John Roy Bowett: A Life Devoted to Canadian University College
by Heather Till
John Roy Bowett and Canadian University College (CUC - previously named Canadian Union College) have both been around for a long time. Despite his almost 90 years, Bowett stills stands tall and erect, maintains his own home and garden, and walks two kilometres (1.24 miles) to the post office at least twice a week (winter and summer). Bowett's path has intersected with that of Canadian Union College for more than 80 years. He has served it in many capacities, including student, teacher, writer and historian.
Bowett's long connection with CUC dates back to his father, Thomas Scorer Bowett. As a young man in England, Thomas was enticed by a life at sea and, by the time he was 19, he had sailed twice around the world. He met his wife, Ann Logan Mack Fraser, a Scottish school teacher, in Capetown, South Africa. They were attracted to Canada by an offer extended by Sir Wilfrid Laurier, then prime minister, who was promoting free land in Canada's West to those who would develop it. The adventurous young couple, with their six-week-old son, Cecil, set sail for Boston, where they landed in May 1906.
They travelled from Boston by rail to the "end of steel" (at that time, Edmonton). When they arrived, the city was in the midst of a typhoid epidemic. Thomas and Ann both were stricken with the illness. Thomas was taken to a Catholic hospital, Ann to the Edmonton Seventh-day Adventist Sanatorium. They both recovered, but not before Ann had developed an interest in the lifestyle and faith of the doctors and nurses at the Sanatorium. Soon after her release from the Sanatorium, she accepted the Adventist faith and was baptized. A year later, Thomas also joined the church. The Bowetts chose a homestead site in an Adventist community near Manville, Alberta. Within three years, they had made enough improvements (and paid the $10 fee) to secure title to 160 acres. On March 25, 1908, their second son, John Roy, was born. Three years later, the Bowetts' affiliation with Canadian Union College began.
In 1911, the family moved to the Rosedale Valley area, just north of Lacombe. Their land was adjacent to the 198 acres owned by the (then) Alberta Industrial Academy. Thomas had been offered the position of secretary to the principal of the academy, then in its fifth year of operation. He was on staff when the first graduate, Walter C. Clemenson, was awarded his certificate in 1913. The Bowett family later moved to coastal British Columbia, but John Roy returned to Lacombe in 1927 to attend high school. The school had by then changed its name to Canadian Junior College (CJC). To help cover his tuition expenses, Bowett worked at everything from janitorial duties to ringing the large bell signalling schedule times. He cleaned windows on the fourth floor of the Administration Building and hauled coal from Lacombe with the school's wagon and horses. He received his Grade 12 diploma in 1929, and two years later earned a "literary degree" from CJC. Following his dream of becoming a teacher, he took a further one year of education in Victoria, B.C., at a "normal school", and in 1932, he became a qualified teacher.
His first post was in Beaver Point on Salt Spring Island, off the west coast of the British Columbia mainland. There were 60 applicants for the teaching position in the one-room public school, which had an enrolment of 14 students in Grades 1 through 8. Bowett taught there for three years. He was then offered the position of principal at Shawnigan Lake School, a two-room, public high school near Duncan, B.C.. This promotion included a sizable increase in salary to $1,050 per year. With this wealth, Bowett felt he could support a wife, and in August 1936, he married Mildred Taylor, a church-school teacher at the Rest Haven Sanatorium and Hospital operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church near Sidney, B.C.
Bowett was excused from active service during WWII because of his teaching position. Most of his summers during the war years were spent at the University of British Columbia as he worked on a degree in education. He graduated in 1943 with a major in history. After earning his degree, he served as principal at Cobble Hill High School, a two-room public school near Duncan, where he also taught sciences and mathematics. For one year (1947) he served as principal at Okanagan Adventist Academy in Rutland, B.C.
In 1948, Bowett was invited to return to Lacombe to teach at his alma mater, Canadian University College (CUC - previously name Canadian Union College). His family now included son Reginald (born July 1941) and daughter Linda (born December 1946). Daughter RosaLee completed the family in May 1949. When Bowett joined the CUC faculty, the curriculum included courses of study at both the high school and college levels. During his 25 years of service, he taught all grades from 9 through 12 in the areas of history, social studies, economics, English, and youth problems. He also shared his expertise in several college-level courses. One of his favourites was History of Western Civilization. According to one former student, he was the "best teacher in the school."
In his history classes, he sometimes used dramatization or role-playing to bring historical events to life. He claims wryly that "some teachers have the art of making history dull," even though it is "the story of human beings, and they are the strangest creatures on the face of the earth." Bowett made the learning process enjoyable, even though some people thought he was "rather dramatic." Renate (Ritter) Krause, currently Chair of the Department of English at CUC, assisted Bowett as a reader and grader when she was a student. She says: "He was fun to work for because he didn't mind looking the fool - he wasn't worried about that. It was his teaching he was concerned about." She particularly recalls one history class on the German system of parliament, the Bundestag. Bowett was "stalking through the class cutting the air with his finger in very decisive motions." Although Bowett has always been slightly built and maintains a certain British dignity, Krause says it was not difficult to imagine him as a fat, blustering German politician: "He used his body to clarify the intent of his words. It was very funny, but more importantly, it stuck."
