Bill Bowman, St. Paul School Principal 1948-1970…Glory Days

© Jerry F. Couch 2021

In the 1960’s, the late Ann Gregory began writing biographical sketches of area residents for the Clinch Valley Times. The CVT was still owned by the Stewart family in those days, but in 1974 it was purchased by the Young-Gregory Partnership and Ann became the CVT’s editor. Ann’s 1960’s CVT article about Bill Bowman, long-term principal of the St. Paul School, serves as the foundation of the following story:

Since “back to school” is once again a fact, it’s only fitting that one of our area’s outstanding educators be featured here this week.  Mr. W. H. Bowman, now beginning his twentieth year as principal of St. Paul School, has long been active in education circles in Virginia.

Below: A 1949 photo of Principal Bill Bowman. Mr. Bowman was well-suited to maximize the opportunities of post-war America for the St. Paul School, its staff, and its students.

Born in Johnson City, Tenn., Mr. Bowman attended elementary and junior high school there, and graduated from high school in Erwin, Tenn.  He earned his Bachelor of Science degree at Milligan College.

After receiving his Master’s Degree from the University of Tennessee, Mr. Bowman became a teacher and coach.  His first post was at Mountain City High School for 2 years.  From there he went to Elizabethton High School for four years, and then to Coeburn for 3 years.  While at Coeburn the team he coached distinguished itself by winning the Western District Championship and then the championship of half the state, which was then divided into just 4 districts.  After 2 years of teaching and coaching at Saltville, he went into the Navy.  Three years later, he was discharged and accepted a job on the coaching staff of Milligan College.  Soon after that, he came to St. Paul to take over the principalship, and has been here ever since.  Several years ago, the Wise County School Board named St. Paul Athletic field “Bowman Field” in recognition of Mr. Bowman’s outstanding service to his school and his profession.

PICTURED BELOW: Dedication of Bowman Field…from the 1948-49 Estonoa yearbook.

Married for 32 years, he and Mrs. Bowman, nee Kathleen Adams, are members of the St. Paul United Methodist Church.  Mr. Bowman is past chairman and current member of the official board; was chairman of the building committee when the new church was erected; is currently chairman of the committee in charge of renovating the parsonage.  Mrs. Bowman, St. Paul School librarian and teacher, is active in the Woman’s Society of Christian Service.

Pictured Below: Mrs. Kathleen Adams Bowman

An active member and past president of the St. Paul-Dante Lions Club, Mr. Bowman was selected Lion of the Year for 1947-1948, the first such award to be given by the St. Paul-Dante group.  He has also served the Lions in his area as District Governor.  His professional affiliations include the Wise County Education Association, of which he is past president; the Virginia Education Association, past vice-president; the National Education Association; the Virginia Principals Association; and the National Principals Association.

Below: An article from the August 13, 1948 edition of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle

The Bowmans enjoy spending time at their cottage on South Holston Lake, where Mr. Bowman gets in some fishing when he has a chance.  Flip and Cocoa, the Bowman’s two chocolate and tan chihuahuas, enjoy going to the lake, too, but prefer to stay at home where they live the Life of Riley, sleeping in their master’s lap when he’s home. 

Below: From the May 29, 1955 edition of the Bristol Herald-Courier

Below: The “Principal’s House” on the corner of Tazewell St. and Fourth Avenue was Mr. and Mrs. Bowman’s St. Paul home during his principalship. It had been purchased by the Wise County School Board in 1941 as a site for a future gymnasium (which was not built). The house was demolished years ago to make way for the St. Paul Municipal Pool.

Football is one of Mr. Bowman’s avocations, too.  He always enjoys watching a good game.  Mr. Bowman told me a story from his coaching days.  During one particularly exciting football game, he called to one of the substitutes on the bench to get into the game.  Getting no response, he called again thinking the boy hadn’t heard him over the roar of the fans.  The substitute still didn’t seem to hear, which puzzled Coach Bowman, as the game had reached a crucial point.  Everyone, especially the players, were quite excited.  The boy sitting next to the substitute who’d been summoned finally looked toward Mr. Bowman and shrugged his shoulders, then said the substitute was sitting on the bench sound asleep.  Mr. Bowman said he has never understood that boy, yet!

Below: The St. Paul Deacons, from the August 30, 1959 edition of the Bristol Herald-Courier.

This past summer, Mr. Bowman was Director of the Wise County Head Start program, a federally sponsored plan designed for children who would be ready for first grade in the fall.  The kindergarten was primarily intended for the underprivileged child, but no one was turned away.  The children were given complete medical examinations and glasses were provided for some of the children.

Below: From the June 3, 1965 edition of The Big Stone Gap Post

A consultant from Washington who visited the Wise County program last month assured Mr. Bowman that steps would be taken to correct medical and dental problems in the children whose examinations showed the need for care.

The Head Start children were introduced to group experience and were taught about basic ideas and materials with which many had never been in contact.  Some had never seen scissors and crayons, and some had never heard a story being read aloud.  Mr. Bowman told me about one little boy who had never heard “Little Red Riding Hood.”  As the teacher read on, the child became more and more engrossed in the unfolding events.  Upon hearing that the grandmother had been eaten up by the wolf, the boy jumped from his chair and shouted, “Why, that dirty so-and-so!”

There were 747 children in the Head Start program in the county and Mr. Bowman says they’ve already seen some of the results in St. Paul first grade classes.  On the first day of school, when there was usually an epidemic of crying, only one child, who hadn’t been in Head Start, cried for her mother.  All the children were able to go through the lunch line by themselves and there has been no confusion about getting on school buses.  The children behave well and are already getting settled down to lessons.

