(This letter written following the death of Bill Stowe, a graduate of Nevada High School.)
To the editor:
I knew Bill Stowe long before 1974. I loved his mom, Rhoda Stowe, our school nurse for as long as I could remember. When my family came to town in 1962, my dad, Al Smith, put all his savings into building his shoe store and my family of four lived in a one-bedroom apartment above the Nevada Bakery on Main Street. Rhoda, knowing our situation, lent us their lovely two-story stucco home on K Avenue for about two weeks that summer. The Stowes did not really know us, but for many glorious days that summer, my sister and I had a yard to play in and run. That was the kind of people the Stowes were.
But in 1974, I went on the band trip to Washington, D. C., and Bill Stowe sat behind me on the way to Washington and back. That’s when I felt like I really got to know him. He loved to debate a topic and on that long trip I remember discussing the constitutionality of the Confederacy seceding from the Union. I knew then Bill was really smart and he was bound to go far.
Fast forward to 2013 — Bill had a law degree and an engineering degree. He was chief executive officer for the Des Moines Water Works dealing with pollution from the Raccoon and Des Moines Rivers with phosphorous and nitrates from agricultural runoff. He drew sharp criticism from farmers and then Gov. Terry Branstad for starting a war between rural and urban Iowa when he sued the drainage districts upriver from Des Moines for the pollution. Ultimately the lawsuit failed, but it brought water quality conversations which had been occurring in quiet to the forefront. It took courage for Stowe to butt heads with the Farm Bureau and chemical industry and he handled it with honesty and professionalism.
Today, clean water is one of the political focuses for the Legislature as they allocated $16 million this year toward water quality improvement, not due in small part to the efforts of our hometown boy, Bill Stowe. I am proud to have known Bill and proud he was from Nevada. Bill’s passing is a loss to Des Moines and Iowa, and I hope his legacy of vigorous debate over sustainable agriculture, clean water and healthy environment continues. Thank you, Bill.