Ann Gowans’ 20 years of service on the Parks and Recreation Commission got off to an unlikely start.
“A drunk driver almost killed my three children and me and my husband,” Gowans said. “We had this tragedy, and indeed it was a big tragedy for our family. But I never would have gone on this path otherwise, and it’s been my life work.”
Gowans spent three months recovering in the hospital and during that time became interested in gerontology, the study of aging. After developing an arts program for the elderly and people with disabilities, Gowans decided to join the Parks and Recreation Commission.
The city recognized her two decades of service Thursday night with a commemorative plaque.
“She’s always been an active commissioner,” Parks and Recreation Director Mike Hood said. “She was always very involved and regular in her attendance and very supportive of any action that was taken by the commission.”
The Columbia City Council appointed Gowans to the commission in 1985. She served until May 31 and was chairwoman for the past 11 years.
“I’ve seen the city go from a sleepy Midwestern town with three blocks of Main Street to what it is today,” Gowans said. “It’s kind of overwhelming when you look at it.”
Gowans said Columbia’s growing population means there’s an even greater need for green space. While on the commission, she served as the Parks and Recreation representative to the city’s Cultural Affairs Standing Committee on Public Art and on the citizen committee for the Activity and Recreation Center. “We enlarged the program tremendously, and we put up the ARC, which was a whole new thing,” Gowans said. “It was a long hard battle to do it, and that was a big one for me that we finally got the rec center in.”
Gowans said she also has a soft spot for Stephens Lake Park.
“We used to spend our summers there,” Gowans said. “My kids swam there from when they were tiny.”
Gowans taught at MU’s medical school for 12 years and earned her doctorate in sociology at MU, graduating in 1991 when she was 63. She also has a master’s degree in gerontology and leisure from MU. She writes a column called Third Age for the Columbia Daily Tribune and recently started a food column for the Missourian.
“In many ways, I’m happier now than I’ve ever been,” Gowans said.
Fellow commissioner Dennis Knudson said Gowans was a strong leader for the commission.
“She brings a great perspective and therefore gives enlightening and thought–provoking direction,” Knudson said.
“We just certainly appreciate all the years of service, and the very substantial contributions she made to the community and to the citizens of Columbia,” Hood said.
Gowans said she’ll miss being on the commission but feels that stepping down was the right decision.
“I looked at how long I’d been on, and I was shocked,” Gowans said. “It’s time to step aside and let the younger folks move in. It’s their life now, and their town.”