Art Bowman: A Ballard man of many honors
By Maggie Nicholson
Art Bowman sang with his older sister on the radio when he was a little boy. The year was 1928. Art had a clear tenor voice. He sang at funerals in Swedish and at both of his daughters’ weddings. He was born to Swedish immigrants Carl and Marie. The two came from Sweden as strangers, met in the states, and birthed their three children in Seattle: Clarence, their oldest son, Vivian, their only daughter, and Art, their baby. Carl was employed at Harrison Dye Works. At the time, it was a hub for dry cleaners. Machinery was centralized at one location. All surrounding dry cleaners sent their clothes to the hub to be cleaned and returned to them. Carl started his own cleaning business later in life: Sparkle Cleaners. Around the house, Carl played the accordion and violin. Marie, too, played instruments, though she was confined to the key of C.
In the fall of 1942, Carl passed away. Clarence was away in the army and Art was in his first year of University, studying Pre-Law. He returned home to run Sparkle Cleaners and support his mother and sister. The dry cleaner was part of the small, intimate community of Ballard back then. People came to see him specifically for the troubles that ailed them.
Art was a member of the Clarion Male Chorus, a Norwegian group, when he was in his twenties. The pianist of the chorus performed as a soloist at Queen Ann Baptist Church. The pianist got sick before one of the performances and asked Art to take his place. Art agreed and performed that day with the choir. His future wife, Jean, was a member of the singing group. The next week, as Jean sang before the congregation, she noticed a new face in the sea of pews. He was there for service that week, and the following week, too. Then new faces began to populate; on certain weeks he brought his friends with him. “To see if they approved of me,” laughs Jean, acknowledging Art’s crush on her. Thus began their courtship. The two were married when Jean was eighteen and Art was twenty-seven.
Art led the youth choir for Queen Anne Baptist. His heart was full of humor. “Who’s wearing red shoes?” he’d ask the choir. “Who here is a Sunday school teacher?” Those who qualified would raise their hands shyly. The questions were always nonsensical and random. “Alright, you’re all in the front row today!” he’d boom, smiling.
He joked with his fellow members of the Ballard Rotary Club in this way too. The club had a ceramic pig they used to collect money for charity donations. One of the members of the club was an owner of a rug store. He always wore “loud jackets,” recalls Jean. Art would find him on days he was wearing a particularly funny jacket and have him put money in the pig “for wearing one of his rugs” to the meeting. Another member of the club was a Cadillac salesman. Whenever he drove a Cadillac to the meeting, Art would have him put money in the pig “for advertising.”
When Art served as scribe for club meetings, he signed off his transcripts with: “Your friendly fill-loss-so-fur,” “Your foreign correspondent,” and “The Cantankerous Incredible.”
After Art’s term serving as President of the Rotary Club, they commemorated him with a celebration. “Wear an old suit jacket,” they told him. At the end of the night, he had pie all over him and was on his knees over a washboard, scrubbing the jacket clean. Each table had glowing bright sparklers, celebrating ‘Sparkle Cleaners.’ After fellow member Ralph Wiggen’s year serving as President, they carried him out in a coffin; Ralph owned a funeral home.
Art and Jean had four children: Donald, Dave, Kathy and Janice. The family hosted Rotary exchange students at their home, and Donald, Kathy and Janice all went abroad through the same program. Janice was awarded Seafair Queen in 1981. They presented her with a blue sapphire necklace; it gleamed around her neck. Art went fishing with his son in Alaska and sang at both Kathy and Janice’s weddings.
The family traveled together in the summers in a caravan through the southwest: Phoenix, California, Mexico City. After they sold the cleaners, they were able do things they had always wanted to: they hiked the Great Wall of China and watched pink petals tumult in the Wenatchee Apple Blossom Parade. Art and Jean took turns driving through Death Valley late at night. Dusk was hard on their eyes. In the mornings, Jean had batches of cinnamon buns prepared and hot chocolates.
They played card games in the back of the trailer. One summer they took their foreign exchange student along. The boys slept in the station wagon, and the girls in two hammocks above their parents’ bed in the trailer.
Art loved sunbathing and gardening. His favorite flower was the dahlia. He sunbathed so much that he stayed tan all the way through the winter. His friends joked that he must have been making secret trips to Hawaii.
Art Bowman accomplished a great deal in his life. The family has binders filled with recognition awards from Rotary, letters from old exchange students they hosted, and honors from Seattle Pubic Schools. He was a member of the Swedish Club and the Ballard Elks Club, a Cub master in Boy Scouts and served as Master of Ceremony for the Norwegian Independence Day Parade many times. He even won the Golden Acorn Award for community involvement in 1969.
Art passed away on August 18 of this year. His family scattered his ashes in Shilshole Bay, alongside pallid dahlias, whose heads rippled in the water and traversed their paths peacefully across the water.
If you’d like to join in the celebration of Art’s life, the family invites you to on October 11th at University Presbyterian Church, 4540 15th Ave NE at 1:00 p.m.
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