Former Warsaw City Councilman and former Bowen Center board member Graham Kreicker is shown during his remarks at the Bowen Center board of directors annual dinner. Photo By Gary Gerard.
Former Warsaw City Councilman and former Bowen Center board member Graham Kreicker is shown during his remarks at the Bowen Center board of directors annual dinner. Photo By Gary Gerard.
Dr. Otis R. Bowen was born Feb. 26, 1918, in Rochester.

Wednesday, at its annual board of directors dinner at Honeywell Center in Wabash, the Bowen Center honored “Doc” Bowen’s legacy, 100 years after his birth.

Bowen attended elementary and high school in Rochester and graduated from Indiana University with his A.B. and M.D. degrees. During World War II, Bowen served in the Army medical corps until returning to Indiana where he opened his own medical practice in Bremen. He was referred to as “The Country Doctor.”

He served as a Republican representative for 14 years in the state legislature, where he was the first to serve three consecutive sessions as speaker of the house. In 1972, Bowen was elected governor of Indiana. His administration was responsible for a tax restructuring program including reducing property taxes and increasing the sales tax. Bowen was the first Indiana governor to serve two consecutive terms.

After leaving office, Bowen became professor of medicine and director of undergraduate family practice education at the Indiana University Medical Center.

In 1985, President Ronald Regan nominated him to serve as Secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services. Bowen served in this capacity until 1989.

Bowen retired to his five acres in Bremen and passed away in 2013 at the age of 95.

In 1977, during a special meeting of the board of directors of Five County Mental Health Clinic, the operation was renamed The Otis R. Bowen Center for Human Services Inc. in his honor. He was chosen as its namesake because of his untiring support and commitment to the community mental health center system in Indiana.

Today, Bowen Center is one of the top providers of mental health services in the state. Largely because of Bowen Center, Kosciusko County is ranked No. 1 in the state for child services by the Indiana Department of Child Services.

Guest speaker for the event was Graham Kreicker, a three-term Warsaw city councilman in the 1960s and 1970s.

Kreicker was vice president of the Bowen Center's original board of directors when the facility was dedicated on April 19, 1978.

Kreicker was chairman of the building committee and – along with then-Gov. Otis Bowen and four others, was one of the six who cut the ribbon to open the center.

Kreicker noted the importance of a bygone era in Washington – an era when statesmanship and compromise still reigned supreme.

He spoke of landmark legislation sponsored by Alabama Democrat Sen. Joseph Hill and Ohio Republican Sen. Harold Burton. The Hill-Burton Act provided federal matching funds to build hospitals and mental health centers in small cities and rural counties.

The act changed the face of health care in America and provided funds to build the Bowen Center, he said.

Kreicker, noting the national crisis in opioid addiction, commended the Bowen Center for its leadership in opening a new treatment center in Fort Wayne.

He then presented a gift of $40,000 to help cover the cost of new medical equipment required for the facility that is scheduled to open in a few weeks.

Two awards were presented during the event.

Indiana Supreme Court Judge Christopher Goff received the Otis R. Bowen Centennial Award and Wabash City Schools Superintendent Jason Callahan received the Doc Bowen Distinguished Service Award.

Both awards were presented by Bowen Center President and CEO Kurt Carlson, who has been at the helm of Bowen Center for 29 years.

During an interview prior to the event, he spoke about the changes he’s seen during his years at Bowen Center.

“When I took over we had 100 staff, five buildings and a broken bus,” he said.

He recalled being told by the board of directors during his interview that his first assignment would be to meet with the bank to secure a loan because the center could not meet payroll.

He secured the loan.

“Two-and-a-half years later, we were in the black,” he said.

Today, Carlson said, Bowen Center has a presence in 15 counties with nearly 1,100 employees.

Noting a significant change in the delivery of mental health services, he said that in the early part of his career, mental health facilities routinely sent patients to the state hospital.

“We haven’t sent a child to the state hospital since 2000,” he said, noting that only one Bowen patient is in state hospital care today.

Carlson said Bowen is continually trying new approaches and becoming more innovative.

“We have 500 home-based case managers. We’re in homes. We’re in schools,” he said.

This exposes service gaps in the areas Bowen serves and fuels its growth.

Most recently, Bowen became involved in medical assisted treatment to opioid addicts. They are now serving 600 patients including 60 pregnant women.

Recognizing the success of Bowen’s treatment programs, the state asked Carlson to take a license for a methadone treatment center.

“I was skeptical at first,” Carlson said, “until I visited a methadone treatment center. I noticed a lot of the clients showing up with strollers.”

He saw that these people were parents who were being treated and then sent back to take care of their children.

“That sealed the deal,” he said. “I knew we had to be involved.”

The Bowen Recovery Center, the organization’s first methadone clinic, is scheduled to open to clients May 29 at its location off Coliseum Boulevard in Fort Wayne. An open house is scheduled June 13 and Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb has tentatively accepted an invitation to attend.

In the interest of full disclosure, my wife, Mary, is vice president of Human Resources for Bowen Center. One might accurately say this column is a little bit of an inside job.

But being so close to a member of the Bowen exec team does give me significant insight into the organization.

I can say without hesitation that Bowen improves the quality of life in the areas it serves. Each time a client is helped, it helps the community.

When an adult can get back to work, overcome an addiction, become a better parent, improve interpersonal relationships or cope with depression or anxiety, the community improves.

When a child can learn to improve social skills, manage anger, regulate emotions or make clearer decisions, the community improves.

Extrapolate those successes across the tens of thousands of clients Bowen has served and it’s easy to envision the positive impact.

On Wednesday night, Kreicker said this: “Doc Bowen once told me, of all the things named for him, he was most proud of the Bowen Center.”

I think Doc Bowen got it right. And I think Warsaw should be proud, too.