Evelyn Bowles, a former Illinois state senator from Edwardsville and longtime Madison County clerk, has died. She was 94.
Bowles served in the Senate for eight and a half years, beginning in 1994. Before that, she served five consecutive terms as Madison County clerk.
She died Friday at the Eden Village assisted-living center in Edwardsville.
Bowles was appointed to the Senate in 1994 after the death of Sen. Sam Vadalabene and served through 2002.
She began working in the county clerk’s office in 1951. She was first elected county clerk in 1974.
“She was an icon of what it means to be a great public servant,” said Sen. Bill Haine, D-Edwardsville, who was Bowles’ successor in the Senate. “She was a true example of what every man and woman should aspire to when they take public office.”
She was an icon of what it means to be a great public servant. She was a true example of what every man and woman should aspire to when they take public office.
Bill Haine, state senator
She quickly became known as an active and colorful member of the Senate, and a bit of a renegade. As a member of the Senate Agriculture and Conservation Committee, she at one point angered the Illinois Drug Education Alliance by dubbing its members “the ladies from Naperville.” The group had criticized Bowles personally in their fight to kill Bowles’ bill to spend $1 million on university studies of the feasibility of hemp farming in Illinois.
Bowles served as a member of the U.S. Coast Guard Women’s Reserve Intelligence Division during World War II and was a member of the American Legion Post #199 and its Auxiliary. She was also a former teacher.
She was an elementary school teacher in Livingston in 1951, when a summer job as a typist for former County Clerk Eulalia Hotz led to a full-time job offer.
“It paid $200 a year more than the job I had, so I took it,” Bowles said during a News-Democrat interview in 2001. “I’ve enjoyed every minute of every year of every job I’ve had.”
Her colleagues on Saturday expressed grief and recalled her long public service.
“She was dedicated to competent, honest public service,” Haine said.
Bowles served as county clerk when Haine was Madison County state’s attorney.
When Bowles ran for county clerk in 1974, she didn’t have the backing of the county’s male-dominated Democratic Party, but she ran anyway. She got support from women, who decided to break with the party.
When she decided to retire from the Illinois Senate, she called Haine and encouraged him to run.
“I told her, ‘Evelyn, I’m in,’” Haine said.
Stephanie Robbins met Bowles in the late 1970s when Bowles administered the oath of office to Robbins, who became the first female assistant state’s attorney in Madison County.
“When you were sworn in by Evelyn, damn it, you were sworn in,” Robbins said.
The two became friends and traveling companions. In 1992, the two played at St. Andrews Golf Course in Scotland.
“I don’t think women were allowed to play there, but I signed up for a lottery at another golf course with just our first initial and last name and we were drawn,” Robbins said. “We thought about it and decided to do it.”
Bowles was close to Robbins’ family, particularly Robbins’ daughter. Sometimes on boring Sundays, the three would take car rides in rural Madison County. Bowles would know which township they were in by the quality of the roads, Robbins said.
“She had an amazing ability to communicate in politicalese,” Robbins said. “Politics runs on winks and nods. She was a master at that.”
State Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Belleville, recalled Bowles as a “dynamo.”
“I was one of the lucky ones who got to serve with Evelyn Bowles, who was a trailblazer in Madison County politics as county clerk. Truly, she was a political dynamo. She had charm. She had grace and unbelievable instincts when it came to serving the public,” Hoffman said. “I think she’s truly legendary in Madison County, not just politics but as a person outside of politics. She had no enemies, only admirers.”
Truly, she was a political dynamo. She had charm. She had grace and unbelievable instincts when it came to serving the public.
Jay Hoffman, state representative
Madison County Circuit Clerk Mark Von Nida said Bowles’ “fierce integrity and dedication to public service helped create the modern Democratic Party.”
He added, “This generation of leaders grew up with her as an example. Her memory will continue as a role model for future public service.”
Circuit Judge Bill Mudge said, “Sad news. A pioneer and a force. She didn’t put herself above others. Evelyn provided personal and competent service with humility and respect for those she served. A great loss.”
Madison County Board Chairman Alan Dunstan said, “Throughout her career as a public servant, Evelyn Bowles put politics aside and did what was best for the people she served. We mourn the passing of a great public servant, of a friend and of a mentor. She will be missed.”
Visitation will be held from 2 to 7 p.m. on Wednesday at Weber & Rodney Funeral Home in Edwardsville. A funeral mass will be held at 10:30 a.m. on Thursday at St. Mary’s Church in Edwardsville with Father Dan Bergbower officiating. Internment will be at Sacred Heart Cemetery in Livingston.
In lieu of flowers, memorial donations can be made to The Evelyn Bowles Scholarship Endowment at the Southern Illinois University Edwardsville Foundation, Masses at St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Edwardsville or the charity of the donor’s choice. Make checks payable to the SIUE Foundation for the Evelyn Bowles Scholarship at SIUE Foundation, Campus Box 1082, Edwardsville, Illinois, 62026-1082.