During his years at St. Paul School, Mr. Bowman has had lots of funny experiences.  One which undoubtedly didn’t seem to funny at the time, occurred at 3:30 one morning when the phone rang, and an anxious mother reported to the sleepy principal that her daughter was ill and wouldn’t be at school that day.  Mr. Bowman wryly informed her not to be alarmed, the girl might recover by the time the school day began.  Then there was the time a teacher reported to Mr. Bowman that she had been trying to convince one of her very young pupils to go to lunch at the cafeteria or at least bring his lunch to school instead of going home every day at noon as he persisted in doing.  The child had reported to the teacher “Good night!  Don’t you know you can’t carry gravy in a poke?”


One of the St. Paul School’s most significant improvements during the Bowman era was the new Activities Building which was completed in 1955. This building contained a large combination gymnasium-auditorium as well as the school’s first lunchroom and band room. The old and cramped auditorium-gymnasium within the school building had already been appropriated for use as much-needed classroom space. The Activities Building later incorporated into the St. Paul Elementary School building and is still in use.

The picture above and transcription below are from the December 18, 1955 edition of the Bristol Herald-Courier…

Unit Cost $250,000

St. Paul Sets Open House In New Activities Building

Special To The Herald Courier

ST. PAUL, Va., Dec. 17 — St. Paul will hold open house from 3 to 5 p.m. Sunday in a new $250,000 activities building at St. Paul High School.

The building, recently completed, will house the school’s combination gymnasium and auditorium, cafeteria, band room, and lockers.

Roll-away bleachers will seat 400 in the gymnasium with space for more than 800 folding chairs for capacity crowds.  St. Paul has not had a home gym for more than three years; neither has the town had an auditorium with the seating capacity of the new building.

The modern, stainless-steel cafeteria, electrically equipped, will seat about 300 persons, Mrs. Louisa Morris, cafeteria dietician said.

Sunday’s program will include an invocation by the Rev. L. M. Kanipe, followed by the following musical selections:

Musical Program

St. Paul High School band:  organ melody, Ave Maria, and Yuletide;  Lionaires Orchestra:  Merry Christmas, Happy New Year, White Christmas, and a Christmas novelty with Shirley Stanton and Walter Jesssee as vocalists; and the St. Paul-Dante Community Chorus will present O Holy Night, O Little Town of Bethlehem, and Silent Night.

State Senator M. M. Long will be master of ceremonies during the afternoon and will introduce guests who appear on the program.

The St. Paul PTA, with Mrs. Paul Robinson, president, will serve as hosts for the occasion.

Vote of Appreciation

Members of the PTA, teachers, and citizens have expressed a great vote of appreciation to the Wise County School Board and to the State Board of Education for making this “dream” come true.

Prior to 1940, plans had been visualized for the present building.  The Wise County Board of Supervisors set up a special levy of ten cents on each $100 in the Lipps District for the purpose of constructing the building.

At the end of 14 years, the fund had grown to $35,000.  With this fund, officials petitioned the Literary Fund for a loan and it was approved early in 1955.  The modern, two-story 116-by-139-foot brick and block building is the result.

W. H. Bowman, school principal for the past 10 years, along with his staff of 20 teachers, is anxious for the second semester to begin when the new building will be put to use.  There are 525 students enrolled at the school from the first grade through the 12th.

Senator Long, M. C.

Senator M. M. Long and members of the St. Paul-Dante Lions Club have been active in pushing the school project along for the past 10 years or more.  Superintendent J. J. Kelly, Wise County School Board, and members of the board of supervisors also were praised highly for the work they had done.

Principal Bowman, his staff, and members of the PTA extend to their many friends an invitation to participate in the open house program.


Below: Obituary of Mr. Bill Bowman from the January 7, 1970 edition of the Johnson City Press-Chronicle

Below: A memorial tribute to Mr. Bill Bowman from the 1970 Estonoa yearbook of St. Paul High School.

Editor’s Note: From my cousins, I learned that Principal Bowman had obviously read and taken to heart the instruction of Proverbs 13:24 🙂

If you have a special memory of Mr. Bill Bowman, please share it in the “comments” section of this article.

8 thoughts on “Bill Bowman, St. Paul School Principal 1948-1970…Glory Days

  1. I remember being sent to the Principal’s Office
    ( Bill Bowman) while in the 4th grade to receive a
    “ paddling for talking too much”! I was scared to death! Mr.Bowman inquired about my parents and knew my Dad was a Big Fisher on South Holston.
    He talked for 20 minutes about our Fishing Skills! Many great educators and influential leaders passed within the St. Paul School System.
    There was not a speaker system when JFK was shot, so Bill Bowman made a personal trek to each classroom to inform students of this historic tragedy.
    Many classes were the guests of Kathleen and Bill’s Lake Home! When field trips were rare, they did not hesitate to haul a school bus full of students to South Holston Lake. The world is a better place because of this compassionate couple!

    1. That’s a great story, Angie! Thank you for taking the time to write it. Doing so added a very human touch to the article. I’m sure others will enjoy what you wrote.

  2. The Bowman were special a couple to our family. I recall one time in the 70s MS. Bowman asked my mom. Marie Salyer at that time.To take here to the lake house and help her clean. I got to tag along. She had me raking lave and picking up stick around the yard and down the steps to the lake. This lady could fry a hamburger and it was good.

    1. Thank you for sharing that memory. Taking the time to do that improves the stories I write and gives them added dimension.

  3. Once again CVT has out done itself !!!! Of course, I am an old Coburn Blue Knight, but having married a Deacon, raised two and have many Deacon friends, I have heard about Mr. Bowman many times. All has been good.

    Is it true that he would sometimes stop you in the hallway and say…………………” Sing/recite the St. Paul High School alma mater”….?

    I like that story!!

    Thanks so much.

    Monty Salyer

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