Retiree: Ready to be unplugged

Published 3:13 am Friday, December 23, 2016

For the first time in a very long time, Mike Bowlan will not be tied to a communication device.

It’s the thing to which he looks most forward in retirement.

“For the first time, really since I graduated, I can turn the phone off,” he said.

He’s worked for the City of Andalusia for 24 years and one month, most recently has the department head responsible for the water department, and prior to that in the police department. His path to law enforcement was not a straight line.

“Years ago, when I was going to high school in Crenshaw County, there was a vocational school with five or six curriculums. I chose auto mechanics, because if nothing else, I figured I could always work on my own cars.

When he signed up to do co-op work his senior year, he was assigned instead to a body shop.

“I stated at Crenshaw Auto Body repair Service,” he said. “When I left there, I went to Elliott Chevrolet.”

Through those jobs, he met the director of the Luverne Housing Authority, where he eventually went to work.

“A lot of officered lived around out there,” he said. “They said, ‘Man, you need to apply.’ There was a dispatcher’s job, so I started doing that part-time while I worked a regular job.

“They had a reserve program back then that was basically an officer ride-along. I liked taking care of people.”

He applied for, and was hired for a full-time dispatcher’s job, working 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“You think it’s quiet in Andalusia at night? There was nothing happening in those hours there,” he said.

He used the time to study for the test needed to get patrolman’s job.

“It was very competitive, because it was geographically close to Troy, and all those students getting criminal justice degrees at Troy wanted the experience.”

But he pushed himself and studied, and tested top of the list. After passing a physical agility test, and basic firearms, he went to work on third shift. His partner was Mark Anderson, whose uncle then worked in the Andalusia Police Department. Through him, he began a dialogue with APD, and eventually came here as a patrol officer. After a year, he became officer in charge of his shift, was promoted to sergeant, then lieutenant, and eventually began working narcotics investigations.

After three years working with the drug task force, he managed patrols over two shifts at APD, then became supervisor of criminal investigations.

“I thought criminal investigations would be boring,” he said. “But I got into it, and found out it was a lot more challenging than narcotics. By the time we found out about it, it had happened in the past, and we had to put the pieces of the puzzle together to figure it out.”

The hardest part of law enforcement was the cases that involved children, he said.

In 2009, he was named assistant chief, and held that job until 2013, when he moved to the water department.

“I like anything that’s a challenge, and boy did I get one,” he said.

Again, he had to pass tests to be properly licensed for the job.

“Basically, everything we work with is covered under the ground,” he said. “I’ve had the opportunity to work with some really great guys who work really hard. They get taken for granted, because you can’t see what they’re working on, but they’re the first ones to get a call when something’s not right.”

To put into perspective the importance of their work, he said, consider the national news story out of Flynt, Mich.

“If those guys do something wrong or improper, we have headlines like in Flynt, Mich.,” he said. “I myself didn’t understand the importance of water/sewer business until got in to it. With water and sewer, you are attached to every household in city and beyond.”

The city’s system stretches from Rose Hill, where one of its largest wells is, to River Falls and Sanford, both of which purchase water from Andalusia. The system also extends south of town toward Carolina.

Bowlan said it’s hard to imagine not being on call.

Not long after he moved to the water department, his work phone rang at home, and he could see that Tommy Hutto was calling him.

“If Tommy Hutton, who’s been here for 30-plus years, was calling me, I thought, ‘It’s got to be real bad.’ ”

He reluctantly picked up the phone.

“He said, ‘Hey Mike. I wanted to let you know I killed a six point deer today.’

“That was the thing that told me, ‘Yep, you done the right thing in moving.’ ”

Still, he’s looking forward to even fewer communications.

“I don’t have to worry about anybody’s problems but mine,” he said. “It’s an odd feeling.”

He said he expects he’ll go to work part time, but he also plans to do a lot more fishing, and spend more time with his family.

Bowlan and his wife, Kelli, are the parents of three boys, Andrew, 16, Caleb, 15, and Jacob, 8.