By Michael Wanbaugh
The Goshen News
On a gray and chilly May morning, this tiny and proud northern Indiana community came together Friday to lay one of the true giants of this state to rest.
Former Indiana Gov. Dr. Otis R. Bowen, known more commonly as simply “Doc,” passed away Saturday night at the age of 95. Twice a widower, Bowen leaves behind his third wife, Carol, four children and their families.
He also leaves behind a legacy matched by few during a life dedicated to helping people in his examination room, in the Statehouse and eventually on a presidential cabinet.
Hundreds of friends, family and dignitaries packed into St. Paul’s Lutheran Church here on South Center Street to acknowledge that legacy and pay final respects during a funeral service Friday.
Pastor Roger Rhode presided over the service, and described Bowen, Indiana’s 44th governor (1973-81), to the congregation as a soft-spoken and honest man.
“He sought no honors or recognition,” Rhode said. “He only sought to work for others. He took the talents and gifts God gave him and used them to his fullest.”
Bowen’s flag-draped casket was positioned at the front of the sanctuary. A framed portrait from his days as governor was propped behind it, showing the man’s elegant silver hair and dark-rimmed glasses.
The Rev. David Kahlenberg of Indianapolis was the first to speak during Bowen’s funeral and compared the country doctor who spent 26 years of his life in family practice, as one of the great political figures of all time.
“Who in their right mind,” Kahlenberg asked during his eulogy, “could say Doc Bowen didn’t achieve greatness.”
The reverend went on to declare Bowen, who delivered more than 3,000 babies in Bremen, “a champion statesman,” serving six years as Marshall County coroner, 17 years as a state representative, six years as Indiana’s Speaker of the House, eight years as governor and three years as President Reagan’s Secretary of Health and Human Services.
Kahlenberg also spoke of Bowen’s love of family, his Christianity and his humanitarianism. He told the humorous story about how Bowen, as governor, grabbed his shovel and cleared a lady’s driveway entrance that had just been plowed closed after she called him to complain.
“There wasn’t a human being that Dr. Bowen didn’t respect and accept,” Kahlenberg said. “Every citizen in Indiana was important to him.”
Among those in attendance Friday were current Gov. Mike Pence, former governors Mitch Daniels and Joe Kernan, Indiana Attorney General Greg Zoeller, Indiana Supreme Chief Justice Brent Dickson, U.S. Rep. Jackie Walorski, U.S. Sens. Dan Coats and Joe Donnelly.
Also in attendance were neighbors, former patients and Bremen High School athletic coaches. Bowen, after all, was also once the school’s team doctor.
Bowen’s oldest son, Rick, spoke for the family during the funeral. He explained how his father loved his family above all else. Rick Bowen also pointed out that “Doc,” a devoted Republican, loved politics and knew how to handle himself.
“The biggest mistake you could make,” Rick said, “was to think this country doctor was weak and that you could take advantage of him.”
Rick also spoke of his father’s love of basketball, particularly Indiana University basketball. During Bowen’s years as governor he developed a special relationship with IU’s legendary coach Bob Knight.
But it was Bowen’s relationship with his hometown of Bremen that meant so much to him, Rick said. Bowen, his son explained, would attend every Bremen High School commencement ceremony, often pointing out how many of the graduates he had delivered each year.
“This town and its people were his base,” Rick said. “…Dad could have retired anywhere, but he came back to Bremen; his home and his people.”
It certainly looked like Bowen’s town Friday as signs in several local businesses proclaimed their respect for the man. Over at Netter’s Family Restaurant, which claims to have the nicest waitresses and ugliest cooks, the east side of the outdoor marquee read simply, “Doc Bowen 1918-2013.” The west side of the sign read, “Try our famous pulled pork $6.99.”
Before the funeral, the town’s street sweeper did a final run down Center Street, just to be sure. Afterward, Bowen’s procession to the cemetery looked more like a Memorial Day Parade.
With the sun breaking through the clouds, his casket was led up Center Street and through downtown, on a horse-drawn open wagon. Students at St. Paul’s Lutheran School, as well as the nearby public schools, took a break from their day’s studies and lined the streets.
Residents along the route came outside to pay their respects, sitting on their porches, lawn chairs and open tailgates. Small children waved tiny flags. A giant flag was hung above the South Street intersection, held aloft by the efforts of Nappanee Ladder truck 96 and Bremen Ladder truck 10.
The procession finally concluded at the crest of a small hill in the middle of Bremen Cemetery. With the family gathered around the casket, 19 cannon blasts in the distance popped one at a time in a salute to the former governor and World War II veteran. Twenty-one cannon salutes are reserved for presidents.
Shortly thereafter the honor guard followed with three sharp rifle cracks as part of Bowen’s 21-gun salute to recognize his military service. He served in World War II and was part of the first wave of Allied troops to invade Okinawa in the Pacific Theater, his son said during his eulogy.
A somber rendition of “Taps” followed, and as the last notes faded, a military helicopter cut diagonally above the cemetery. The service concluded around 2:15 p.m. with the presentation of American flags to the family.
The Rev. David Kahlenberg ended his remarks about Bowen earlier that morning with a Scripture reading from Matthew 25:21.
“Well done good and faithful servant,” he read. “Enter into the joy of your master.”
Michael Wanbaugh is the editor of the Goshen News. He can be reached at HYPERLINK "mailto:firstname.lastname@example.org" email@example.com.