The FoodCorps family is mourning the loss of William K. “Bill” Bowes Jr., a passionate philanthropic leader who has had an enormous impact on the work we do. His legacy lives on in FoodCorps’ mission as our organization grows in size and ambition, in the AmeriCorps service members who are emerging from our program as tomorrow’s leaders, and in the children we help to grow up healthy––in body and mind––so they can reach their potential.
An intent listener with a belief in the power of human ingenuity, Bill was a co-founder of U.S. Venture Partners and one of our country’s most successful venture capitalists. Throughout his long career, Bill demonstrated a passion for health, education, and meaningful work, from his service in World War II to his final days as a deeply engaged philanthropist.
At FoodCorps, we had the incredible gift of having Bill on our side from our earliest days, as a partner, advocate, and teacher. The William K. Bowes, Jr. Foundation has been the biggest donor in FoodCorps’ six-year lifespan, committing more than $6 million to help create healthy schools, empower a new generation of leaders, and benefit vulnerable children for generations to come.
The bold investments of Bill Bowes helped launch big initiatives for FoodCorps: our program’s 2013 debut in California, enabling us to reach more than 15,000 vulnerable children each year; a suite of alumni programming to foster leadership development after corps members complete their service; and a strategic plan for our next five years that will propel us toward our goal of making healthy schools the norm nationwide.
“Bill’s generosity to the FoodCorps community has made a tremendous difference to kids’ relationship with healthy food all over the country,” says Jenny Shilling Stein, Chair of FoodCorps’ Board of Directors and co-founder of the Draper Richards Kaplan Foundation, a pivotal early-stage funder of FoodCorps that first introduced Bowes to our work.
Bowes was a deeply invested supporter of FoodCorps, dedicating time to meet the children we serve and the AmeriCorps members who carry out our work. Last year, he visited an elementary school in Oakland, California, to observe a garden lesson led by service members Cassie Spindler and Lydia Yamaguchi. Together, they enjoyed a salad lunch, featuring local produce the service members sourced for the district. Bill had a personal appreciation for FoodCorps’ farm-to-school initiatives: his wife, Ute Lumkemann, is a Bay Area restaurateur, recognized for her pioneering commitments to sustainable sourcing.
“He was so charming and personable, and had such a generosity of spirit,” recalls Cassie, who is now in her second year with FoodCorps, as our California state fellow.
“When I first met him, he seemed truly delighted to see our pictures and hear our stories about our classes, gardens, and students,” says Lydia, now serving for a second year in Oakland. “It was really fun to be able to then show him a school garden and class in person. I wondered a little at what he might think of the controlled chaos that happens during lessons in the school garden, far from the skyscraper offices with a view of the Bay Bridge where we had first met him. He was delighted!”
Curt Ellis, co-founder and CEO of FoodCorps, says it was clear that Bill cared as much about the service members who lead FoodCorps’ work in the field as he did the children they serve, showing a genuine interest in corps members’ experiences and development. “It was clear in his eyes and his laugh––not just his words––that Bill found our service members and their stories infectious. He loved their energy and passion and dedication.”
That commitment to fostering leaders extended to FoodCorps’ own leadership: during their frequent meetings, Bowes would reliably ask Curt: “What mistakes have you made lately?” before offering his advice on building our leadership team, scaling our budget, and honing the impact of our program.
“Bill pushed the limits of what it means to be gracious, what it means to be philanthropic, and what it means to live a life of service,” Curt says. “He gave generously of himself in every way he possibly could until the very last days of his life.”
Continuing His Legacy
Humble and authentic leadership is the hallmark of who Bill Bowes was and what his legacy is. It is why FoodCorps recently established the Bill Bowes Service Leadership Award. Beginning last fall, we invited nominations to recognize the accomplishments of FoodCorps alumni who embody Bill’s spirit of leadership, service, and innovation.
“Our hope is that by sharing the story of alumni who embody these ideals, we will inspire others to carry on Bill’s legacy,” says Robyn Wardell, FoodCorps’ Alumni Manager and a FoodCorps alumna herself. The first award will be given later this year.
While we are saddened that Bill will no longer be able to present this award himself, his presence will be with us as we celebrate an inspiring life and a lasting legacy of impact.