By Stacy Knoderer
Dr. John Bowling has been president at Olivet since 1991. During his presidency, the University has undergone significant changes. These changes included the opening of Centennial Chapel in 2010, the Bears training camp and a larger student body.
Those who know Bowling personally have great respect for him. Olivet’s own chaplain, Mark Holcomb, has only good things to say about Bowling.
“Of all that could be said about Dr. Bowling, his leadership that is apparent not just in buildings but also in the strength of enrollment, team building, unity in mission, the one thing that stands out to me is his pastor’s heart. He doesn’t just manage our campus; he shepherds it,” Holcomb said.
Bowling started his career at Olivet as a student. He first entered the school hoping to pursue a degree in business, but at the end of his four years he graduated with a degree in religion.
He also received a master’s in theology from Olivet and earned two doctoral degrees. His doctoral degrees are in education from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and in ministry from Southern Methodist University.
Growing up, Bowling looked up to his father and his older brother as influential role models. His father was a genuinely strong Christian man, he said.
“Who my father was on Sunday, was who he was the rest of the week,” Bowling said.
Bowling accepted Christ at the age of 13 in a Nazarene church in Michigan.
“Olivet played a significant role in deepening my faith to a more mature faith. It was at Olivet that I really owned my faith,” Bowling said.
As a student, Dr. Bowling had many fond memories. His greatest memory involved his wife Jill.
“At homecoming my junior year in 1969 I was watching the homecoming court walk across the platform when I saw one of the girls, Jill, and I knew that she’d be my wife, though we had never had a date. We were engaged at homecoming a year later in November of 1970,” Bowling said.
When he was first contacted about becoming president, Bowling was already working at College Church. The nomination was a complete surprise to him. At the time there were two other people on the ballot that were being considered. Those electing the president could not decide between the two on the ballot, so they added Bowling to the list, and he was elected.
Working at Olivet has forced him to work on his professional, management, speaking and leadership skills, as well as helped him grow deeper spiritually. However, the real value has been the ability to work with many gifted individuals from a variety of different backgrounds, he said. Working as president has also helped him to focus on staying active in technology and cultural trends.
“I think the president who only talks to people truly misses out.”
The centennial celebration in 2007 is one of Bowling’s greatest memories as president.
“For 100 years Olivet has stood the test of time,” Bowling said.
Other memories include having the Bears come and practice on campus as well as the opening of the Centennial Chapel.
In his spare time Dr. Bowling enjoys traveling, trying to leave the country at least once a year. Bowling and his wife try new things often. Most recently they went on a zip line for the first time.
“We owe it to students to keep pushing ourselves to try new things,” Bowling said.
One of the most rewarding aspects of his job is getting to know students individually. He believes that there is misfortune in not getting to know others personally.
“It is an occupational hazard in some ways to talk to people, not with people,” Bowling said. “I think the president who only talks to people truly misses out.”