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Local couple puts a generation of life into Minot culture

Submitted Photo Ken and DeVera Bowles have dedicated their careers to fostering a love for music and the arts in the Minot area.

After 30 years of enriching community culture in Minot, Ken and DeVera Bowles recounted the history of their 30 years in the music department at Minot State University and within the community.

Though Ken is going into his fifth year of retirement, DeVera “officially” retired from her position as a professor of voice for MSU this fall. She is currently on an approved “trickle out” plan so the students who started their programs with her are able to finish their degrees under her instruction.

The couple met while DeVera was a doctoral student at Indiana University, where Ken was teaching at the time. Ken led a Methodist church choir, which he said was an ambitious group, and he was in search of an alto soloist worthy of Mozart’s “Requiem.”

A friend of DeVera’s suggested she audition for the part and in DeVera’s words, “And sure enough we wound up doing it together – and you know, one thing led to another.”

Ken and DeVera made their way north when Ken was hired as the director of Choral Activities at MSU in the summer of 1993.

“It was sort of an adventure to jump in that moving van. Every time we got out of the van it was a little cooler and the sky looked a little bigger. As we were driving across the state I kept saying in every state we’d go through, ‘Does North Dakota look like this?’ and he’d say ‘No, no.’ When we were coming from the east the morning sun was on these fields of sunflowers and they were all facing us. So he turned to me and said, ‘North Dakota looks like this,’ and it was just perfect,” DeVera said.

“Oz is what it was like,” Ken said.

When Ken was hired, DeVera hadn’t quite jumped through all of her doctoral hoops yet, so for their first year in Minot DeVera accompanied the choirs at the school and gave private piano and voice lessons in their living room. DeVera joked that she liked Ken so she submitted an application the following year for the open vocal professor position to which she was promptly hired.

The couple said they often are questioned as to whether they had ever become tired of working together during their intertwined careers, to which DeVera said she had always deeply enjoyed working with her husband. She said she felt lucky to be able to work with Ken as many universities have nepotism rules to keep married teachers from working together.

“You know, it’s probably all too handy that we are in the know and in the business of doing what we do together. I think it facilitated a lot of things that, if I were facing alone, I would have considered it too much to take on. But together, we were able to just kill a lot of dragons – and we did,” Ken said.

The Bowleses’ said the music scene in North Dakota is one big community and everybody seems to know each other. Through adjudicating high school music festivals not only did they become familiar with many other instructors, they looked forward to seeing improvement in returning students.

“So it wasn’t just teaching here. It was becoming a part of the tapestry of teachers in the state who are really in love with music,” DeVera said.

DeVera said enrollment in the music department has always been good but had occasional dips and peaks but was grateful for MSU’s support of the arts. “Music’s always gonna be there. The arts always have to be there if we’re going to have human beings that know how to connect. I don’t think you necessarily have to break a sweat to do things that are healthy for you. A lot of things that music and theater and art give rise to are the things we need the most. People turned to music during COVID, people turned to music after 9/11. People find connection,” she said.

When speaking about the highlights of their careers, they spoke about the community and relationships they’ve built around mutual respect and a love for enriching the community.

“Well, professionally of course, I think, is really the family that we built here is really the crowning achievement if there’s one thing to single out,” Ken said. DeVera spoke about educating former students’ children, affectionately calling them “grandstudents.”

In the duration of this interview, around eight separate individuals stopped to greet the Bowleses, which is a testament to the relationships they’ve built at MSU over the years.

“I think the family that we’ve built is two prong. We have our family – our wonderful three sons and to see your children as adults and see they’re good human beings and that they’re happy – well, that’s it. It doesn’t get any better than that unless you get grandchildren sprinkled in there – that’s pretty good,” DeVera said.

The Bowleses said their big “mountaintop” experience was during the Western Plain Opera Company’s production of “Carmen” where three generations of Bowles contributed to the show. Their son, Nathan Bowles, came home to take on the lead role of Don Jose and two grandchildren took part in the childrens’ chorus.

“It seemed like a nice thing to end with,” Ken said.

During the final performance of “Carmen,” Mayor Tom Ross took the stage to honor the couple by declaring Sept. 9, 2023, as Drs. Ken and DeVera Bowles Day in the city of Minot.

Ken spoke about how he appreciates the Minot community’s dedication to facilitating a love for music and the arts. “Pride is not the right word, but gratitude is the right word. Not every community has the resources for that to happen, but the fact that Minot does have that and cherishes it is important to us,” he said.

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