Jerry Bowers, a retired longtime North Hall High history teacher, had a penchant for telling stories.
Since his death Saturday, his students have been recounting their own stories of Bowers, 74, and how the man with a bushy beard and quick wit captured their attention in the classroom and made an impact long after they graduated.
Chris Swan, now pastor at Corinth Baptist Church, remembered meeting Bowers, then the football coach, at the end of his freshman year in the 1980s. After Swan wrote down his name to sign up for football, Bowers said he didn’t need Swan’s attitude or behavior on the team, having heard about Swan from other teachers.
But after that warning, Bowers gave Swan the chance to change the coach’s opinion.
“He gave me opportunities to make right choices,” Swan said. “He was always an encourager. He believed in hard work, and you didn’t get something for nothing.”
Bowers is survived by his wife of 50 years, Barbara; son, Brandon; daughter, Christi Bowers Aaron; and grandchildren, Ben and Emily.
Bowers began teaching in 1968 at Woodward Academy in College Park, then later worked at Allen Military Academy in Bryan, Texas, and Terrell Academy in Dawson before teaching at North Hall from 1982-2006.
“The world is a lonelier place without him. He was such a big man and was gregarious and generous in every part of his life,” his daughter wrote on his Facebook page Sunday. “He loved living and being with his family, friends, and students.”
Nikki Smith Conner recalled Bowers having to move around to different classes during the day her senior year in 2001 and how he would take his supplies from one room to another in a borrowed Home Depot shopping cart. He didn’t complain about having to be on the move but “was as happy as could be.”
“He was about as good as they come,” Conner said.
Scott Gilstrap said Bowers was “a very boisterous man and a little intimidating” before you got to know him. Gilstrap said that during the first class in U.S. history, Bowers had Gilstrap and his classmates write down “WAJMM” to help them remember the last names of the first five presidents.
Gilstrap said he ran into Bowers at Kroger about a year ago, and they laughed as they remembered that story. And the former student thanked the teacher for everything Bowers did.
“He really worked hard to make the content come to life,” Gilstrap said. “He found ways to draw you into the content.”
Tonya Carder had Bowers for government at 7:30 a.m. her junior year. She said every Friday a different person would bring in doughnuts and juice. Bowers would bring a breakfast casserole made by his wife.
Right before giving the kids casserole, he told a story of coming upon a bloated cow as a kid, poking it with a stick and the cow exploding.
“Everyone loved him because of his sense of humor,” Kimberly Martin Henderson said.
J.J. Wiley, another former student of Bowers and now a social studies teacher at Chestatee, said the teacher’s passion and storytelling talent made the past come alive.
“No one would sleep in Jerry Bowers’ class,” Wiley said. “His infectious laughter could transform your worst day into a great one. He loved to surprise you with a fry hidden in his beard from lunch or a tall tale from his past.”
Carder said Bowers’ direct, caring nature stood out.
“You knew where you stood with him,” Carder said. “But he was welcoming and friendly and made you feel at home and safe in his classroom.”
Carey Whitlow, a student who later became a teacher alongside Bowers at North Hall and now teaches at Chestatee, said Bowers taught him how to relate to kids.
“He was the kind of teacher I wanted to be like,” Whitlow said.
Bowers’ Facebook page was flooded with students’ fond memories.
Former students said they always enjoyed seeing Bowers around town after they graduated, as he would remember them years later and ask how they were doing.
“I’d run into Coach Bowers out and about, and he’d still go out of his way to say hello, ask about my family and me, and then say something crazy,” Wiley said. “I’d walk away laughing and smiling, feeling better than I did before we spoke, just like it was each day after leaving his classroom.”
Services for Bowers, which are being handled by Ward’s Funeral Home, haven’t yet been announced.