Bowett has contributed to the education of the past three presidents of CUC: Malcolm Graham (1982-87), Reo Ganson (1987-91) and Victor Fitch (1991-present). Perhaps it was the "rambunctious" nature of the adolescent Reo Ganson that prompted Bowett's caution that a person "can never assess the human mind or potentiality." Victor Fitch remembers his teacher in high school social studies as a "master of his subject, always well prepared and current in the events of the day. He was a very patient teacher with a concern for each student and a willingness to help each one achieve. He was fair in his treatment of students. He treated people as individuals, yet there was a consistency about him. It's a fine balance to maintain, but he did a good job of it."
Joyce (Tinkler) Van Scheik, head librarian at CUC, also recalls her former teacher as "personally interested in each student. (He) often invited students to his house for Sabbath dinner. I remember going there a lot." Bowett and his wife could always be counted on to drive students to Red Deer. He cheerfully went out of his way to make students feel at home on campus, performing services like picking up Van Scheik's dad from the train station: "I don't think I was special. I presume he was doing this kind of thing for everybody. They opened their home to us and interacted with the students. In those days, all the faculty lived right on campus and were more accessible." She remembers, if students had questions or needed help, especially during exam week, "We'd put on our coats and march right down to their door."
Bowett took an interest in his students both in and out of the classroom. He was a familiar presence at student functions, not in the sometimes austere role of teacher, but as a genuine friend. He was visible on campus, always warm and approachable. He served several times as graduating class sponsor, and initiated several extracurricular activities such as a current events discussion group and student prayer bands. One of his most memorable activities was ice skating. The first flooding of the rink at the foot of the hill below the dormitory was a long anticipated event each winter. Students and faculty alike enjoyed the exercise and friendly storytelling around the bonfires. He was also responsible for starting and maintaining the Rainbow Riding Club, which boarded and rented horses at a minimal fee. He and other club members explored the many trails and lakeshores on campus and learned proper care of the animals. Bowett still keeps horses on his property in Rosedale Valley and each year hosts groups of excited elementary school children on field trips to Bowett Meadows.
Throughout his 25 year tenure Bowett continued to learn. During the summers he took master's level courses at Washington State College (later University), and in 1959 he received his MA degree in history and sociology. His Master's thesis entitled "A History of Canadian Union College" was recognized by Bowett's major professor as a unique and professional contribution. Bowett's thorough and extensive research used much primary-source material. It has been distributed to several universities and is in active use as reference material at the CUC library. The long-retired Bowett is still regarded as a resident historian at CUC, and his work remains authoritative.
Bowett's joy in absorbing and imparting knowledge is an essential part of him. During the summer of 1966, while his wife Mildred was a student at Andrews University in Michigan, he joined her class on a tour of Europe. The director of the tour asked Bowett to give a lecture on the French Revolution while they were travelling from Paris to Versailles. For his efforts, Bowett received an honorary A from Andrews' history department. Bowett attributes much of his success as a teacher to his adherence to principles found in the Bible and in the writings of Ellen G. White, an early leader of the Adventist Church:
True education means more than the perusal of a certain course of study. It means more than a preparation for the life that now is. It has to do with the whole being, and with the whole period of existence possible to man. It is the harmonious development of the physical, the mental and the spiritual powers. It prepares the student for the joy of service in this world, and for the higher joy of wider service in the world to come.
Education is but the preparation of the physical, intellectual and moral powers for the best performance of all the duties of life. We are called to the service of God and our fellowmen; and to fit us for this service should be the object of our education.
Bowett has always been known for his consistent efforts to live out this ideal. His life has been one of service to his church, his community, and his school. He has, in humility and prayer, attempted to achieve his God-given potential. He is a living example of the benefits of regular exercise, a vegetarian diet, no alcohol consumption and no smoking.
Of great importance to Bowett is the health message in the teachings of the Adventist faith. He served for many years as the CUC faculty sponsor of the Temperance Club, formed of students determined to live a moderate life free from alcohol and tobacco. Since 1975, he has worked with the Alcohol and Drug Education Association, an organization begun by Adventists. He has helped to distribute information on the hazards of substance abuse to every school in the county of Lacombe. For several years, he was involved in a program aided by the Acronaires gymnastic club from CUC. The college students presented active, dramatic skits on the dangers of substance use to the elementary students. The lively format appealed to the younger students and communicated the important message. As part of this approach, Bowett and Mildred designed a T-shirt to be distributed to students. Its logo consisted of a wine glass, a cigarette and a syringe within a red circle with a bold line through it indicating "no". The slogan reads, "Not This Kid." Bowett continues to promote Listen magazine, a publication committed to positive living. He regularly helps organize Breathe Free programs to assist people to quit the smoking habit. The Bowetts work in all areas of the programs, from posting advertisements around town to baking cookies for the after-program refreshments.
Bowett is far from ready to sit back and put his feet up. As long as he remains healthy and active, he will continue to work, to learn, to serve. John Roy Bowett is the embodiment of the enduring principle behind CUC's educational philosophy. He has developed a "noble Christian character through a knowledge of God." He has prepared his "physical, intellectual, and moral powers for the best performance of all the duties of life." He has indeed achieved the objective of a "divine purpose for (his) whole being."