Whether fighting fires, plowing roads or getting kids to school on time as a bus driver, Highland Grove district fire chief, Doug Bowen, was continually serving his community.
His daughter Mary Rutledge said he was her first hero – and was a selfless individual. “He loved to be around people,” Rutledge said.
“He just really got a kick out of making people happy … He made a point of making everyone feel welcome and part of the community.”
Highland Grove came together March 10 to mourn the 68-year-old Bowen after he passed away March 5 due to cancer. He received a service at the St. John Vianney Catholic Church, including a firetruck escort for his body.
“It’s very comforting to know the community saw the person we saw as well,” Rutledge said, thanking the community for its support.
Bowen entrenched himself in Highland Grove, taking on several different roles as a municipal employee. He worked as a mechanic and a plow driver for many years, before taking on bus driving in retirement.
Local Ralph Baehre said he also regularly volunteered and helped at community suppers.
“He was the main ‘maitre’d’ for the meals, willing to talk to anybody at any time and offering that welcome smile and hospitality,” Baehre said.
That affability made him well known around the area, according to Bowen’s fellow firefighter Gary Burroughs. He recounted visiting an antique store with Bowen and feeling like he was next to a celebrity.
“He dished out smiles to the community and it brought smiles from the community,” Burroughs said. “People are just surprised by the community life that’s here and Doug brought that out.”
“My dad knew everyone and loved to talk to everyone,” Rutledge said. “Just a really positive influence.”
Bowen was one of the first firefighters at the local department according to Burroughs. He helped build it up, eventually becoming chief. He became a tireless advocate for the local hall, going to bat for it at times when the community feared the municipality might close it.
“Whenever there were words to think they’re going to shut it down here, Doug was on fire,” Burroughs said. “He grew up with it. Built up the fire hall.”
“Doug was relentlessly passionate about Station 2, its firefighters and the community they served,” Baehre said. “Doug was truly a person of humility and dedication.”
Through it all, Rutledge said Bowen was a good family man. He said his grandchildren became the highlight of his life and he would always want to spend time with them in the summer.
“They were his everything,” Rutledge said. “He would have done anything for them.”
Burroughs said even with Bowen gone, the firefighters there intend to protect their fire hall in the future. He further said the chief was someone special.
“He’s just like an icon.”