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Howard Bowers Fund: A new course after 26 years of service to food cooperatives

When the Howard Bowers Fund was established at the Cooperative Development Foundation in 1994, it had two objectives: support the development and expansion of food cooperatives through professional education of board and staff and honor the legacy of cooperative grocer Howard Bowers. Over the last 26 years, those objectives have been realized.

Howard Bowers dedicated his life to the consumer cooperative movement. His career in cooperative management spanned five decades, in which he worked for cooperatives throughout the Midwest, including the Chippewa Indian Consumer Co-op in South Dakota, West Bank Co-op in Minneapolis, the Eau Claire Consumer Cooperative and finally the Hyde Park Cooperative. He was known for his willingness to mentor young general managers. As Pam Mehnert, General Manager of Outpost Natural Foods Co-op in Milwaukee, WI recounts:

(Howard) was a mentor. When I was a brand-new general manager… I was thrown into a relocation project … and didn’t know much about building systems within our store. But Howard was there. He was an important figure for all of us at the time. He managed one of the larger cooperatives in the country (Hyde Park Consumer Cooperative) at that time which, of course, made him a real grocer. He was successful at what he did. He was successful at building community and managing the cooperative.

In recognition of Howard’s importance to the food cooperative sector, the Hyde Park Cooperative Society established the Howard Bowers Memorial Fund. Since that time the food cooperative sector has matured and professionalized. The National Co+op Grocers was created bringing the power of collective action to purchasing and marketing as well as specialized technical assistance to its members. Growing out of the Food Cooperative 500, the Food Co-op Initiative has grown into a respected provider of technical assistance and resources to start-up cooperatives. The Up and Coming Conference has filled the need for high quality content for start-up cooperatives and peer networking. The University of Wisconsin Center for Cooperatives expanded the scope and quality of the CCMA conference. Many organizations have contributed finances and resources to this growth, notably National Cooperative Bank (NCB), Capital Impact Partners, the Blooming Prairie Foundation, and the entire food cooperative community.

The Howard Bowers Fund was an important part of all these developments. The Bowers Fund supported hundreds of scholarships to CCMA, sponsored Up and Coming since its inception, funded awards and recognitions, financed multiple publications produced by NCGA (now NCG) in its early years, supported Food Co-op Initiative publications and programs, and made possible board and staff training for numerous cooperatives. All this was made possible through the original contribution by Hyde Park Co-op and then generous support from the cooperative community year after year. As the sector has matured, competition tightened margins, and food cooperatives saw a growth in funding requests, causing donations to the Bowers Fund to stagnate.

At the Cooperative Development Foundation’s Board Meeting in May, the board voted to accept the recommendation of the Howard Bowers Fund Board of Advisors to dissolve the Fund and transfer the assets to the CDF Cooperative Education Fund. The assets from the Bowers Fund will continue to be used to support food cooperative development with a specific 10-year commitment to supporting CCMA scholarships named after Howard Bowers. Going forward grant applications from food cooperatives and event sponsorships will be considered by the Education Fund Board of Advisors as part of the Education Fund’s biannual grant making schedule.

The Cooperative Development Foundation thanks the commitment and thoughtfulness of the recent Board of Advisors of the Howard Bowers Fund: Karen Zimbelman, NCG; Maureen Bowers, Howard Bowers' daughter-in-law; Brian Misenheimer, NCB; Michael Faber, Monadnock Food Co-op; Annie Hoy, formerly Ashland Food Co-op; Mari Wood, Outpost Natural Foods Co-op; and Brenda Pfahnl, formerly Shared Capital Cooperative.

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