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It only takes one teacher to change a life

December 30, 2007|By BOB MAGINNIS

William "Bill" Bowen makes his living determining the value of property, but he said recently he wouldn't have succeeded in business without a big push from his junior college biology teacher.

Her name was Dr. Mable Walter, a legendary educator at what was then Hagerstown Junior College.

Bowen agreed to reminisce about those long-ago days as part of an effort to raise $5 million for the college.

Dick Phoebus, the campaign chair, told me in October that the money the appeal raises will fund additional scholarships, a renovation of the Career Programs Building, expand the Commercial Vehicle Transportation Program and develop new courses that make use of the latest learning technology.

Bowen wasn't thinking in terms of millions when he came here from Winchester, Va., in 1957, with his family. His father had been transferred here by Potomac Edison. That meant Bowen had to attend North Hagerstown High School.

"I started North in my junior year and I enjoyed it. The friends were a big part of it, of course, and I was on the track team. A bunch of us palled around together. One of my best buddies was Jack Corderman," Bowen said.

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(Corderman later became a Maryland state senator and then a Circuit Court Judge. He is now an attorney in private practice.)

But at that point, Bowen said he wasn't sure what he wanted to do. He had worked construction a couple of summers and had taken a few tests to join the U.S. Navy's UDT ? underwater demolition team.

"But I had to get my parents' permission for that and in high school I was not the world's best student," he said.

And so in 1960, he went to the junior college, where he met Dr. Walter.

"She's the one. I became a very good student because of her," Bowen said.

"She demanded lots of stuff of me. When I went in there, she expected me to be a good student," he said.

"At the time, I lived at home with my mom and dad and I remember staying home on a Friday night studying and that had never happened before," he said with a chuckle.

After that, Bowen said he went to what was then Shepherd College and got a four-year degree in biology. The habits he learned from Dr. Walter turned him into a very good student and he was president of the student council there in 1961-62.

After graduation, Bowen said he was hired as a sales engineer by the Waynesboro, Pa., firm then known as Landis Tool.

Landis transferred him to Mexico, where he said he was treated like a visiting dignitary. But the job involved a great deal of travel and Bowen said he didn't believe that would be a good thing for his family.

He then spent a couple of years as an engineer for Mack Trucks, but after a while, he said he decided the job just wasn't for him.

Bowen said that one issue of Money Magazine contained a list of the best jobs in the country.

"The seventh best job in the U.S. was a property appraiser," he said.

Bowen's father-in-law was Charles Grice, the assistant state's attorney for condemnations. Together they attended a meeting where they met Richard L. Bowers, a well-known local appraiser.

Is it true, he asked Bowers, that people pay you to look at their property and tell them what it's worth? Yes, said Bowers.

Bowen said he decided then that he wanted to have such a job. But wanting it wasn't as easy as getting it, because Bowers didn't want an associate then.

"I called Dick every Friday afternoon" for more than 20 weeks to ask about a job, Bowen said.

Finally, Bowen said, Bowers obtained a contract to appraise C&O Canal property.

"He said, 'Bill, I think we might have an opportunity here,'" Bowen said.

Bowen worked at property appraisals on Saturdays and evenings, with his wife doing his paperwork, he said. Eventually he went to work for Bowers full-time.

He left Bowers in 1980 and opened an office in Frederick, but eventually closed it.

"It seemed like every time I was in Hagerstown, I needed to be in Frederick and every time I was in Hagerstown, I needed to be in Frederick," he said.

The firm doesn't do every type of appraising, Bowen said, but sticks to its areas of expertise.

"We do what we're good at and therefore we're good at what we do," Bowen said.

At 65, Bowen said he loves his job and has no plans to retire. He heartily recommends Hagerstown Community College for students who aren't sure what their career path will be.

Most people know someone whose imagination has caught fire in college, but there are some who won't ever have a chance to meet that inspirational instructor or professor without some help, financial and otherwise.

Any student who graduates from high school can attend HCC. There might be some remedial courses required, but once they're done, the student will be prepared for whatever comes next.

If you can contribute to this appeal, please send a check to Hagerstown Community College, 11400 Robinwood Drive, Hagerstown MD 21742 and mark it to the attention of Lieba J. Cohen.

Bob Maginnis is

editorial page editor of

The Herald-Mail newspapers.

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