Perry Hall High School Library Dedication Honors James R. Bowerman

Community members remembered a former principal Thursday evening.

In the mid-1970s, students would travel once a week to visit a massive IBM punched card computer in Towson.

But this wasn't enough for then-Principal James Richard Bowerman. "He wanted a computer lab in the school, at a time when there were no computer labs in schools," said Leo Karageorge, then-chairman of the mathematics department.

By the time Bowerman retired in 1989, he oversaw the completion of one of the first in-school computer labs in the state, as well as the creation of an automated system for scheduling and attendance.

"He believed that Perry Hall High School was the best school in Baltimore County," Karageorge said. "He couldn't wait to say, 'We do that here at Perry Hall.'"

Bowerman, who died at 84 last September, was memorialized Thursday evening as the school renamed its library the James R. Bowerman Media Center. The ceremony included speeches from former students, community leaders and school officials, as well as family and friends.

Much of the program focused on Bowerman's legacy to the school and community.

After graduating from Baltimore City College High School in 1944, Bowerman enlisted in the United States Army and was deployed to Europe during World War II. Following the war, he enrolled at Towson State Teachers College. He began working in education in 1950.

After serving several years as a teacher and guidance counselor, he was offered an unexpected challenge. In 1963, a new high school, located in an inconsequential rural area, was opening and it needed an assistant principal. Partnered with Principal Maynard E. Keadle, Bowerman accepted the post.

"We are indeed grateful that he did," said current-Perry Hall High School Principal George Roberts.

The new high school was a tabula rasa. It had no mascot, no school colors and no school song.

With significant input from students and administrators, Bowerman developed each. He helped write the lyrics and melody of the school song, and helped design the school's class ring. For the first time, students became gators, and navy, gold, and white became synonymous with school spirit.

In 1970, he became the school principal, a job he would hold for the next 18 years. 

"If I only achieve half of the success of Mr. Bowerman at Perry Hall High School, I will consider myself very, very lucky," said Roberts, who joined Perry Hall in 2008. "Everyone in this room was touched by his life, even if they never met him."

During the dedication ceremony, Renee Smith, on behalf of state Sen. Kathy Klausmeier, and County Councilman David Marks delivered official citations from state and county government.

"He is a central figure, if not the most important figure in Perry Hall High School history," said Marks, who was a student at Perry Hall during the last two years of Bowerman's tenure. "He guided the school through a great transition, as it was growing by leaps and bounds."

Former school officials, Karageorge and Bruce Seward, who chaired school counseling, also spoke. They described Bowerman as tough and demanding, but also personable and caring.

"He was my boss, but he was also a trusted confidant," Seward said.

"When he gave you that faith, you didn't want to disappoint him," Karageorge said.

Bowerman's widow, Sally McNelis Bowerman, a former teacher, spoke about the principal's many rules. He would often correct students and teachers when they said, "'Have a nice day,' because you have to make it a good day," she said.

His daughter, Candice Bowerman Driggs, said, "I grew up at Perry Hall. I roamed its halls." She remembered playing with the baby alligators in her father's office, "back when that was allowed," she said.

Bowerman's two oldest sons, James Bowerman Jr. and Jeff Bowerman, as well as four of his grandchildren, also participated in the dedication.

Two members of the Oak Crest Village staff, including Todd Sullivan, director of philanthropy, and Fran Schoenfliess, a communications specialist and Perry Hall graduate, also spoke during the ceremony.

Bowerman spent the last three years of his life at Oak Crest Village in Parkville, where he became instrumental in fundraising efforts.

Margie Simon, chair of library services, closed the dedication ceremony with reflections on how the media center may change in the next 10 years and beyond. Since Bowerman served as principal, the library has gone from using film strips to Internet-based databases and new media, Simon said. 

In the future, she said, "We could be using technology that doesn't even exist yet."

The ceremony also included the unveiling of a portrait of Bowerman, painted by sophomore Abigail Hamm, and a large wooden sign above the library door, constructed by students.

The principal's brother, 81-year-old Jack Bowerman, who attended with his wife Mary, said, "He was the last person in the world I would have thought of going into the teaching profession."

"Just imagine where we'd be if he didn't," he said.


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