Evy Boman
Close up of Evelyn Stouffer Bowman sitting in a chair
Oldest living alumna

velyn “Evy” Stouffer Bowman ’42 is one of Manchester’s oldest living alumni. At 104 years old, she has lived out the Manchester mission and remains actively connected with her alma mater..

“I loved every minute of my life at Manchester—it was so enriching,” Bowman said.

Bowman grew up just a few miles from Lena, Ill., where she attended high school. As a teenager she was involved in a wide variety of school activities, from typing teams to music and drama to literary clubs. “I liked everything about school except history and chemistry,” Bowman said.

Her commercial teacher and principal, Mr. Sprague, was a particular influence on her early years. He entered the school in the district commercial contest each year, and his students performed well—Bowman included. She participated in the shorthand and typing contests, and her teams took home medals for a first-place finish at the district and regional level and second-place finish at the state level. These skills proved to be extremely helpful throughout her life; she eventually earned part of her tuition at Manchester by serving as secretary to the dean of the school.

Though Bowman was eager to go to college, her parents felt she should do as her sister had done and stay home and work in an office for a year after graduating from high school. “It was a painful year in many ways, for I was isolated in a rural area and my other friends had gone on to their activities,” she said.

Looking back on her gap year between high school and college, Bowman has no regrets. “Had I not taken it, I would never have met my husband, Paul. Life does have a way of working out for the best.”

When Bowman finally started as a student at Manchester, she majored in home economics. She remained artistic, joining the Madrigal and Chapel Choir for all four years of college, as well as several drama productions. Among her many favorite Manchester memories is being named May Queen in 1941.

During her senior year, a friend asked Bowman to travel to the Lagro Camp for Conscientious Objectors in Lagro, Ind., where her boyfriend was living. Bowman agreed, not knowing her life was about to be forever changed.

The two were picked up by the director of the camp – Paul Bowman.

“He hadn’t been aware that he was to have a second passenger, but graciously made room for me,” Bowman said. “I ended up in the front seat between Grace and Paul and hardly said a word.”

Bowman recalled that the previous year Paul had been a speaker at Manchester, discussing his war relief work in Spain and France immediately following the Spanish Civil War, and she had been impressed by the work he had done.

The evening at the camp was pleasant, but ultimately not too remarkable.

It wasn’t until several weeks later that Bowman convinced herself to invite Paul to dinner at the house she and six other young women studying home economics at Manchester lived in. For decades, Paul kept Bowman’s letter of invitation safely tucked away, a reminder to both that she made the first move.

“Manchester was a very important part of my life—my blossoming! It’s only natural to want that kind of experience for others.”
In December of 1941, soon after the attack on Pearl Harbor, Paul was asked by the Church of the Brethren to organize trainings in a war-torn area between Ecuador and Peru. The goal was to send conscientious objectors there for training in preparation for the rebuilding of Europe after the war ended. With Paul headed for South America in a matter of weeks, the couple made a decision: they would get married and travel there together.

“All of my professors were rooting for us and helped in many ways,” Bowman said. “My home ec professor dismissed class one day, and everyone addressed envelopes for the invitations . . . Another of my professors, Dr. Andrew Cordier, was helping to write the charter for the new United Nations that was being planned, and he later became assistant to the Secretary General of the United Nations. My boss, Dr. Carl Holl, dean of the college, was less supportive of the conscientious objector position, but nonetheless gave us his blessing.”

The next few months involved buying wedding rings, organizing a wedding while in different states, meeting each other’s families and breaking the news of their sudden engagement.

In April of 1942, the couple was married in Bowman’s hometown. Her May Queen dress served as her wedding dress.

“During the ceremony, both sets of parents, sitting on the front row, wept like children,” Bowman said. “They were sure they would never see us again!”

After a short honeymoon to Chicago, the Bowmans were off to Ecuador.

Upon arriving, however, they learned that their original task of establishing a training camp for conscientious objectors had become impossible to pursue because of a law passed in Washington D.C. while they were en route to Ecuador. “We, however, were asked to remain there, study the country and its needs, and recommend some mission or social service project that the church could get involved in,” Bowman said. “The world was open to us. Our first year and a half there was spent doing just that, and what a wealth of opportunity it was.”

Their new home was “adequate” but lacked modern amenities. The only cooking equipment they had was a wood-burning stove. No refrigeration meant they shopped for food daily, but with no supermarkets or central shopping areas, they relied on a local butcher shop, bakery, and open market for fresh food.

Bowman taught English shorthand to a group of German and Ecuadorian students, and served as secretary to an American lawyer for several months. She also helped at a girls’ camp on an island off the Southern coast of Ecuador, where they fished for their food, held bible classes, sang and swam every day.

Paul traveled to meet with civic leaders and gather information in order to make recommendations to the Church of the Brethren office back in the States. He also taught English, and one of his pupils was the vice president of Ecuador.

Eventually, the Bowmans and another American couple decided they would focus their efforts on developing a boys’ club for the area.

Black and white photo of Evelyn in a white dress holding flowers
Evelyn Stouffer Bowman as May Queen in 1941.
Photo courtesy of North Manchester Center for History
“It was estimated that in the entire city there were close to 15,000 boys out of school,” Bowman said. “The club would function as a home away from home, a place where boys could come together to play a variety of sports, take a shower, read or learn to read, work on hobbies, get training in vocational skills, attend classes, learn how to manage money and to be good citizens.” Doctors and dentists supported the club and provided free medical and dental services to the boys.

Half of the funds for the club were raised locally by Ecuadorians, while the other half came from the Church of the Brethren.

With their project a success – and now a baby on the way – the couple agreed it was time to go back to the U.S., where they hoped their child could be born.

A request from the American Embassy landed them in Bolivia, where they were asked to stay and teach, but not before an unexpected pitstop in Peru for the birth of their first child.

This year of teaching home economics and caring for a newborn was a challenge, but soon after the Bowmans were finally able to return home to the States. “Getting back on American soil, being able to see our families again, and just being able to order and eat cherry pie again were long-awaited rewards,” she said.

Bowman has carried much with her from her time living and working abroad. “I found that people all over the world are very much alike, have the same needs, love and are loved, care about others, and are curious and ready to learn,” she said. “I found out how beautiful the rest of the world is, what it means to love your neighbor, and, if I didn’t know it before, the importance of family.”

As her life went on, Bowman raised three more children. She now resides in Lenexa, Kansas, and has two grandchildren and two great-grandchildren.

Her long and impressive life was largely influenced by her years as a Manchester student. That time provided Bowman “a foundation, I suspect, for going into the world with an attitude of curiosity and a willingness to continue learning. Lifelong learning has been something I have been very devoted to and continue it still.”

She remains active with the University, giving when and what she can.

“Manchester was a very important part of my life—my blossoming! It’s only natural to want that kind of experience for others. You do that by supporting an institution that you revere. My husband and I both shared that with Bridgewater – where he did his undergraduate work – and Manchester, and we tried to support them whenever possible.”