Local News

May 10, 2013

Happy 100th birthday, Charlie

Retired educator reflects on life in Dalton

Charlie Bowen, by his own admission, “didn’t think too much of Dalton” when he accepted a job as principal of Fort Hill School in 1940.

Bowen, who turns 100 today, said he caught a case of “Daltonitis.” Instead of leaving, he became even more involved in the community.

Now, the community is honoring him.

On Saturday, the public is invited to Bowen’s birthday party from 2 to 4 p.m. at First Baptist Church of Dalton’s fellowship hall. Attendees are asked not to bring gifts.

Bowen began his education career in the early 1930s and held several jobs in other counties in Georgia before coming to Dalton as principal of Fort Hill School in 1940. He then served in the Navy from 1943-46 and taught math at Georgia Tech for four months. In 1946, he moved back to Dalton where he became principal of Dalton High School until 1968. He was then promoted to assistant superintendent of the school system for about a year before working as superintendent from 1969-1975.

Career in education

Bowen was born May 10, 1913 in Austell and grew up in Sumter County. When he was in the eighth and ninth grades, his father was the principal at a school across the road from the family farm, and he taught Bowen math and Latin.

Bowen attended college during the Great Depression. His first year at the University of Georgia, he said, cost him $317. Bowen joked that during his senior year he “splurged” and spent $350. He obtained a bachelor’s degree with majors in math and Latin. He later returned to the school to earn a master’s degree and did graduate work at Peabody College and the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga.

After graduating in 1934, jobs were hard to find, Bowen said, and he finally took a job as principal of a school in Webster County. There were seven teachers for the 11 grades there, and six of the teachers were in their first year. Their second year at the school was cut to just seven months as economic times were hard, and they didn’t get all their pay until three years later, he said.

A couple of jobs later, he ended up in Dalton. At first, he said, he wasn’t very impressed with all the bedspreads, a football field surrounded by a single strand of barbed wire and wooden bleachers that would seat 300. Yet a man his father had taught with had asked him to come for the interview, so Bowen agreed.

When he arrived, the only schools in Dalton were Dalton High, the all-black Emery Street, Fort Hill, North Dalton, City Park and Crown Point, he said. Several of those schools have since closed or moved, and new ones have opened.

Fort Hill, he said, was the first in the district to have its own cafeteria. After a hiatus in which he joined the Navy and taught briefly at Georgia Tech, Bowen was asked to come back to the district, this time as the principal of Dalton High School.

When he returned, still with the intention of staying for only two or three years, there were just two clubs at the school. At that time, he said, the school had assembly almost every week, and he insisted Dalton High would be one of the best high schools in the state. The current high school building, visible from Waugh Street, was built under Bowen’s administration as superintendent. He and wife Irene, also a teacher, retired just before the school opened in 1976.

“I love people,” Bowen said. “In all the years I was principal of the high school, I loved my students, and I knew just about every one of them.”

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