Volume 18, Issue 2, Summer 2000

Dr. John Bowles: BCI's Behind-the-Scenes Scholar

By Keeley, Annika

By Annika Keeley

Wanted: Ph.D. bat biologist with more than 20 years teaching experience. Creative and progressive “big-picture” thinker preferred. Must be proficient in all types of computer software. Volunteer position.

Too good to be true? That's what everyone at BCI has been saying about John Bowles since he joined us in 1993. After 24 years teaching at Central College in Iowa, John retired early because of complications from Parkinson's disease. Encouragement from his longtime friend, BCI founder Merlin Tuttle, helped convince John and his wife, Gay, to retire in Texas near BCI. Now John shares his expertise with us every Thursday as a volunteer research associate, and John and Gay have become dear friends to many BCI staff members.

Although John has known Merlin since graduate school at the University of Kansas, he traces his interest in BCI to a time when he began noticing a change in people's attitudes toward his work with bats. Little by little, the usual disdain was turning into an active interest in bats. This was due in no small degree, John believes, to the educational efforts of BCI and its members.

Now we have John to thank for three indispensable programs at BCI. It's no coincidence that they are all high-tech related, as he is by far one of the most proficient and enthusiastic computer users in the office. As early as 1993, he helped set up office e-mail, and in 1995 helped put together BCI's first Web site by using a local school's Internet connection. He and Gay also converted a former office storage room into the BCI library, which now contains more than 10,000 bat-related books and articles. Each item is catalogued in a database, which can be searched from anywhere in the world via BCI's Web page (www.batcon.org/bibsearch.html). John's third contribution is the founding of the office's GIS (Geographic Information System) program. Currently the GIS database lists 20,000 locations of bats documented by researchers in the U.S. and Canada–the most complete set of species distribution information available to researchers anywhere.

Any of John's many friends will tell you that he has always lived his ideals. In his hometown of Honolulu, Hawaii, his eighth-grade science teacher, Paul Bode, taught John the importance of hands-on involvement in education. Upon becoming a professor himself, John always involved his students in his research projects on bats and other mammals. With Gay and their four children, he took students to Yucatan, Mexico, over six summers to study wildlife amidst a different culture. Several of his students are now active in bat conservation. A few are also teachers or professors who report that they have implemented John's alternative teaching style: each student sets his or her own goal in the course and is graded on the difficulty of the goal and whether it is reached. “I always asked them, ‘What do you want to get out of this course?' ” John explains. In 1992, he won the Outstanding Performance in Teaching award at Central College.

One story best illustrates the deep caring and enthusiasm that makes John so special to BCI. In 1998, John decided to try to find Bode, his eighth-grade science teacher, to let him know how inspiring his teaching had been. After finally locating Bode on the Internet, John didn't just send a quick note; he actually traveled to Mississippi and visited with his teacher for the first time in 50 years! John's philosophy of not putting things off until tomorrow was reinforced when Bode passed away a few months later.

These days, John also is focusing on organizing his extensive family photo collection and using photo-manipulation software to improve the quality of faded images from the past. He takes his work along on a laptop computer in his constant travels, visiting friends, children, and grandchildren. He also just installed new upholstery in Lolleniki, his 1930 Model A Ford, once a trusted field vehicle for transporting students. At BCI, we are looking forward to John's applying his usual thoughtful style to the latest challenge he has accepted: strengthening and expanding communications among BCI's Scientific Advisors and other conservationists around the world.

Annika Keeley is the Texas Bat Biologist for BCI and the Texas Parks and Wildlife Department, a jointly funded position chartered to create a “Texas Bat Action Plan.”

Bowles reviews a map with Angela England, BCI's Educational Resources Coordinator, as they discuss the progress of one of the programs he initiated at BCI: our GIS database, which lists all locations where the 45 bat species of the U.S. and Canada have been found.

John Bowles (center) sets up a mist net in this 1981 photo from Fountain Springs County Park in Iowa. Assisting him are students Brenda (DeKlotz) Sojka, (foreground) and Brenda (McMahan) Clarke, who is now a teacher and bat researcher as well. During his 24 years at Central College in Iowa, John frequently took his undergraduate students along for field work not only in Iowa but also in Yucatan, Mexico. He is now turning over his Iowa records to the state Cooperative Fish and Wildlife Unit and all of his Yucatan records to Mexican biologists.

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