Bob McGowan: A Humble Little League Volunteer Having the Time of His Life
To say Mr. McGowan, 67, a native Californian and retired public school administrator, has lived a full life would not be a surprise to anyone who knows him. What’s impressive is the enthusiasm he has for the life he’s led, and the one he continues to live to its fullest.
“We come (East) in June and work with Amish school teachers,” Mr. McGowan said. “Then in August we come to the Williamsport area for the World Series, where I have been an usher since 1994.”
Although he was never a Little Leaguer, Mr. McGowan has always enjoyed the spirit of children, which led him to become an educator.
Graduating San Leandro High School in 1956, and earning a bachelor’s degree in elementary education from San Francisco State College in 1960, Mr. McGowan completed his formal training with a master’s degree in educational administration by 1963.
After serving 19-months in the Navy, Mr. McGowan took his first teaching job at Irvington Elementary, later to become part of the Fremont (Calif.) Unified School District. After six years, he was named principal of Scotts Valley Middle School in Santa Cruz County, and shortly thereafter assumed the duties of school district assistant superintendent. In 1975, until his retirement in July of 1991, Mr. McGowan served as a field representative for the California Department of Education in Sacramento. In the spring of ‘91, Mr. McGowan underwent heart by-pass surgery to repair five arteries.
“I enjoy the kids,” Mr. McGowan said. “Little League always presents a wholesome program, and for me ushering is a very pleasant experience.”
Little League had touched Mr. McGowan in a variety of ways during his days as a school district administrator, but it was not until he and Maxine, 65, his wife of nearly 16 years, took what turned out to be a fateful trip to Pennsylvania, that his relationship with Little League became a labor of love.
“We started traveling in 1993,” Mr. McGowan said. “In 1994, we were driving through Lancaster County, Pa., on our way to Corning, N.Y. On the trip we passed Little League Headquarters and decided to stop.”
It was a week before the Little League Baseball World Series when the McGowans happened by Little League International. It was decided that they would stop by and catch a couple of games on their way back through.
After that first game they were hooked.
“That first year we planned on staying just a day,” Mr. McGowan said. “Once we got back to Williamsport, I said to Max, ‘this is OK.’ We ended up staying the whole week.”
During their first trip to Williamsport, the McGowans met Bob Waltz and his wife, Jean. Becoming fast friends, Bob and Maxine have parked their fifth-wheeler at the Waltz farm in nearby Cogan Station for each of the 11 years they have returned for the Series.
The McGowans watched a couple of games that first year and gained an immediate appreciation for the role volunteers play in the success of Little League and the World Series. By 1994, Mr. McGowan was navigating spectators through Section 2 at Howard J. Lamade Stadium, site of the Little League Baseball World Series since 1959.
Once Mr. McGowan had his assigned station, Maxine was free to enjoy the Little League World Series for herself. In 1995, she was introduced to the World Series tradition of pin trading. Now, each year she packs large sacks of pins and heads for the pin tent.
“Every year we come back, she trades the pins and I do the ushering,” Mr. McGowan, who has worked Section 4 for six years, said. “We get into Williamsport on the Friday before the World Series starts. I start ushering on Monday and work through the final game.”
It takes the McGowans five days to travel from California to Pennsylvania. The day after the Series concludes the couple sets out for home as they try to beat the snow over the Rocky Mountains.
Certainly, traveling to Williamsport each year to be a part of the World Series is special, but the McGowans have also spent considerable time downstate in Lancaster County working with the Amish population, specifically school teachers.
In much the same way they found the Little League Baseball World Series, the McGowans’ travels led them to make the acquaintance of John and Anna Stoltzfus.
“Max and I have ridden our tandem bike all over the U.S., taking day trips here and there,” Mr. McGowan said. “We met our Amish friends while riding our bicycle. One day, we were out riding around Lancaster County and it started to rain, so we pulled into the Stoltzfus farm.”
That chance meeting three years ago has fostered a unique relationship and partnership. Mr. McGowan became a mentor of sorts to several Amish school teachers after Mr. Stoltzfus mentioned that his daughter was a teacher.
Now each June, Bob and Maxine spend several weeks conducting training workshops on classroom organization and procedures for the Amish teachers in Lancaster County. By his count, Mr. McGowan has come to know nearly 150 Amish families.
“Two years ago I worked with 15 teachers,” Mr. McGowan said. “There are more than 300 Amish schools in Pennsylvania, but all of my work is being done in Lancaster County. I am working with a few Amish teachers, so they can teach other teachers.”
Mr. McGowan said the week-long workshops are not advertised and no fee is required to attend.
“The Amish children become just like your grandkids,” Mr. McGowan, who has two sons and three grandchildren, said.
From Feb. 24 to April 15, 2002, Mr. McGowan, along with seven friends from Lancaster County, rode their bicycles from San Diego, Calif., to St. Augustine, Fla.; a distance of more than 3,015 miles.
Friends at Little League International and in Lancaster County can expect to see the McGowans again this summer despite Maxine suffering some recent health problems.
“Max has been recovering well, so we’ll be coming to Pennsylvania like usual,” Mr. McGowan said. “One of these days we hope our oldest grandkids will come on the trip, too.”