In 1980, Ronald Reagan was elected as President of the United States. In that same year, Bobby Bowling was elected to serve Ashville as a city councilman.
When voters in Ashville go to the polls Aug. 28, Bowling’s name will not be on the ballot for the first time in 32 years. After serving eight consecutive terms, the 83-year-old Bowling has decided not to seek re-election — and it was a very hard decision for him.
“I went and paid my $50 fee to qualify, and then changed my mind,” Bowling said from his home last week. “I’ve seen a lot of changes in those 32 years.”
Bowling served with four different mayors from Bill Murray, Herb Collett, Phillip Anthony and current mayor Robert McKay.
Bowling was over the street department, and has seen many changes, especially with the population of Ashville.
In 1980, the population of Ashville was 1,467. The 2010 census said Ashville had grown to 2,212 citizens.
“There have been a lot of people who have moved in here,” Bowling said.
When asked what his greatest accomplishment was, Bowling said, “just being able to help people.”
Bowling and his wife, Faye Haynes Bowling, celebrated their 62nd wedding anniversary May 5. They have two children, Bobbie Keenum and Mike Bowling. Keenum is married to Larry Keenum, who serves as a city councilman for Rainbow City.
Mike Bowling served as a St. Clair County Commissioner, and is currently the St. Clair County Probate Judge.
The Bowlings have five grandchildren and five great grandchildren. Bowling said he and his family lived in a home behind the county shop for 26 years. They have lived in their current home for 28 years.
Bowling attended Ashville High School, but did not graduate because he had to go to work in the fields.
He joined the U.S. Army and served in the Korean War in 1953.
“I was born while he was in the state of Washington ready to go to Korea,” Bobbie Keenum said. “He was in Korea for 18 months, and served a total of 22 months in the military.”
Keenum also said when her dad first ran for office in 1980, he had 50 cards printed.
“That’s all he has ever done,” she said. “There were several times he ran unopposed. He had an opponent during the last election, and Mike had some signs and cards made for him, but he never put them out.
Bowling lives close to the municipal building in Ashville where the council meets. He has walked to council meetings, driven his truck to the meetings and even taken his John Deere tractor to the meetings.
Bowling has been one of the participants in the Christmas parade each year, driving his John Deere. People in Ashville say the local children enjoy seeing Bowling and getting candy from him as much as they enjoy seeing Santa.
Asked if he was going to miss attending the meetings, Bowling simply said, “No.”
Although he is 83, Bowling has not slowed down cutting grass.
“I have 14 yards I keep cut for people,” Bowling said. “I enjoy cutting grass.”
Bowling and his wife are members of Oldham Cumberland Presbyterian Church.
Bowling said he has been going there all his life.
McKay said he has known Bobby since he was a kid.
“He has always been a person who loved to help everybody,” McKay said. “He has dedicated himself to helping people. Bobby would do anything to help anybody. We appreciate all the years of service and we wish him a happy retirement.”
McKay served as a councilman alongside Bowling for 12 years, and has been the mayor for the past 12 years.
“He has been a true friend and has served his community well,” McKay said.
Ashville councilman Mike Sheffield said he has enjoyed working with Bowling.
“I have known him all my life,” Sheffield said. “My mother retired from the county highway department, and Bobby worked there. That’s how I’ve known him all these years. I went to school with his daughter. It has just been a privilege to serve with him these past four years. I was a rookie on the council. After the meetings, if I had any questions, I would ask Bobby, and he would give me some good advice.
“We’re going to miss him. Thirty-two years is a long time to serve. We are appreciative of his service. I’m glad I am his neighbor. I look forward to seeing him every day.”
Bertha Wilson has been the city clerk for Ashville for the past 32 years.
“Bobby has always been dedicated,” Wilson said. “It was very seldom that he missed a meeting. He was always dependable, and a very likeable person.”