Thursday, May 5, 2011

A tribute to Dr. Dorothy Bowen on the Occasion of her Retirement

The EKU Department of Curriculum and Instruction gathered to honor two retiring faculty members Tuesday and it was my honor to serve as MC for the festivities. This is the second of two posts.

Dr Bowen came to Eastern Kentucky University after having spent 30 years in Kenya.

The original motivation for all those years in Kenya was her desire, from a very young age, to be involved in missionary work. This international interest was apparently inherited by two of her children -Ruth lives in Haiti while Andrew lives in Paraguay. Both are teachers. Younger son Richard, who lives in Lexington, is a web engineer who works out of his home for a company in Baltimore.

And most of you know that her daughter Ruth, and her two children, lived with Dorothy for five months following the devastating earthquake in Haiti.

Dorothy was born in southern New Jersey. Her father was a Methodist pastor and her mother was a schoolteacher. Dorothy had three sisters and a brother. As was typical of her generation Dorothy's mother was trained in normal school and never did complete her degree because it was never forced upon her and she was always needed. She taught until 1980 at the age of 70. Grandmother was a teacher too and Dorothy remembers her helping Dorothy with her Latin as a schoolgirl. Dorothy's father studied theology at Princeton Seminary and Temple University.

"My parents put me in school too soon," Dorothy says, "I started at 4 1/2 and I wasn't ready." Apparently Dorothy was a bit of a class clown in kindergarten. Her parents almost took her out of school because she wasn't learning to read, but she soon caught up and was a good student all the way through school.

Dorothy particularly remembers middle school in Camden New Jersey which was difficult. Dorothy didn't like inner-city living but resided in the parsonage of the first Methodist Church. Dorothy says she always got along with the other students in middle school, but felt like a bit of a misfit. She was interested in the violin and always played in the school orchestras and was very active in community work with the church.

Her love of literature came from her parents who she says "read to us a lot. We had a great library. Raggedy Ann books, Mr. Popper's Penguins, Marguarite de Angeli… She's sure that's where her love of literature began.

She carried on family reading time with her own children. In Kenya, Dorothy didn't have television and reading to her children was what the family did. “They went to a boarding school - which was terrible,” Dorothy says, "but when they came home we would read every night." They even kept a schedule of who read what. And, she brags, “my kids are brilliant when it comes to literature and writing poetry. Ruth became a language arts teacher.

Dorothy started high school in Camden and then moved to Long Branch near Asbury Park where she graduated high school. During high school she was an honor student, involved in the orchestra, a high school sorority, her church, and she did lots of things with a tight circle of friends. In fact I'm told that one of her classmates from Long Branch may be here this evening.

Long Branch high school was since torn down. “They tore down all the schools I attended," Dorothy said, and she feels responsible somehow. “It gets to you after a while, you know?”

At the risk of causing the same destruction in Kentucky, Dorothy moved to Wilmore to attend Asbury College. She completed her student teaching at Wilmore Elementary School, where she still volunteers today. When Dorothy came to Kentucky, her parents moved to Bordentown -which has always been something of a family joke.

After graduation in 1962, with her elementary teaching certificate, she returned to New Jersey where she taught third grade.

But Dorothy had always planned that public school teaching would only be a temporary step because she always knew she wanted to be involved in some kind of cross-cultural career. She knew there was a need for missionaries because her parents had hosted missionaries in the family home throughout her youth, and Dorothy felt the call to follow suit.

Dorothy soon began interviewing with the women's division of the Methodist Church for missionary work. It was around that time that she began dating her husband Earl. Dorothy had known Earl throughout her childhood, and had even lived in the same house at different times as kids. Earl's father was a Methodist preacher, and they graduated from Asbury at the same time, but did not begin dating until she began teaching.

By the time they decided to marry, Earl was already on his way to Kenya. Dorothy would follow eight months later. They were married in Kenya which Dorothy now appreciates was a difficult thing to do to one's parents. So she made a deal with her kids that no matter where in the world they were when they married, she would be there. So when her daughter married, in the states, Dorothy and Earl traveled back from Kenya. They were in country when Richard married and Andrew married a Bolivian he met in Paraguay and so Dorothy and Earl made another long trip.

