Drowning victim remembered at the DeepsJeff Bowen leaned over the railing of a footbridge, watching dozens of roses float down Amity Creek.
By: John Lundy, Duluth News Tribune
Jeff Bowen leaned over the railing of a footbridge, watching dozens of roses float down Amity Creek.
Sticking out of his back pocket was a blue-and-white knit beanie cap.
“It’s in my truck with me all the time,” Bowen said on Saturday. “Today, I wanted it with me.”
Bowen’s son, Jefferson “Bubba” Bowen Jr., was wearing that cap on Aug. 2 last year before jumping into Amity Creek in the area of Duluth’s Lester Park known as the Deeps. The only reason he would take it off, his dad said, was to keep it from getting wet.
“He didn’t go anywhere without his hat,” Bowen said. “It could be 100 degrees out, and he’d wear it.”
Bubba was an experienced swimmer, and he knew the Deeps well, his dad said. But the 13-year-old didn’t realize that day that the creek was running more than four times its normal volume after heavy overnight rain. He was swept away in the current. His body wasn’t found until five days later, in Lake Superior, two miles north of the mouth of the Lester River.
When Bowen came to the scene the day Bubba went missing, the first thing he looked for was his son’s hat. Joe Childs, then 14, who had jumped in to try to rescue his friend and nearly got swept away himself, pulled the hat out of his pack. Bowen didn’t let the hat out of his sight for four months, he said, even sleeping with it under his pillow.
Bowen, with family members and friends, returned to the Deeps late Saturday afternoon to memorialize Bubba. Family members solemnly dropped the 5½ dozen multicolored roses from the bridge to the creek, as about a dozen people swam below. Bowen said they made sure there were pink and blue roses, because those were his son’s favorite colors.
The observance began earlier in the afternoon at the Encounter Youth Center, where skateboarding and other activities were free for three hours in memory of Bubba. About 100 young people gathered, many bringing change to donate to the St. Louis County Rescue Squad. They raised about $130.
Bowen, 41, said he’s forever indebted to the volunteer rescue squad.
“They were here within minutes, and they didn’t leave (until Bubba was found),” Bowen said.
Although grateful to the rescue squad and for many acts of kindness his family experienced, Bowen said he didn’t start to emerge from the fog of grief until about February. The Navy veteran is a student at the College of St. Scholastica and the single father of three other children, ages 18, 12 and 5. He had begun a relationship with his girlfriend, Dawn Walker, only about three months before Bubba’s death.
“I just tried to stand by and be supportive,” Walker said on Saturday. “It was difficult, because I absolutely loved Bubba. … You have to try to keep things together and try to find a new normal. Because it will never be normal again.”
In the midst of the sorrow, Saturday proved to be a joyous occasion, Bowen said, with so many of Bubba’s friends participating. He is moving forward in other ways, taking part in a group that is working to erect the Duluth Angel of Hope statue in Leif Erikson Park. The statue will serve as a symbol of hope for all parents who have experienced the death of a child.
He’s also working to organize a 5K run next year in Bubba’s honor that will be a fundraiser for a scholarship for local students.