Dalton’s carpet industry began to soar in the 1960s, and Charles Bowen Jr. says some of the companies tried to entice his father to leave Dalton High School, where he was principal, and join them.
“He had a chance to make a lot of money, and I must admit that as a young kid I said, ‘Dad, why don’t you do that? You’d be able to have a bit more income,’” recalled Bowen, who was a student at Dalton High School at the time. “He said ‘I love working with these young people, and I have a chance to really help them. I feel like that’s what I am supposed to do in this life is help others.’”
On Saturday, hundreds of those young people, many of them now parents and grandparents themselves, packed First Baptist Church of Dalton’s fellowship hall to help the elder Bowen celebrate his 100th birthday.
“I don’t know remember ever having my picture taken so many times,” he joked just before the crowd sang “Happy Birthday.”
Dalton Mayor David Pennington, who attended Dalton High School when Bowen was principal, read a proclamation making May 11 Charles Bowen Day.
“God has blessed several generations of Daltonians because we have never known Dalton without Mr. Bowen’s powerful example of leadership,” Pennington said.
Born May 10, 1913, in Austell and raised in Sumter County, Bowen graduated from the University of Georgia in 1934.
He worked in 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.
“He was my high school principal. Then after I graduated from college and came back, I was a teacher, then I was his assistant principal and his assistant superintendent,” said Frank Thomason, himself a long-time Dalton educator and former superintendent.
“We had a long relationship. He was a great mentor, and I learned a lot from him,” Thomason said. “He was very well known and well respected in education circles. Even after his retirement, he continued to do accreditation visits to schools.”
Dalton attorney Steve Farrow attended Dalton Public Schools while Bowen was principal and superintendent. But he says he really got to know him years later in the Rotary Club of Dalton, in which both are active.
“He’s a real civic leader. He has always done so much for this community in so many ways. He and his late wife Irene are real treasures,” Farrow said.
Bowen was always active in civic groups, but after he retired his involvement grew even greater.
Habitat for Humanity Dalton-Whitfield County Executive Director Vivian Chance said Bowen was instrumental in founding that group 33 years ago and served as its long-time chairman.
Chance said that in honor of Bowen’s 100th birthday members of the Dalton High School class of 1967 have made May Charlie Bowen Month and she is asking that class and others to donate to Habitat on his behalf. Donations can be sent to P.O. Box 2477, Dalton, GA 30722.
Bowen’s son said that his father believes such community involvement is vital.
“He has always been very active in groups that promote service, such as Habitat for Humanity, Big Brothers and Big Sisters and the Rotary Club, whose motto is ‘Service Before Self,’” he said. “Even when he was 94 or 95, the Voluntary Action Committee was calling him, and he’d drive people who couldn’t to doctors appointments and things like that. He always said we should try to lead our lives as Christ led his.”