air Force, he settled in as an ISP Trooper. Bowman’s Grocery finally closed in 1970.
His first squad car was a 1957 Ford. His first arrest? He “pinched” an old farmer for speeding. The guy wasn’t happy and wondered out loud if Trooper Bowman was “too young to write a ticket.” Roger started out with squad car “7-52”, but became “7-38” early on, until his retirement in 1991 after 34 years. To help provide for their family, he also worked for Roger Olson in Altona, and learned a thing or two about electrician’s work. He’s shared some of that knowledge with me each time we’ve moved.
Times have radically changed—and not always for the best. The sacrifices made by “regular” folks like the Bowman’s, I think, are lost on those of us in younger generations. What passes these days for “heroes” baffles me but, thankfully, we don’t have to go too far to find ours.