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THE DASH BETWEEN: The Bowens were definitely not your average couple


Your average college president doesn't find himself planting a kiss on a student's lips while handing out diplomas during commencement exercises.

And women, honored for their community service as First Lady of Elyria by Beta Sigma Phi, traditionally attended the women-only awards dinner without their husbands.

But Tom D. and Jean C. Bowen were anything but average.

Tom, the first treasurer of Lorain County Community College, was serving as the school's acting president (January to September 1971) when his wife, Jean, received her associate's degree in data processing at LCCC.

"I think she had an idea that when the last child - me - graduated from high school, that she might pursue gainful employment," their daughter, Tina Johnson, said. "She felt that her training was out of date and wanted to be current in the marketplace. She never did pursue a job in that field or any other after I graduated from high school."

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Receiving her degree from her husband was a thrill. The smooch was a bonus.

The Dash Between: About this feature

The dates of birth and death that appear like bookends on a tombstone do not matter as much as the dash between those dates.

Award-winning writer Alana Baranick has made her living writing about the dash between. She’s focusing on Lorain and Medina counties and those who have made our area the unique and interesting place it is. Look for her stories on alternating Sundays and visit to find additional photographs.

The Dash Between is scheduled to appear twice a month in The Chronicle-Telegram. To suggest a story or make a comment, contact Baranick at or (440) 731-8340.

Today, Alana Baranick examines the Dash Between Sept. 4, 1920, when Tom D. Bowen was born in Duluth, Minn., and May 29, 2011, when the retired Lorain County Community College treasurer died at age 90, and the Dash Between Feb. 18, 1922, when Jean Bowen was born Jean Crisp in Elyria, and June 18, 2011, when the former Beta Sigma Phi First Lady of Elyria died at age 89.

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When Jean was named First Lady of Elyria in 1974, she requested that Tom be allowed to accompany her to the presentation, making him the first spouse of a First Lady to attend the members-only event.

The devoted Elyria couple died within three weeks of each other. Tom died May 29, 2011, at age 90. Jean followed on June 18, 2011, at age 89.

Tom was born Sept. 4, 1920, while his family, who lived in Cleveland, was visiting relatives in Duluth, Minn. According to family lore, Tom's mom fell down an abandoned well late in her pregnancy. The accident caused Tom to be born early and to be dubbed Thomas Duluth Bowen.

The family moved from Cleveland to Columbus in the 1930s when Tom's dad was named state insurance commissioner. Tom's three older siblings - Robert, Angela Williamson and David - were grown and out of the house when their mother died of pneumonia in 1936.

Tom and his father moved into the YMCA (or possibly the Columbus Athletic Club), where Tom became a strong swimmer. He belonged to the swim team at University School in Columbus, where he graduated in 1938.

Jean was born Jean Crisp in Elyria on Feb. 18, 1922, the daughter of a civil engineer and a schoolteacher.

She became involved in scouting and the YWCA at a young age.

"Her Girl Scout troop was extremely important to her, as she had no siblings," daughter Tina said. "The other members were her closest friends."

Jean graduated in 1939 from Elyria High School, where she was class treasurer and valedictorian.

She and Tom met as students at Denison University. Tom received a bachelor's degree in government and economics in 1942. Jean majored in math, minored in chemistry and graduated magna cum laude in 1943.

They married Dec. 19, 1943, and initially lived in Cleveland, where Tom worked for the Weatherhead Co.

When Jean's father died in 1946, her mother asked Tom to take over the management of the family-owned Peerless Laundry in Elyria. The Bowens lived in Elyria since then.

They each continued their education after Denison. Jean did graduate work and Tom earned a master of business administration degree at what is now Case Western Reserve University.

Tom, who became a certified public accountant, ran unsuccessfully as a candidate for mayor of Elyria and was appointed clerk of Elyria City Council in the 1950s.

"When the college (LCCC) was organized, he went out there as its treasurer," said Vic Stewart, who was chairman of the Democratic Party in Elyria. "He was a very deliberate individual, a very thoughtful man and a very good Democrat. He really had an interest in the development of the college."

As LCCC treasurer from 1964 to 1980, Tom oversaw the construction of the campus on North Abbe Road and the establishment of the school as an equal opportunity employer.

Errol Browne, the college's personnel officer beginning in 1974, found qualified minority candidates for positions at the college but met with resistance from department heads to consider hiring them.

"Change is hard for a lot of folks, whether hiring African Americans, Hispanics or both," Browne said.

Tom made it clear to those who reported to him that there would be no more hiring until a qualified minority candidate was identified, interviewed and given due consideration.

Jean shared Tom's commitment to helping society's underdogs.

"She insisted our housekeeper to go back to get her GED and tutored her to achieve that goal," daughter Charlotte Wagamon said.

While volunteering and holding leadership posts with the Girl Scouts, YWCA, PTA and United Methodist Women, Jean fulfilled her role as mother of four children: Tom C., Charlotte, Jeanette Quinn and Tina.

"Mom thought that TV was a bad influence on children, so we did not have a TV until about 1960," Charlotte said. "This meant that we spent a lot of time playing games as a family. We grew up at 221 Columbus St., which was a neighborhood full of kids. We spent a lot of time playing outdoors - games like Kick the Can, Red Rover, Capture the Flag and bicycle tag."

Tom, Jean and the kids got caught up on each other's daily activities, discussed current events and politics and shared their thoughts around the dinner table.

"The best thing about their relationship was how much they loved to talk to each other," Tina said. "They could communicate easily on a variety of subjects. Theirs was a marriage of equals. One was not smarter or better informed than the other."

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