ALAMOSA — Long-time museum volunteer Josephine “Jo” Bowers was the honored guest on Sunday at a reception at the SLV Museum in Alamosa.
“It wouldn’t have been here without this lady,” Museum Board Chairperson Dorothy Brandt said.
Jo and volunteers like Hazel Petty, who attended the reception on Sunday, set up the museum in the early 1990’s in the city’s old jail, a location Jo knew well — she had lived there. Jo and her husband Bob lived in the structure, which is now almost entirely gone, when Bob served as the jailor.
“Bob would take care of them, see that they didn’t fight and all that, and I had to give them their breakfast, usually oatmeal,” Jo recalled. “Then I had to go to work for Doctors Anderson and Bradshaw. At noon the city had to take them a hamburger, and at night I fixed supper. It was Spanish rice.”
Jo is part of the history of the San Luis Valley that she has worked for so many years to preserve. She graduated from the high school in Mosca in 1946 with four other people and went to Denver to study nursing.
While in Denver, she met Bob Bowers, a veteran, on a blind date, and he returned with her to the San Luis Valley where he was offered a job as a postman but was not that interested in that line of work. A friend from the service told him about the job running the jail for the city, so that’s how he and Jo wound up in the jail house.
Their daughter Toni was born in 1956.
Having a soft spot for folks who needed extra help, Jo and Bob at times allowed non-criminals to stay in the jail at night until they could save enough money for rent. A couple of college students stayed at the jail for about a semester, for example, until they could afford to pay for a dorm room.
When the jail moved into the courthouse, the Bowers also moved, and Jo has lived in the same house ever since.
Jo said she always had an interest in old things and over the years amassed several collections such as milk bottles and other bottles, cans such as a coffee can that traveled to the area on a covered wagon and salt and pepper shakers, some dating back to the World War II era. Some of her items have wound up in the museum.
Hazel Petty recalled when she and Jo were part of the initial group that set up the museum in the jail structure in March of 1992.
“We had collected a lot of things,” Hazel recalled.
She said people would often tell her and others who set up the museum that they had items they would be glad to donate if there was a place to put them. When the museum organizers talked to the city officials, they offered the building that had housed the jail. The museum rented the building for $10 a year, Hazel recalled.
“We had an old store, we had an old post office. We collected vintage and veterans’ clothing, but we didn’t have any mannequins to put them on. Jo called a department store in Pueblo and they were giving away some mannequins. Jo and I piled into her car and drove over to Pueblo to pick up some mannequins, but when we tried to put them in Jo’s little car, we had to put some legs and arms out the window. Coming back on the freeway to Walsenburg we had a lot of friendly people passing and waving and smiling. We had a lot of fun over that.”
The museum was operated entirely through volunteer efforts of (primarily) ladies like Jo, Hazel and Dorothy Romero.
“We never had any paid employees,” Hazel recalled, “because we had a lot of loyal volunteers.”
Brandt said people who have visited the museum over the years fondly remember Jo and still speak of how she was so helpful and so well informed on local history when they visited the museum.
“This is the greatest treasure of this Valley,” she said of Jo. “She inspired us … We just can’t replace you.”
Alamosa Mayor Josef Lucero was on hand on Sunday to present a plaque of appreciation to Jo Bowers: “With sincerest appreciation for your lifetime dedication and commitment to preserving the history of the San Luis Valley, serving as a founding visionary member and director of the San Luis Valley History Center and board member of the San Luis Valley Museum.”
Friends and community members also attended the reception on October 15 for Jo Bowers, and the mayor read a card from Peggy Godfrey who was unable to attend the reception but acknowledged Jo Bowers’ commitment to the museum, senior citizen center and the community in general. She thanked Jo for being a role model of strength and perseverance and said she “shines brightly in my own personal hall of fame.”
“Thank you for being who you are.”