Dorothy began teaching at Tenwek secondary school, a government boarding school in the bush. The name Tenwek, is rumored to have come from Kenyans saying that Americans would not last ten weeks in that land. Dorothy and Earl’s children were born at the bush hospital and the boys - who accurately claim to be African-Americans - were Kenyan citizens and held dual citizenship for a while. They're very proud of their African heritage and even today Richard operates a website for Kenyans to meet and assist each other while in America.

Get this: There are students here at Eastern who went to the Tenwek School. And, having lived in that tribal area, Dorothy is able to distinguish their appearance from that of other African tribes. “They are our runners," Dorothy says, and one of the best female runners is from the village where Dorothy lived. Dorothy says it just blows their minds when she walks up to them in the library and greets them in their native language.

Also somewhat surprising, at least to me, was that Dorothy herself was a runner, having participated in numerous 5K events. They would run 5 days a week. She says they walk now.

(Dorothy seen here with Caldecott-winning author Brian Selznick)

If a Kenyan student graduated high school in those days they were one of the elite of the country and many of Dorothy's former students have gone on to serve in government positions.

Dorothy's next post was at the Kenya Highlands Bible College where Dorothy was told that she would be the librarian. Not, would you like to be the librarian- but that that would be her job. That's how she started out in library work, cataloguing the books and doing whatever was done in that library. Few schools in Kenya had librarians - it was really something to have a library. A lot of the books were cast-off from the US, but still, they loved it.

Dorothy came back to the states in the 70s and she got her first library degree. She attended the University of Kentucky and received her Masters of Library arts, while Earl attended Asbury.

Their next stop was Kenya Highlands Bible College which, after years of effort, was granted a charter by the Kenyan government in March and now goes by the name Kenya Highlands Evangelical University. Go to their website and you can see the building where Dorothy was married. The school was only 25 miles from the equator but over 6000 feet in altitude so climate supported tea production.

Their next stop would be Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology now known as Africa international University, but in order to teach at the graduate level they both needed their doctoral degrees. Dorothy completed hers at Florida State in 1984.
If you have seen the film, Out of Africa, and appreciated the expansive scenery afforded by the film you will also appreciate that that was the view from Dorothy's home. In fact, Earl was selected to be an extra in the film but circumstances prevented him from participating.

There was a period of time when Dorothy and Earl had to leave Kenya for about five months because it was politically untenable to have a white man serve as Dean of a Kenyan College. So Dorothy and Earl went to pre-apartheid South Africa in 1991 at a school working toward accreditation. They traveled back to South Africa later and experienced some of the national excitement surrounding that historic time.

Earl and Dorothy were asked to return to Kenya, but by 1998, there was once again a movement to Africanize the schools. The time seemed right to return to America. They had bought a little house in Wilmore in the early 90s, where their son Richard had lived for a while, and they returned there to live.

As a professor at EKU, Dorothy's publications have related to international librarianship. At the time of her promotion she was invited to write an article about developing world schools with a case study of the graduate school where she had been. Most of the publications on literature that she has done have been on Africa; teaching kids about African culture through picture books.

Probably the most rewarding part of working at Eastern has been the number of school librarians that are working in the area. Dorothy takes pride when she hears that one can tell a difference between EKU graduates and others -- and she takes pride in that.

"A great librarian has to really care about the kids and really want to help them find the material that suits them," Dorothy says, "and help them learn to really want to read, even if it's something that you would not choose for them, but something that will catch their interest."

One of the things that helped Dorothy realize that she really liked being a librarian was the technical side of it: cataloguing and learning how to organize. She likes the form and organization of it.

Dorothy's retirement hobbies will likely include sudoku, crossword puzzles, relearning how to ride a bike, and play violin, and being with her eight grandchildren. That will be hard with some of them so far away, but the three who are in town come to the house twice a week for meals.

Earl has been asked to take a job in central Florida, and Dorothy will be in the Retirement Transition Program, teaching online for EKU from there.

Dorothy's hoping that they will find time for travel. She would love to get back to the ocean. And they've already bought their tickets to Paraguay. But they will retain ownership of the home in Wilmore and plan to return to Kentucky one day.

On behalf of the College of Education and the Department of Curriculum & Instruction, it is my honor to publicly thank you for your service – to the university – to the field of library science – to the to the thousands of students you taught - and lives you touched.

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