The sorrow still lingers and it should – any time an icon passes away, those who loved him, who respected him and who benefitted from his presence suddenly deal with the process of recognizing his legacy.
Such is the case for Craig Bowman ’65, revered Mullen alumnus, devout Lasallian and area teacher extraordinaire who died October 21, 2020 after suffering a stroke. In his 70’s, Bowman demonstrated a lifetime of caring and giving befitting of someone many refer to as the greatest Mustang since the school opened in 1931.
“Rarely have I met someone whose entire spirit exuded a love of learning like Craig's did,” Principal Jeff Howard said. “Within minutes of first meeting him, he and I were engaged in a conversation about teaching and learning, and the wonder and beauty of the pursuit. His love of education was entirely tied up in his love of and devotion to Mullen High School, and every contact I had with Craig reminded me of how special this school was to him and how special he was to this school.”
Special? Bowman’s ties to the school are as unique as they get – he was the last orphan to graduate from Mullen 55 years ago, according to Admissions Director Frank Cawley ’80, and an accomplished speech-and-debate competitor under the guidance of another Mullen pillar, Frank Sferra.
A forgotten kid housed in the school’s original building back when it was a dairy farm – now known as Partners Hall – whose main goal was to have a lamp on his bedside table so he could read at night, Bowman had an extraordinary ability to educate others and promote Faith in the Holy Presence of God.
When Cawley was a Mustang freshman, he said Bowman returned to school to aid Sferra, a national legend in speech and debate, “and over the next four years, Craig helped me learn how to speak in public and helped me develop the confidence to succeed in the debate program at Mullen. He was a major factor in my ability to compete at the highest level in both the high school and college debate world. He helped me to obtain a debate scholarship to attend the University of Denver and to go on to coach debate at the collegiate level for two years.”
Hardly a robot or drone, the diminutive Bowman had a commanding presence and so much of it centered on his faith and kind, human touch that was as warm as a Colorado summer day. In the mid-2000s, when Cawley returned to the school, he said his mentor, then teaching his beloved English at Bear Creek Junior High, stopped by for a visit that was indicative of his life’s mission.
Said Cawley: “He told me about two students in his class that needed to be at Mullen. Each year until he retired, he would call or visit campus and advocate for a handful of his students who would benefit from the opportunities Mullen could provide. I accepted every one of those students every year without question. He would check in with me frequently to see how ‘his students’ were doing at Mullen. Every one of his referrals graduated and went on to academic success in college.”
“My mom saw a piece Craig wrote about Mullen and cut it out of the paper,” Witwer said. “We’d never heard of Mullen before, but it sounded pretty great - and the next school year, I was enrolled there. Craig Bowman is why I ended up at Mullen.”
Witwer graduated as a Mustang in 1989, he has had one son do likewise in 2019 and currently has two enrolled.
“So when I say the guy literally changed my life,” Witwer said, “I literally mean he changed my life. None of us would be there without Craig.”
Bowman was a national champion in oratory before heading to Metropolitan State and the University of Denver, and ran into problems of the time.
“He was not one to brag about himself,” Sean Keefe, former Director of Alumni, said. In his capacity with the school, Keefe, who had a brother graduate from Mullen in 1966, said “I would go to all of the funerals. And if a Mullen Mustang passed, Craig was at the funeral.”
In addition, Keefe said Bowman, who remained a private man, “played the piano at my dad’s (David) funeral ... he was just more interested in how you were doing than he was doing.”
Bowman, said Rita Niblack, Pastoral Director, “was a wonderful musician and would often volunteer to play for our daily Masses. He was one of the few people who played the organ that used to be in our chapel. When he was on campus, he would attend 7 a.m. daily Mass and he would participate by doing one of the Scripture readings.”
Winner of Mullen’s Distinguished Alumni Award in 2015 and a trusted board member, Bowman had a long, consistent career that spanned decades and generations of Mustangs.
Said current Mullen President Raul Cardenas: “Mr. Bowman was an incredible person ... in my mind, he was Mullen. He embodied and lived our Five Core Principles. He was a kind, gentle, loving and brilliant man. I am so proud I had the chance to get to know him. We will have another guardian angel watching over us.”
Bowman also stayed true to his roots.
“When I was teaching theology classes,” said Betsy Porter, Chief Systems Administrator, “there were many times that I got to talk with him about education and especially the significance of Catholic education. He would drop by the classroom or we would run into each other or send a quick email. His love for the education of young people simply poured from him. De La Salle had a true follower in Craig.
One of the most inspiring aspects of Craig was his uncompromising stance on teaching our young students true moral values. I remember when I first started teaching Bioethics how Craig was so excited that this course existed. He encouraged me in many ways to keep teaching a class that would challenge students to see the beauty of faith, truth and morals in a world that doesn't want those. He frequently asked how the course was going, and always said how important it was that we teach our students the truth. It was so reassuring. Craig would often discuss his students at the seminary. He was so proud of how these men were growing and the quality of work they did.”
Interestingly, when Bowman reached his later years, his love for Mullen and its people reached an apex and he was as visible as ever.
“After Craig retired from teaching,” Cawley said, “his love for Mullen grew even more obvious. He volunteered at the school every chance he could. He served on the Board of Trustees and always had the good of the school at heart. Through numerous public-relations difficulties, leadership changes and other adversities at Mullen, Craig would always be there for me as a sounding board. He would call to check on me and we spent many afternoons together getting lunch at one of his favorite restaurants, the New York Deli News on East Hampden Avenue.”
“His Faith in the Holy Presence of God was a true inspiration to me. He is definitely one of the reasons that the Mullen community means so much to me. His influence in my life was a gift from God. I am forever grateful to have known Craig.”
A shorter, thinner man, Bowman’s “stature had nothing to do with the size of his influence,” said Witwer. “In the words of my friend and classmate Tom Collings ‘89, he was a giant.” Bowman’s influence will always reverberate through the hearts of Mustangs whether they knew him or not.
“Craig's energy and enthusiasm were as infectious as his smile,” Howard said. “He will always remain for me a pure example of what it means to be a Lasallian, a Mustang and a role model. There are not many like Craig Bowman.”
Funeral arrangements are being handled by Risen Christ Catholic Church, where Craig was a long time parishioner. The funeral will be on Wednesday, November 4, 2020 at 10:00am at Risen Christ Catholic Church, 3060 S Monaco Pkwy, Denver, CO.
The service will be live streamed for those that wish to attend virtually. Visit risenchristchurch.org to view the service virtually.