Countians remember R.D. Bowman Ran country store for over 30 years

March 24, 1993|By Ellie Baublitz and Tom Keyser | Ellie Baublitz and Tom Keyser,Staff Writers

In 1928, Ralph Dutterer Bowman bought a little country grocery store in Union Mills on a dirt road that is now Route 97, or Littlestown Pike. He operated the store for more than 30 years, during which time the big event was the Friday night banana auction.

Mr. Bowman would drive to Baltimore early in the week and buy bunches of bananas off the boats at Pratt Street. He'd hang the bananas in the cellar of his store until Friday.

Then he'd set up the bingo stand, prepare the penny-pitching area, sell hot dogs and watermelons. The neighbors would sell home brew back in the alley. Lots of people would turn out as the auctioneer sold banana bunches for 75 cents to $1.

Years later Mr. Bowman ran into two men who attended each week.

"We didn't come for the auction," they told Mr. Bowman. "We came for the girls."

Those are the kinds of memories evoked this week by Mr. Bowman's death Sunday at Carroll County General Hospital. He was 88.

Mr. Bowman's funeral is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. today at St. Mary's Evangelical Lutheran Church, 3978 Littlestown Pike, Silver Run. The Rev. H. Lee Brumback II will officiate. Burial will be in St. Mary's Cemetery.

Mr. Bowman's body may be viewed for an hour prior to the service.

Born June 5, 1904, and raised in Silver Run Valley, Mr. Bowman summed it up in an interview last fall: "I was a country boy."

He farmed with his father until 1928 when he opened the R.D. Bowman General Merchandise Store. Though he worked hard, it was difficult making ends meet, especially during the Depression.

"It was pretty damn hard," he said. "But my wife and I lived in the same building the store was in. We kind of lived off what was left over, you might say. If we had a piece of meat we didn't sell, we'd eat that. In those days you ate beans and hominy and rice and things like that."

But later, assisted by his sons, Robert and Edward, the store prospered. In 1954, he incorporated the business into R.D. Bowman & Sons Inc. Then in 1963, Mr. Bowman opened R.D. Bowman & Sons in Westminster after the town's Purina franchise became available.

Along the way, they built the mill for grinding and mixing feed.

They initially sold Purina food for animals, garden supplies, hardware and fertilizer and lime to farmers. They opened the garden center in 1981.

"We just kept on a-growing," he said.

Even though he retired in 1980, Mr. Bowman continued to drive in from his home outside Westminster and sit behind the counter for an hour or two nearly every day.

"I'm just a worn-out old plug," he said with a hint of a smile. "The biggest job for me is killing time."

Besides the business, he played a little politics, he said. He once ran unsuccessfully for county commissioner. He served as chairman of the election board for about four years. He was president of the Independent Retail Grocers of Maryland. Since 1942 he had served on the board of directors of the Adams County National Bank in Littlestown, Pa.

He also served on the boards of Carroll County General Hospital and Carroll Lutheran Village. He was a life member of St. Mary's Church, where he was on the church council and cemetery board.

Mr. Bowman was married for 54 years to Anna Katherine Strevig Bowman, who died in November 1976. They were married on her 18th birthday. Besides his sons, Mr. Bowman is survived by six grandchildren, five great-grandchildren and numerous nieces and nephews.

In September, he was philosophical about his life.

"I always said, if I die tomorrow I had my share; I had a pretty full life. But you hate to see the end."

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