Brian Roebke photo
Val Bowers Aune and Nick Bowers, children of Russ Bowers, lift his work shirt to unveil the plaque located at the Russ Bowers Memorial Garden just outside of Tiger Stadium at Wrightstown High School.
By Brian Roebke
It was a sad day in August 2020 when Russ Bowers unexpectedly passed away just a few months into his retirement.
The man who spent 44 years working for the Wrightstown Community School District was recognized Friday evening with a ceremony to dedicate a memorial garden in his honor at the entrance to Tiger Stadium, which Bowers had a big hand in getting constructed.
Bowers treated the school district like his own property, taking immense pride in leaving it better than he found it.
As building and grounds director, Bowers was responsible for the school grounds that are always immaculately cared for. Most grass on public property is full of weeds, but a person had to search for a while to find a weed on the Wrightstown school grounds with him in charge.
“Russ would be so proud except he would clearly be wondering why we were making such a fuss about him,” Superintendent Carla Buboltz said at the start of the ceremony held before the Tigers played Waupaca on the gridiron.
She recalled the day when school personnel and Bowers family members were contributing sweat equity for the project. The weather was miserably warm and humid, probably sent by Bowers from above punishing them for making such a big deal of him, but at the very end, a bright rainbow appeared in the sky.
“Russ was clearly present on that first day with that,” Buboltz said, noting he was probably checking to see if the garden was low maintenance for the grounds people in the future.
Terry Schaeuble, who worked with Bowers as a coach and athletic director during his time with the school district, noted they were both members of the Class of 1972 that’s celebrating its 50th anniversary in two weeks.
“Back in the 80s and 90s, many of us faculty members referred to Russ, Keith (Bowers), and Tom Ramage as, ‘Slam Bang Construction,” he said. “They put many additions onto the schools. It was pure entertainment watching those guys argue and bicker as they were when in actuality they were such close friends.”
Schaeuble feels Wrightstown was the showcase of the conference for its facilities.
“He was not a complainer. He knew his job, he knew it well,” he said. “Russ was a company man. In 44 years I never had an argument with him, even though every year we asked him to cut the grass a little shorter on the football field to increase our speed and he never did.”
Schaeuble thinks it’s so unfair that Bowers didn’t get the chance to do what he wanted in retirement, but he lived life to the fullest, especially with his grand- children in Ashwaubenon and Hudson.
“Russ Bowers was a good guy, he would hate all this attention, but he should be remembered.” he added. “What a fitting tribute to a fine husband, father, grandfather, and friend.”
Buboltz told the crowd that 2022 is the “Year of the Tiger,” and that was very fitting because a tiger represents a guardian of children.
“It demonstrates character traits of kindness, humbleness, and a sense of never giving up. The Year of the Tiger represents positivity, braveness, and strength. I don’t think we could have a more appropriate description of the person we honor today through the dedication of this garden,” she said. “Russ embodied what it meant to be Wrightstown Strong and a Wrightstown Tiger.”
She said like a tiger, Bowers rarely roared but led with a quiet presence.
“Russ was humble and respected everyone around him, and the power he had did not come from his position as a leader in our district, but because of who he was as a person.”
Buboltz said he taught her so much about being a leader, doing things right, and making things shine during their 25 years working together.
“As a district we are so grateful to be part of honoring Russ,” she said. “For all he did for the students and community as a Wrightstown Tiger.”
Activities Director Craig Haese said he’s had a lot of great mentors during his career and Bowers was one of them. He’s learned that it’s not about him, it’s about the community and students.
“Second, you’re going to have this work ethic like no other,” he said. “You’re not going to complain, and Russ didn’t do that.”
They worked together closely for only four years but Haese said Bowers never told him what to do, but he explained why they were doing it.
“Russ had such pride in all the events we do,” Haese said. “People come from all over and they said they cannot believe for a community of this size how well our fields and our grounds look.”
After cutting the ribbon, Russ’s daughter Val Bowers Aune said her dad was a sense of calm in a crazy world and he was a constant in their lives even though the world kept changing.
“He was the guy who would talk to anyone,” she said. “He truly sought out the goodness in everyone.”
She said he didn’t realize he was part of the magic that makes the school district what it is. “He was proud of what he did for the past 44 years and it showed,” she said.
Holding back tears, she said, “This little place in Wisconsin is magic because of all of you. Keep shining your light because you do make a difference.”
After the Tigers beat the Comets, Coach Steve Klister noted how beautiful the field is and that’s attributed to all the years Bowers spent working hard.
“I said before the game hopefully he can come down and give us a little luck and I think he definitely did because I was expecting a tough, close game, and those turnovers definitely made a difference,” he said.
Their relationship goes back to when Klister was a student at Wrightstown High School. Now he’s closing in on retirement himself.