The University of Arizona

Beloved, Respected UA Alum Bill Bowers Dies

By Janis Leibold, November 10, 2003

Bill Bowers rings the bell to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11, 2001. Janis Leibold photo.
Bill Bowers rings the bell to commemorate the one-year anniversary of the terrorist attacks that occurred Sept. 11, 2001. Janis Leibold photo.

Bill Bowers, who is credited for salvaging a bell from the USS Arizona and creating what has become a University of Arizona tradition, died Oct. 26, 2003 in Colorado. He was 100.

The bell currently hangs in the tower of the University of Arizona Student Union Memorial Center

Bowers, a 1927 UA alumnus, was invited regularly to return to the UA to ring the bell on special occasions. The last time he rang the bell was on Sep. 11, 2002.

The bell is one of two salvaged from the battleship that was sunk Dec. 7, 1941 during the attack on Pearl Harbor. For a time, the whereabouts of the bell was unspecified. Bowers came across it quite by accident.

In 1944, while serving as an Army captain at the Puget Sound Naval Yard in Bremerton, Wash., Bowers came across the bell in a wooden crate while looking for something to signal gunmen with. Bowers learned that the bell was going to be melted down at the yard. He called to then UA President Alfred Atkinson requesting he call Arizona's then Gov. Sidney P. Osborn save the bell, made from silver and copper mined in Arizona, from being destroyed.

The bell was delivered to the University of Arizona in 1946. Surprised by the large scale of the bell, a UA committee placed the bell in the Arizona State Museum until a suitable, safe home could be secured. In 1951, the bell was placed in the clock tower of the new Student Union. Although it could be heard ringing after sports victories against out-of-state teams, it was enclosed and could not be seen in the old Union's tower. In its new home, the bell is visible to all and rings monthly to honor outstanding achievement among students, faculty and staff at the UA.

After receiving a degree from the UA in business, Bowers, of Colorado Springs, Colo., spent 20 years in the military as an officer in both the Army and the Air Force before retiring. After he retired, he ran a photo gallery in Colorado Springs for 20 years and later worked as a photographer for Hewlett-Packard.

On more than one of his many trips back to the UA for Homecoming, Bowers would reminisce with young students about attending the UA in the '20s and about his friendship with high school football teammate John B. "Button" Salmon. Bowers would then share with them his vivid recollection of Button's tragic car accident that led to the infamous "tell the team to bear down." Former Chairman of the Arizona Alumni Association Philip May in 1999 recalled in the Arizona Alumnus magazine how inspiring the story was as told firsthand by Bowers.

"We are deeply saddened by the passing of one of our most beloved alumni, Bill Bowers. I had the great fortune to interview Bill last spring, which, to the best of my knowledge, was the last interview he gave," said Ana Terrazas, editor of the Arizona Alumnus magazine. "His love for the University of Arizona was legendary, and he thoroughly enjoyed reminiscing about his days at the UA, but the USS Arizona bell had a special place in his heart. He said rescuing the bell was one of the highlights of his life. Without Bill Bowers, the bell and what it represents would have been lost forever,"

Bowers is survived by two sons, Dale and Ralph; and two grandchildren.

His family requests that donations in his honor be made to charity or the University of Arizona Alumni Association, 621-7576.