Governor Otis Bowen will be laid to rest today in Marshall County. The physician turned governor and secretary of health and human services died Saturday in Donaldson at the age of 95. WKVI’s Ed Hasnerl and Bowen were old friends, dating back to May of 1960 when Hasnerl was first elected Starke County Republican Central Committee chairman.
“Doc Bowen had the practice of when he would see somebody doing something in the community he’d cut out the news article or the picture, put it in a nice little card, send his well-wishes. That’s the first that I really remember Doc Bowen,” Hasnerl said.
At that time Bowen was finishing his first term in the Indiana House of Representatives, and his district included Marshall and Starke Counties. Hasnerl owned “The Starke County News” at the time, and met Bowen a few weeks later when he dropped in to introduce himself.
“We just talked about a lot of things,” Hasnerl recalled. “That was a few weeks later in 1960. He said he was running again and asked for my support. I don’t think he had any idea he’d be governor or a member of a presidential cabinet.”
Hasnerl says Bowen didn’t strike him as a politician when they first met.
“He was just such a friendly guy. He was a family doctor, spoke in a monotone,” said Hasnerl.
Bowen served 10 years in the House before twice being elected governor in 1973 and ’77, the first governor of the modern era to be eligible to run for back-to-back terms. He’s best known for overhauling Indiana’s tax system by doubling the sales tax in order to cut property taxes. Hasnerl says that was a gutsy move.
“The people weren’t too enthusiastic about that. They didn’t see the benefits of the property tax deductions yet. When that bill got to the Senate, it passed by one vote. The then-lieutenant governor cast the tie-breaking vote,” Hasnerl said.
Hasnerl and Bowen remained friends throughout Bowen’s career in politics and Hasnerl’s tenure as a lobbyist for the state’s rural electric cooperatives.
“When he was governor, I had a reception, a party, a luau in my back yard for the governor. I invited some of my friends from Starke County, and they chartered buses and came down. We had a full house,” Hasnerl said.
Hasnerl says he and Bowen seldom talked politics when they socialized, instead preferring to stick to topics like current events.